Mother’s Day is a time-honored reminder of the unique role mothers play in family life. While others may love and care for a baby, only the mother carries the child in her body and produces milk to nurture the infant.
A DeKalb County-based organization works to encourage new mothers to take full advantage of the opportunity to feed babies nature’s way. Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) Inc. is a member network nonprofit that offers education, support and advocacy for breastfeeding, especially among women of color.
“There is a significant gap between the number of mothers of color who breastfeed and mothers in the general population who make this choice,” according to Andrea Serano, ROSE program manager. Approximately 55 percent of African-American women breastfeed in contrast with 80 percent of the general population, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures.
Breastfeeding, Serano said, “enhances the overall mental, spiritual and physical health of African-American women, babies and their families.” She added that breastfeeding is deeply rooted in African-American tradition but has become less common because of the rigors of modern life.
“Many women have jobs that they must return to soon after giving birth, making breastfeeding more of a challenge. Also, there is a good deal of misinformation out there about breastfeeding. It’s a choice, but it should be an informed choice. We’re working to help women have the information and support they need to do what’s best for them and their babies,” she said.
Among the myths ROSE seeks to combat are the notion that bottle feeding is “the modern way” and few women today breastfeed. “Actually, the breastfeeding rate in the United States has increased significantly since the 1970s as research over the past 40 years has demonstrated that mother’s milk is an inexpensive and healthy choice for babies,” Serano said.
ROSE was founded in 2011 by three Atlanta-based mothers whose professional backgrounds are in the field of maternal and child health; the organization was granted nonprofit status in 2012. “As working mothers, they experienced how worksites left women to feed their babies in locations where employees would not think to eat their lunch, including bathrooms, basements and storage rooms,” the ROSE website states.
In addition, the founders sought to promote the health benefits of breastfeeding, which they say include not only nutritional support for the baby but also healthy bonding between mother and baby. ROSE also encourages fathers to support the family decision to breastfeed. “The father’s role is significant,” Serano said. “He can be the mother’s protector and defender. For example, if the mother has visitors when it’s time to breastfeed, he can tell them, ‘We need our space right now.’ Also, people are less likely to say something crazy to a breastfeeding mom when the dad is there.”
ROSE seeks “a seat at the table” when policies are made by government or health organization, according to Serano. “I’m proud to say we have played a small role in changing the culture surrounding breastfeeding. In addition to more mothers choosing to breastfeed, the number of hospitals that support breastfeeding has increased along with the number of employers who are willing to accommodate mothers who choose to breastfeed,” she said.
While the baby’s health is top priority, there are other good reasons for breastfeeding, according to ROSE, which reports that breastfeeding can save a family up to $1,500 in a baby’s first year.
The size and shape of a woman’s breast don’t affect her ability to breastfeed, Serano said, adding that for those who have difficulty, ROSE provided lactation counselors who can train mothers to make breastfeeding comfortable and effective.
“When we do prenatal training, we ask mothers-to-be whether they have discussed breastfeeding with their doctors. We used to find that few had. Now hands are going up. The needle is moving. It’s beautiful to see,” Serano said.
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