Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: Supporting Native Moms on their Breastfeeding Journeys

August 15, 2022

Previously known as Native Breastfeeding Week, Indigenous Milk Medicine Week (IMMW) is celebrated the second week of August, which is National Breastfeeding Month. This year’s theme is “Strengthening Our Traditions: From Birth and Beyond”.

It’s Indigenous Milk Medicine Week. Formerly known as Native Breastfeeding Week, the celebration seeks to honor the diversity of Native breastfeeding experiences, increase support and resources, promote healing and wellness, and provide stories and knowledge regarding Native breastfeeding.

The week-long observance is a joint effort among indigenous breastfeeding counselors, breastfeeding advocates, community health nurses, lactation consultants, health care providers involved in the birthing process and breastfeeding mothers.

Why Indigenous Milk Medicine Week is important

While breastfeeding rates in the United States have increased over the past decade, racial and ethnic health disparities continue. Health disparities are differences in the health of one group of people compared to the health of other groups of people.

While more research on Native American breastfeeding trends is needed, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Native American babies are breastfed at lower rates than other babies in the United States. In fact, while 84.1% of all babies in this country are breastfed at some point in their lives, only 78.4% of Native Americans (including American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians) are ever breastfed. According to experts, this health disparity is because of a lack of Native American lactation consultants and past cultural issues in Native communities that disrupted family bonds.

However, on a positive note, Native American moms who were still breastfeeding their babies after 6 months were more likely to continue breastfeeding for at least 12 months.

Why is breastfeeding good for your baby? 

Breast milk is the best food for babies in the first year of life. It helps them grow healthy and strong and protects them from infections and illness.

For example:

  • Breast milk has hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help your baby grow and develop.
  • Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from many illnesses.
  • Breast milk has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that may help your baby’s brain and eyes develop.
  • Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS).
  • Breast milk is easy to digest.
  • Breast milk changes as your baby grows so they get exactly what they need at the right time.
  • Breast milk is always ready when your baby wants to eat. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make.

Breastfeeding is an important social driver of health. These are conditions in which you’re born and grow, work, live and age that affect your health throughout your life. Native families are at higher risk for serious health issues, including being severely overweight and developing diabetes. Breastfeeding has been found to lower the risk of developing these medical conditions.

Want to learn more about breastfeeding? Our Breastfeeding Guide has tips for breastfeeding holds, using a breast pump and storing breast milk.