Breastfeeding in Native American cultures is often viewed as ceremony, and thus an act of resilience; however due to the effects of historical trauma, this act has been lost. Breastfeeding is important for maternal and infant health by providing physiological and psychological short-term and long-term benefits, such as the prevention of infectious and chronic diseases and improvements in mental health, family bonding and a return of societal values. This project aims to train community Indigenous Breastfeeding Counselors and local health care providers in breastfeeding best practices, who will thereby teach families and community members about breastfeeding in a culturally appropriate way that meets the health and social needs of tribal communities in Michigan.
According to Indian Health Service (2020) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people suffer lower health statuses and a greater disproportionate burden of disease than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. These health disparities are in part attributed to lower educational levels, the quality and poor utilization of healthcare services and to overall cultural differences. These cultural differences, however, are difficult to measure because culture itself has been impacted by generations of trauma and the forced assimilation of Indigenous people. In Michigan, on 14 tribal lands, this trauma has led to high levels of family disruption, domestic violence, and dietary and physical activity changes that co-interact with depression, alcoholism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and adverse birth outcomes—all of which also negatively impose health and financial stressors on families and communities. This study will address an important cultural practice that was lost during colonization that historically brought families together, while also improving the generational health of Michigan mothers and their infants (boys and girls): Breastfeeding. Mothers and community members will regain this traditional knowledge of breastfeeding and with this new learning and sustained positive experience, it is our vision that mothers will pass this knowledge on to her own daughters, sons and other relatives thereby, increasing the health of future generations of Indigenous peoples. The physical and psychosocial benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, including lower rates of postpartum depression, and promoting optimal bonding and attachment for the infants. Breastfeeding during infancy also protects these same children from obesity, diabetes, cancer later in life; protects mothers from breast and ovarian cancers, postpartum depression and helps mothers return faster to pre-pregnancy weight thereby, reducing rates of obesity and its related sequela. These benefits will have direct and indirect positive impacts on mothers, infants, families and communities.
Our project is funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The Health Fund works to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of healthcare, with a special focus on children and seniors. You can find more information about the Michigan Health Fund at mihealthfund.org.