This story is part three of a Black breastfeeding series that highlights real-life stories of Black mothers and lactation specialists navigating disparities and creating solutions in today’s maternal health climate.
Jada Metcalf, 43, says her aunt became her saving grace when she was pregnant with her second child while breastfeeding her first.
She was so inspired by the way her aunt cared for her that she became a postpartum doula — a person who provides families with emotional and informational support after the birth of a baby.
She later became certified as a breastfeeding specialist and currently serves lactating people through her company, Milk + Honey Co.
One thing Metcalf learned after working with families who are navigating their own unique challenges? Societal barriers have kept so many parents from having joyful breastfeeding experiences.
“Breastfeeding affects every aspect of your life, whether it’s transportation, food, housing,” Metcalf told Word In Black in a video interview. “We deal with parents that live in food deserts, so they have a lack of access to food within a walkable distance.”
As a resident of Riverdale, Georgia, Metcalf provides lactation care to families in nearby Atlanta, a predominately Black community that has a shortage of accessible groceries stores in parts of the city.
According to data from the McKinsey Global Institute and McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, one-in-five Black U.S. residents lack access to fresh food. This disparity is dangerous for breastfeeding people, who require loads of nutrients to properly feed their babies.
“We look at the situation in Flint — not having the proper water. And water is something that breastfeeding parents need,” Metcalf says. Breastfeeding “intersects [with] every social determinant of public health, so it is something that definitely needs to be more politically, I think, publicized.”
Black breastfeeding people are also impacted by the low number of Black IBCLCs or international board-certified lactation consultants.
These licensed health professionals specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding. Black people represent less than 2% of the experts.
Metcalf, whose been certified as a breastfeeding specialist since 2018, says she’s on the fence about pursuing her license because she’s doing well with her certification.
“It’s a hard journey becoming an IBCLC — the lack of resources, the lack of mentorship, having adequate unbiased mentorship — for a lot of professionals of color is one thing that we run into,” she says.
Metcalf founded a Facebook group called The Future of Lactation in response to the lack of breastfeeding support for Black and brown people. The group helps educate people on lactation professions.
“My theory is if we can get more representation into the field, we can increase Black breastfeeding rates because Black birthing people want to be treated by people that look like them,” she says.
At Milk + Honey Co, Metcalf provides home visits to address breastfeeding pain, cracked nipples, low or oversupply of milk, clogged ducks, and other issues.
She also offers kits to people interested in learning how to hand express milk and online classes covering breastfeeding education, prenatal nutrition, and exercise.
Before starting a breastfeeding journey, she encourages parents to set realistic goals and understand “what is going to be required of them in order to continue this journey.”
“Because I can’t do it for you. I can give you all the information in the world, but you are the one that’s going to have to latch that baby eight to 16 times a day, especially in the early days,” she says.
Additionally, she says “breastfeeding is communal” and suggests finding one “breast friend” while planning life around nursing.
“So you’re going places that are breastfeeding friendly and utilizing providers that are breastfeeding friendly,” she says. “And if it means staying away from some family members, you’ve got to have a little bit of tough skin to stand up to them. But usually, I tell [clients], be ready with facts because they’re going to be ready with myths and untruths.”