National Breastfeeding Month Kickoff: The Melanated Mammary Atlas
Nekisha Killings MPH IBCLC
Editor’s Note: August is National Breastfeeding Month, and the first week of the month (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). The theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2021 is Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility. This gives us an opportunity to highlight breastfeeding as a public health issue and to once again acknowledge that, especially for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), there are many barriers that exist and impact the success of breastfeeding. In today’s blog post, Nekisha Killings introduces us to a tool that will help those who provide lactation support to provide better care.
When my journey into the lactation profession began 10 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined where the path would lead. I was a determined new La Leche League Leader, serving families in my community, with my heart set upon making sure that others who looked like me would have an easier go at feeding their infants. All these years later, the intention is still the same, but the work has evolved. While I’m still supporting families in various ways, I’m charting new paths to ensuring birthing people of color can receive better, more equipped care.
The challenges are many: there is no shortage of places where lactation supporters can make intentional shifts to take better care of all the families that need them most. One significant area where there is room for tremendous improvement is in imagery. The images of lactation conditions that are in textbooks, articles, webinars, or other materials viewed by health care providers have very few images of brown skin. Why does this matter? You may be surprised to learn that some of the most common conditions that lactation supporters are trained to identify may not be easily recognizable on dark skin – at least not by the trademark signs that they are trained to seek. What’s more, studies show that a lack of diversity in education imagery leads to racial inequality in healthcare experience, treatment, and patient outcomes (Khan & Mian, 2020).
Said another way: the more we see, the better we can support.
I knew that the right solution would be accessible, dynamic, and would allow for supporters to provide context around how they identified conditions. It would be a practical resource that was truly informed by the communities featured and would funnel resources back to those very communities. It would be a huge undertaking, but worth every second.
I’m proud to share that during Black Breastfeeding Week 2021, The Melanated Mammary AtlasTM will launch! This digital resource tool will feature the largest repository of brown breast images anywhere. The MM Atlas is a searchable database of over 30 conditions, as presented on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian people. The purpose of the MM Atlas is to help familiarize practitioners with the various ways conditions present on more deeply pigmented skin, so that the insight gained may inform care interactions and care decisions regarding people of color. The repository will be ever expanding as new images are constantly added by health professionals. Access to the MM Atlas means access to more images of conditions on brown breasts than have ever been in one place.
Who is The Melanated Mammary Atlas for? It’s for anyone providing lactation support or breast/chest care professionally or in a volunteer capacity.
How can having access to the Atlas enhance a practitioner’s community support? Normalizing how conditions present on brown skin helps those providing lactation support to provide better care by equipping practitioners to look beyond the trademark “redness” they’ve been trained to see for common conditions like mastitis. It pushes them to explore more deeply what a parent is experiencing to help understand the whole of their symptoms in order to land on advice/guidance that is most appropriate (or to know when to refer on).
How do you access the Atlas images? In order to subscribe to The Melanated Mammary Atlas, you must first be verified as a health professional, medical student, or active lactation support volunteer. Requesting to Join the Movement involves sharing a bit about why you need to see the images. Once verified, you’ll receive instructions to complete setup, subscribe, and access to the constantly growing cache of images.
Where can I learn more? Visit MMAtlas.com to learn all about the mission, the product, and the community commitment of the MM Atlas.
Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].
Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always
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