Why we need a Latina/x Breastfeeding Week
By: Patrícia Soriano Guzmán BSBA, IBCLC, ICCE, PMH-C, PRaM
Saludos y Feliz Semana de la Lactancia Latina/x! (Hello and Happy Latina/x Breastfeeding Week!)
It is an honor and privilege to write the first ever blog entry for Latina/x Breastfeeding Week on behalf of the United States Lactation Consultants Association (USLCA). I was pleasantly surprised to see the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, National Breastfeeding Month (NBM) expand to include a much needed focus on the Latina/x population segment.
As an Allied Healthcare Professional, it is exciting to witness the evolution of Maternal Child Health. But this past decade, as a special focus on diverse cultural segments was added to each week of August, it became glaringly clear that the Latina/x segment was getting lost in the conversations about Maternal Health and the movement to increase Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF). While Hispanic breastfeeding rates have historically been higher than other underserved segments relative to the Caucasian segment, on-going barriers to EBF persist and so we must raise our voices for equity and inclusion as well.
Furthermore, we must ensure that emerging professionals are well-equipped to serve all people with cultural awareness, sensitivity and most of all humility. As part of professional development, we must first acknowledge and process our own experiences, point-of-views and possibly even personal biases. Taking the time to honor personal experiences, and then set them aside, is an essential part of being fully and objectively present for others. This is no small feat considering the vast diaspora de nuestra gente bella Latina/x (of our beautiful Latina/x people)!
Since the theme for National Breastfeeding Month Semana de la Lactancia Latina/x is “This is Our Why: Share Your Story”, I will begin with glimpses of my origin story…picking up from stay-at-home-mom turned Lactation Consultant…todo por casualidad mas casual y sin querer queriendo! (Coincidentally and Unplanned)!
As a 1st generation Dominican-American daughter of immigrants born and raised in Bronx, New York, I am very proud to be a Latina-Taína-African-Caribbean International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC) 💖
Personally, I have always had a very unique world view from a cultural perspective given my upbringing. While growing up, much of my extended family immigrated to the United States, with my home as their launch pad upon arrival. Multiple generations lived, loved, worked and played together under one roof with the “American Dream” as the ideal. Outside of my home, the world functioned in English. Yet inside the safety and comfort of our home, we lived our lives in Spanish, deeply rooted in our heritage and cultural traditions.
For almost 18 years now, I live, work and nurture my own young family in the suburbs of Rockland County, NY. Having my three children via all-natural, non-medicated births while well-supported by my husband and family, gave me a strong starting point. We prepared as best we could with carefully selected childbirth classes and supportive healthcare providers. We self-advocate extensively and expected the best.
However, challenges during pregnancy and throughout our postpartum years were abound. In addition to normal challenges, we suffered other hardships including unexpected health issues, the loss of many beloved Elders, and career changes. Added to all of this, never before had I experienced “culture shock” the way I did while becoming a new mother…and still do at times. I came to realize that there was so much value in growing up with extended family in close proximity and the real impact of all left behind in our old traditions and ways…our early years were tough! The good news is that somehow we managed to survive…it wasn’t easy, yet it was all worthwhile!
Coping with and overcoming several challenges and barriers inspired me to help new mothers even while still growing my own family. Among the first Hispanic/Latina persons of color in my local area to embark on this journey during a time when it was not popular, my desire to work with families was born out of my early motherhood experiences. Innately sensing the need to share all there was to know about lactation in the community at large, especially for underserved areas, I began seeking out volunteer opportunities ultimately becoming an Accredited Leader with La Leche League International.
My Clinical Lactation career formally started ~ 12 years ago when I embarked on IBCLC Pathway 1, with no medical background, as “just a Mom” starting my life over again. Thankfully my personal breastfeeding journey was very well supported, which has fueled my passion to “serve it” forward.
Today, as an IBCLC at Montefiore Nyack Prenatal Center, my responsibilities include overseeing outpatient clinical lactation, social support groups for the broader community and other perinatal-related events. At the Prenatal Center, I provide outpatient support services in both English and Spanish since ~ 90% of the patients are Latina/x families originating from various countries. This position also led to pursuing certifications in Prepared Childbirth, Infant Development and Perinatal Mental Health to garner more extensive knowledge base and skill set.
My unique background as a Latina, from lived and professional experiences, has resulted in a deeper sensitivity and understanding of the breadth & depth of life challenges faced by young families during their most vulnerable, tender stage of having babies. It is an honor to provide culturally-sensitive, in-language education and support in a hospital environment.
Sadly, my position at the Prenatal Center seems to be an exception as opposed to the rule in healthcare. The U.S. healthcare system seems to have an expectation for the Latina/x segment to independently, with minimal to no preparation or assistance, achieve high EBF rates. This is especially true for recent migrants to the United States. However, there seems to be little to no consideration to the myriad of barriers faced by the Latina/x community from basic cultural misconceptions regarding healthcare in general, and lactation specifically, to real life traumas whether generational or lived. This is not about stereotypes…and there are no broad brush strokes. The complexity of barriers and challenges faced by Latina/x families are extensive. So careful consideration must be given to each individual’s circumstances and needs.
While the Covid19 pandemic exposed shortcomings in Maternal Health resulting in significant collective shifts, many cultural myths combined with reality-based barriers to accessing care remain prevalent for Latina/x families. From basic myths such as “No hay leche!” (There’s no milk!) to extensive socio-economic barriers including lack of awareness, time, finances, language, transportation, childcare layered with discouragement by family & friends all hinder large portions of the Latina/x segment in the United States from exclusive and/or natural-term breastfeeding.
We must also acknowledge the negative impacts of racism and prejudice on some portions of the Latina/x community. Marginalization, stereotypes, prejudice, racial biases, systemic racism, health disparities and predatory formula marketing tactics also cause adverse experiences leading to misconceptions which may result in general disapproval of breastfeeding (especially in public) and a desire to disassociate from breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
When it comes to infant feeding, whether newly arrived, long residing or later generations, Latina/x parents often plan to “dar las dos cosas” as in offer both their own milk and formula from birth. Yet parents who receive prenatal education in-language are more likely to attempt exclusive breastfeeding from birth thru early postpartum days/weeks, ultimately leading to better outcomes.
Most essential to breastfeeding/chestfeeding success are gentle guidance and support in tangible, practical ways. Additionally, it is crucial to encourage self-advocacy as well as informed decision-making and consent throughout care as a basic human/civil right. Self-expression is empowering for parents and beneficial to the communication process overall to ensure the best possible care. The Latina/x community must also be encouraged to seek out social support groups for common normal course of lactation concerns for long-term success.
There is SO much more to share and much work to be done! Please know that, as Lactation Consultants, we can create opportunities within our local communities by openly discussing, broadly volunteering, inquiring about employment opportunities even if the positions do not yet exist. Just as we plant seeds of knowledge for families, we must advocate to advance Lactation education and support services as an essential part of the Circle of Care that is accessible to everyone as a general standard. Podemos y debemos! We can and we must!
A continuacion perpetua… To be continued…
~ Patti Guzmán
About the Author:
Patrícia Soriano Guzmán (Patti)
BSBA, IBCLC, ICCE, PMH-C, PRaM
Patrícia Soriano Guzmán is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® and Allied Healthcare Professional specializing in Perinatal Support services. Since 2011, she has pursued advanced education with leading organizations, first in Lactation followed by Perinatal Mental Health, Prepared Childbirth and Infant Development. As of 2017, Patrícia oversees outpatient Clinical Lactation, Postpartum Support and other Perinatal-related events as a Lactation Consultant at Montefiore Nyack Hospital. In 2018, she led the Prenatal Center’s achievement as the 1st Obstetrics practice in Rockland County to achieve the NYS DOH 10 Steps to Breastfeeding-Friendly Practice designation, re-designated 2023-2028. Patricia is also part of the Lactation team recognized by the IBCLC Care Award for three consecutive terms, 2018-2024.
Patrícia has been featured as presenter and speaker for a variety of virtual events, and most recently, led a 20-Hour Lactation Education training for healthcare professionals. This program was part of the NYS DOH Creating Breastfeeding-Friendly Communities initiative and approved for Continuing Education Recognition Points (CERPs). She draws from extensive skills honed during her previous career as an Advertising Director in New York City. Her accomplishments have been recognized by local and international organizations alike. Patrícia is committed to empowering families as they grow and advancing equitable perinatal care.
Patrícia is a 1st generation Dominican-American, Bronx, NY native and most importantly a proud wife and Mom of three young children living in Rockland County, NY.