Ngozi Doreen Tibbs is the co-founder and leader of the Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle in the Strip District. 90.5 WESA's Noah Brode spoke with Tibbs about helping black moms learn the hows and whys of breastfeeding.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
NOAH BRODE: So, I'd like to start off by going over some of the benefits of breastfeeding, and why new moms are often encouraged to breastfeed.
NGOZI DOREEN TIBBS: What's so wonderful about breastfeeding is that the health benefits are experienced by both mom and baby, and they are short- and long-term. For mom, she can reduce her risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and even osteoporosis. And there's some new research that's looking at breastfeeding reducing the risk of heart disease. For our children, we're looking at reductions in Type II diabetes, leukemia, ear infections -- which is the No. 1 reason why parents miss work in their child's first year -- so that's pretty important. Breastfed babies even have higher IQs.
BRODE: So what caused you to found the Pittsburgh Black Breastfeeding Circle?
TIBBS: What we have found historically is that women of color, black women in particular, have lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration. There are all sorts of reasons as to why that is, but one of the reasons why is that black women are returning to work sooner than their white counterparts. Sometimes they are head of households, and often, they do not get the breastfeeding support from women or men who look like them. So, having a breastfeeding supporter who looks like them, who's from the community, a trusted member of the community, makes a huge difference.
It’s also significant to report that black women have higher rates of infant mortality, and we know that breast milk saves lives. So, if we have babies that are born very early -- our micro-premies, babies that are born six and even eight weeks ahead of time -- those moms can come to our circle and get the support that they need. We also have a state-of-the-art scale where we can weigh babies. We can do pre-feed weights, post-feed weights, and we can provide reports for the pediatrician and follow these babies well and make sure they’re doing well.
As I began to hear more women talk about this -- friends, family members -- that they wanted to breastfeed, but didn’t get the support that they needed. I recognized that I needed to be the change that we seek. Not just looking at other people to say, ‘Oh they should start a breastfeeding circle,’ but saying, ‘Why not me?’
BRODE: So, tell us about Black Breastfeeding Week, and what your circle will be doing.
TIBBS: August is World Breastfeeding Month, and Black Breastfeeding Week is the last week in August. So, every year, we have a big celebration. We’ll be having it in a large grove in Highland Park this year, where we invite the community to come and talk about what breastfeeding means to the black family. If you really want to know if a community is doing well, you want to look at how the babies and families are doing. We know that families make up healthy communities, and healthy communities make up healthy societies. So, if you have healthy families who get started on human milk, you’re looking at those long-term health benefits for both mom and baby.