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#StrangersOnTheInternet: The Importance of Community as a Black Woman in Lactation

My first interaction with lactation support began in October of 2017.

I remember sitting in my bathroom, tired, crying because my baby- while an enthusiastic nurser, had a terrible latch. My nipples were raw and healing, and my only solution at the time was the nipple shield the hospital lactation consultant gave me at discharge. But after being forced into an induction I didn't want, I was determined to make breastfeeding work. As I sat there a mutual friend texted me to ask how I was doing and to invite me to an online breastfeeding support group of Black women. I accepted her invitation, and my story took off from there.

I pretty much owe my career in lactation to Facebook. It was there I first found my "mama tribe" of Black breastfeeding mothers, which translated into a few of us seriously considering lactation support as a whole or partial career. And not so much in a "wow, people get paid to do this" kind of way, but a "My people need to see that this is a viable need (re: not a "white people thing") so they can get the qualified help they deserve" thing. I had started using the clinical knowledge I was gaining off Facebook to drive my responses and interactions with my peers. One particular night, a discussion within the group got a little heated and another member messaged me. We often talked back and forth on posts, but that night we really hit it off. I remember thinking, "I like her! and she's a PG girl!? Bet." The next few months saw us talking about going back to school, hating stats class, pushing through training modules (really, how many anatomy videos can one watch), and balancing our new passion with our familial and professional duties. We, along with another member met in person for the first time at ILCA, the annual international conference for lactation consultants and supporters. It was like meeting lifelong best friends, and they wouldn't be the last.

"Black and Hispanic social media users are more likely than whites to say that social sites help them find politically like-minded people, get involved with issues that are important to them and express their political views"- Cecelia Lei, NPR

According to, 53% of daily Facebook users identified as Black in 2018. It's me. I'm part of the 53%. Its been part of my social algorithm almost as long as its been around. Social media allowed me to connect with friends and family that distance would have otherwise severed ties with. Its also opened the doors to new, and oftentimes meaningful relationships with people you may never meet; but share your same goals, fears, political and social views, etc. For me and many of my colleagues, we found our passions and rallying cries from the hashtags of Instagram, planned tactical movements and fostered mentorships in Facebook groups and chats, and started consultancies on YouTube. Francesca Sobande, a British PhD candidate at University of Dundee, studied the interactions of Black women online and found that social media is used in a multitude of ways to change the narrative of Black women, and unite us in solidarity, regardless of geographical location. This would very well hold true for me and others, as we are scattered across the US. Even still, we find ways to celebrate wins, mourn personal and professional losses, and above all, use our various connections and backgrounds to network and further the access to competent and qualified care to whomever needs it (especially other POC).

Being that BIPOC lactation professionals are already few in numbers, we often do not feel safe or comfortable in spaces run by persons of dominant culture. Issues we deem critical and necessary can and have gotten blown over, our communities viewed as "non- compliant", our leaders as "loud" and "rude", having not been around long enough to challenge the status quo. While allies do help when and where they can, Facebook groups and private chat apps like WhatsApp and GroupMe have given us our safe spaces; and served as a modern Underground Railroad of sorts to help locate providers, peer support, and mentors. Its not uncommon to see someone posting from one area of the country looking for help elsewhere, and within hours, that help is found and referrals made.

Mama would say don't talk to strangers on the internet. But some strangers are the sisters and motivators you just hadn't met yet. ❤

I'm incredibly grateful for my online (and in-person) community. They encourage and validate my place in lactation work, reminding me that I belong, and I try to do the same. Every repost, like, and share is a symbol of that solidarity. When social media first exploded, I remember my mother telling us to "be careful messing with them strangers on the internet". I think now how funny it is that I've deeply connected with folk I've never met in person, and when we do finally meet its like seeing your cousin from the country that you haven't hung with since you were five. Sometimes, strangers are the sisters and motivators you just hadn't met yet.

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