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Published on September 17, 2020

Mirror-Mirror Effect Leads to Higher Breast-Feeding Numbers

More Black women breast-feeding reflects more diversity in the lactation department.

Nearly all experts agree that breast-feeding is best. But among all races and ethnicities, fewer Black women breast-feed than any other group. Janiya Williams doesn’t think it has to be that way—and what she terms the “mirror-mirror” effect can make a difference.

A more diverse staff helps

Williams is a certified lactation consultant at Alamance Regional Medical Center. Less than 1.5% of lactation consultants certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants are Black. For Williams, that is the crux of the problem.Mother and Child

“Research shows that this is a factor that contributes to lower breast-feeding rates for Black families,” says Williams. People tend to put more trust in people that look like them-- Williams’ “Mirror-Mirror Effect.”

Cone Health saw that too and today has three Black and one Hispanic lactation consultants as part of efforts to increase breast-feeding. That gives Cone Health one of the most diverse lactation teams in the state.

Williams saw the mirror when she had her baby. She breast-fed, as her mother had. Cone Health’s Marketing & Communications Department photographed Williams breast-feeding. The photo hung on the walls in the mother baby unit and was printed in the lactation booklet that new families took home. Seeing a familiar face, Black women asked Williams questions to the point she created a Facebook group devoted to Black women and breast-feeding. “A patient who is a minority is more comfortable being seen by a minority,” says Williams who was the first Black lactation consultant at Cone Health.

It’s often about trust

It is not that white lactation consultants aren’t capable, Williams finds it is a combination of factors ranging from formula makers heavy marketing efforts towards Blacks to harmful remarks repeated all too often such as, ‘Black women don’t breast-feed,” or “She probably has WIC and will go on formula.” Williams also says Black women often feel like they aren’t listened to and white consultants are “Just another white woman telling me what to do with my body.”

Cone Health takes on diversifying the profession

Williams sees that changing once the mirror is brought into the room. “The white preceptors in the program have told me that when they see minority families, the families look to the (Black) student for information.” That’s right student. In a field with so few Black practitioners, Williams has decided to tackle that issue. Williams is the director of a recently started program at NC A&T State University to help students become certified lactation consultants. The hope is that more Black women will look into the mirror, see themselves and give breast-feeding a chance.

Cone Health is beginning to see breast-feeding numbers increase among Black women. It was the first to sign on with NC A&T as a clinical partner.