The members of Chocolate Milk Mommies, a parenting group in Birmingham, Alabama, are proud to breastfeed their children. But they say nursing at all — let alone in public — often carries a negative stigma within the Black community.
“It is taboo within the African American home to breastfeed your child, let alone to do it past the age of 1,” one member of the group, Rauslyn Adams, 26, tells PEOPLE. “Breastfeeding has been seen by some African American women as reverting to ‘slavery days’ when feeding a child by breast was the only option.”
The lack of proper support for breastfeeding in Black communities has left Black infants with the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation, according to a Centers for Disease Control study that analyzed births from 2000 to 2008.
With this in mind, the moms of Chocolate Milk Mommies, led by Angel Warren, decided to pose for a nursing photoshoot as breastfeeding “goddesses” for Black Breastfeeding Week.
“To us a goddess theme was perfect because they represent strength, poise, and patience; qualities we all feel to be important when breastfeeding,” Adams says.
The mothers did each other’s hair and makeup, including body art, and all wore goddess crowns as they posed for photographer Keisha Cohill.
“After rocks, dust, kneeling and crying babies Keisha was able to capture a beautiful moment, as she always does,” Adams says. “Every single time we get together we always discuss how beautiful it is to have all of us amongst one another.”
The group hoped that the images will show the beauty of breastfeeding, and encourage more Black women to nurse.
“It is important to show black women breastfeeding because our community needs it,” Adams says. “We need the support and we need our children to be healthy as well.”
Plus, she adds, breastfeeding in public is difficult for women of all races, and that needs to change.
Feeding a child in public from the breast is often seen as indecent and given a perverse sexual connotation,” Adams says. “The indecency claims of public breastfeeding generalizations make it hard for any woman, let alone an African American woman, to nurture her child through breastfeeding.”
“We are not nor have we ever frowned upon women who do not breastfeed, because that is a personal choice that we can not control nor do we care to control. We also have nothing against any other race; however, we are our community’s biggest advocates,” Adams says. “These photos were for empowerment, confidence, and awareness of breastfeeding.”
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The moms say that their goal is simply to encourage women to feed their babies in whichever way works best for them — and to end the marginalization of Black breastfeeding women.
“For some moms, breastfeeding looks like this. For others, they may choose to cover themselves. And some moms may choose not to breastfeed at all. All of which are perfectly okay,” says group member Jennifer Miller, 27. “You are your baby’s No. 1 advocate!”