First Food Fiesta

March 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Into the Lense

What do IISC’s lenses of networks, power and love have to do with breastfeeding? Turns out, a lot! I had the privilege of facilitating the second annual First Food Forum: Every Child, Every Mother, Every One of Us, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its first food grantees. Participants connected the dots between networks, power and love in powerful ways. Love is probably the easiest connection to make.

Speakers and participants alike shared the importance of breast milk—first food—for the health of babies and mothers. They shared about the power of breastfeeding to nurture the bond between mother and child and how supportive fathers share in that bonding experience. And, the bonds shared among people doing this work from multiple perspectives—moms, researchers, health care providers and more—were palpable, powerful motivators to continue doing the work.

The role of power is perhaps less obvious at first glance, but you need only scratch the surface to understand the role of structural racism and health inequities. First food is an important strategy for improving the life chances of children, beginning at birth. Historic and present-day racism contribute to lower rates of breastfeeding among mothers of color, whose babies are most at risk for multiple childhood diseases and infant mortality. Consider the history of removing Native American children from their families and placing them in foster care and boarding schools. Consider the aversion to breastfeeding that stemmed from the sexual violence of slavery and forced wet nursing.  Kiddada Green, Camie Jae Goldhammer and Dr. Lorena Gonzalez shared their personal stories, powerfully illustrating the current day struggles that women in general and women of color in particular face to be heard, understood and respected. In the words of Camie Jae Goldhammer, “Breastfeeding is about power. It’s about taking back the right to parent our children. It’s about sovereignty and there is no sovereignty without food sovereignty.”

The relevance of networks was evident throughout the forum as well. Participants spoke of the power of connection in supporting breastfeeding: fathers supporting mothers; mothers supporting one another; doctors, nurses, doulas, and midwives supporting moms; researchers and advocates supporting practitioners in the field. This gathering created opportunities to build relationships across silos—health care, research, policy development, direct service, peer support. It also created opportunities sharing successes and challenges, stories and inspiration, strategies and experiments to build an ever-stronger movement to ensure that every baby gets the best possible start in life.

IISC provided support and guidance on the design of the forum, ensuring plentiful opportunities for participants to hear and share their own stories, meet people who are working on the issue from multiple perspectives, hear the latest about research and policy development, and learn about skills and strategies for achieving deeper impact.

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