Meet Brandi Gates, IBCLC, lactation consultant and breastfeeding coordinator for the Breast Friends Mommy Group in West Oakland, CA. Breastfeeding rates among African-American women lag behind all other ethnic groups with national data showing that only 45% of African-American women ever breastfed compared to 66 and 68% of Hispanic and white women, respectively. Of African-American women choosing to breastfeed, duration is short, with many discontinuing in the first days after birth. This was true of the African American mothers in West Oakland as well. With these shocking statistics Gates and the BCOT (African American Cultural Outreach Taskforce decided to do something about it. Funded through Kaiser Community Benefits funding and in partnership with WIC and local African American IBCLCs, The Oakland Breastfeeding Promotion Project was created and started the Breast Friends Mommy Group.
The Breast Friends Mommy Group meets monthly providing free lactation support to breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women of WIC, the health center and the surrounding community. Breast Friends is facilitated by African American WIC and Lactation staff, Brandi Gates IBCLC, Renee Alton, CLE and DeLinda Horton CLE, DN, who share information on a variety of topics including lactation, nutrition, parenting, relationships, meal planning and community resources. Group moms have benefited tremendously and are truly an inspiration to staff and the West Oakland community. They have overcome their barriers and personal circumstances to breastfeed their babies and have become empowered as mothers. The Breast Friends mommy group has become a source of evidence-based, non-judgmental information and support. They know that it is a safe place. The Breast Friends Mommy group has grown from 4 moms at the first meeting in October, 2013 to 16 -20 moms who attend regularly. One mom travels more than 30 miles on public transportation because she loves it and there are no groups like this in her area!
This group is turning the curve in breastfeeding rates. When this group began, West Oakland WIC had the largest participation percentage of African Americans but the lowest breastfeeding rates in Alameda County with breastfeeding rates of 7%. With group moms’ access to full time lactation support and education, rates have steadily increased and are currently at 27%. September, 2014 marked the first anniversary of the Breast Friends Mommy Group. Almost 70 women have attended the group and 15 moms have exclusively breastfeed a year or more.
Says Gates, “When a mom attends the Breast Friends, we followed them during pregnancy, educate them through nursing their infants and continue to support them while breastfeeding their toddlers. It is an amazing feeling when a new mom comes into the group fragile and nervous, not knowing what to expect with her new life, the more experienced moms comfort her, love on her and support her with everything she is going through they offer advice to help her through her challenges. We answer her questions and let her know she can count on the Breast Friends.” Brandi Gates, IBCLC, is a USLCA Member Making a Difference!