Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Graduation photo shows 'Black Women Do Breastfeed'

updated 7:26 PM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A photo of a woman nursing at her college graduation got spread on social media
  • The picture was shared from Facebook group "Black Women Do Breastfeed"
  • The group's founder says their images encourage more black women to breast-feed

(CNN) -- The Facebook page "Black Women Do Breastfeed" has existed since 2010 with a modest audience of some 2,000 people who follow it for news and conversations along with the occasional encouraging image of a breast-feeding mother.

Over the weekend, the page shared a picture of a woman breast-feeding at her graduation, prompting a chorus of social media cheers and jeers. While much of the reaction has focused on whether the picture is appropriate, the women behind "Black Women Do Breastfeed" say its message is lost in the social media chatter.

"It's important for black women to see other black women breast-feeding," said Nicole Sandiford, who started "Black Women Do Breastfeed" in 2010 as a blog and Facebook group. "Seeing other black women breast-feeding provides a sense of broad community and support for those who are trying to do it."

If that sounds weird to you, look no further than a recent post on the Facebook page asking, "If someone tried to talk you out of breast-feeding, what were their reasons?" Comments vary from, "My mom said that's what poor people did in the old days" to "You won't make enough milk" or "It's something that white people do."

That wasn't Sandiford's experience growing up in a black family outside of the United States, where it wasn't unusual to see women breast-feed openly in public. She remembers seeing her mother breast-feed her sister and knew that one day she, too, would breast-feed her children.

Dad's breast-feeding campaign goes viral
Model's pic sparks breast-feeding debate
Server responds to breast-feeding

When she turned to the Internet in 2009 for support after her son's birth, she noticed that most images and personal stories did not include black women. Or, when conversations included black women, they focused on how they breast-feed at lower rates than other racial groups.

"I said to myself, 'Hmm, we seem to be missing from this broader conversation,' " said Sandiford, a married mother of two in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"But, as I went through my life, I knew black women who were breast-feeding, including me. I thought one thing I can do to broaden the conversation is collect stories of black women who are breast-feeding."

Georgia mother Shlonda Smith also breast-fed her five children, but somewhere along the way, a friend said to her "you're the only black women I know who breast-feeds," remember Smith, who joined "Black Women Do Breastfeed" as a co-administrator in late 2013.

"It became important to me to see other black women breast-feed and make it visible that yes, black women do breast-feed," Smith said.

On the Facebook page, links to news articles and studies garnered a few likes here and there, but things took a turn a few weeks ago when Smith posted an image of a woman breast-feeding. More women sent pictures for Smith to post and engagement increased, hitting a high with a split image of a woman breast-feeding alongside a picture of pop star Rihanna in a see-through dress. It included the caption, "Why is it OK for a star to wear this but for me to breastfeed it's a problem."

Karlesha Thurman decided to post the photo of herself breast-feeding her child while wearing her graduation cap and gown in the comments of that photo. It immediately got more attention than any other post ever on the page, Smith said, who could relate to being a young mom finishing college.

"It was just beautiful; it just spoke volumes," Smith said. "Breast-feeding is tough at the beginning, so to see a young mom who balanced breast-feeding and school, that's amazing."

But on social media and in other areas, Thurman saw some backlash. Smith offered to take the photo down, but Thurman refused.

"I found out I was pregnant my last year of college, had my daughter one week into my last semester, she was my motivation to keep going, so me receiving my BA was OUR moment," Thurman said, according to a post on the page.

"Black Women Do Breastfeed" also received negative comments about its name and its focus on black women. It also received new support -- the audience climbed to more than 7,000 by Wednesday afternoon.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Sandiford spoke with CNN about breast-feeding, race and how "Black Women Do Breastfeed" has grown to accommodate a diverse audience.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity:

CNN: Why is the group named "Black Women Do Breastfeed"?

Sandiford: I named it "Black Women Do Breastfeed" so that people could be aware that there is community of black women who do breast-feed and who are interested in breast-feeding and want to share their experiences. One of the things I used to do when I was looking online for information about breast-feeding is put in search "black women breast-feed," and I figured if I named it something like that, it would come up in searches.

The name is not there to exclude anyone because from the very start, we've had women and men of varying races express interest in being on the page, but black women need advocacy in this area as well. That doesn't exclude women from joining the advocacy, it just recenters the conversation.

In addition to making black women breast-feeding more visible, we've made women who felt like they were the only ones doing it realize they're not alone. We made women who may not have previously breast-fed their children see this community of women.

There are women in this country who may be the first generation in their family to breast-feed. They may be the only women in their community who breast-feed, and that makes it difficult to find support.

CNN: How does sharing pictures of women breast-feeding contribute to this goal?

Sandiford: In the U.S., even though we do have breast-feeding, it's not seen as a common thing. It's not really something you necessarily see walking down the street. For black women who don't know other women who breast-feed in their community, it is important to see that is happening.

CNN: Why do you think this image went viral?

Sandiford: I think people were impressed that this young woman was able to graduate while taking care of a young infant. Because people are not used to seeing breast-feeding in public in this country, we tend to get really nervous or scared or unsure or outright offended because many of us are not used to seeing breasts in that context.

But, I think it's important that photos like this are out there because women need to be able to breast-feed their babies and sometimes it needs to happen in public. Babies need to eat, and they can't control other people's feelings. I think it's important that people remember this is about feeding a baby, and we as nation need to figure out how to manage our own personal feelings and allow women and babies to breast-feed as they need to.

CNN: How have you handled the reaction on your page?

Sandiford: When it comes to social media, you will always see detractors, you will always see people who disagree. But I think it's good to remember that for each of those detractors, there are more people saying 'We support her, and we don't see anything wrong with this.'

We've been very heartened by the positive comments we've seen, and we've definitely seen a lot more positive than negative ones. For us, we've tried not to fan the flames because we don't want to contribute to any harm that might come, and we certainly hope there isn't any so we're trying to be a little bit more low-key.

We are assessing how we want to manage pictures in the future. We don't want to discourage anyone who has pictures they want to share from doing so, but right now, our main concern is that women featured in pictures won't fear any harm from sharing them.

CNN: Do you think the reaction would've been different if a white woman had appeared in the picture?

Sandiford: It's really hard for me to say, but I think that maybe certain assumptions might not have been made if the person in the picture was not black because we've had people questioning her devotion to her studies, questioning her lifestyle and just making slanderous comments.

It's really difficult to say, but I do think the reaction might have been a little different.

As a new parent, did you feel encouraged to breastfeed -- or discouraged? Share your experience in the comments, on Twitter @CNNLiving with the hashtag #CNNparents or on CNN Living's Facebook page.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place. An online quiz can help you determine whether you are over-reliant on your cell phone.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Options for meat substitutes have come a long way since Seth Tibbott's first few Thanksgivings as a vegetarian in the 1970s.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 9:55 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A Louisiana family is fighting to protect its beloved pit bull from a "vicious dogs" ordinance.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT