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Black Breastfeeding Week: Interview with Sophia Brown

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Sophia Brown is a Tampa Bay area lactation consultant with a wealth of knowledge and a heart of gold. She has over thirteen years of experience working with mothers and babies and is passionate about supporting breastfeeding mothers to achieve their personal goals. Sophia is extremely knowledgable and qualified, having earned her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, an IBCLC certification, in addition to studying with Marie Biancuzzo of Breastfeeding Outlook. She is a member of the International Lactation Consultation Association (ILCA), and has been active in La Leche League as well as Baby Cafe groups. Sophia is also a mother to three children and knows firsthand the struggles that come with breastfeeding and hopes to be a role model for women, especially in the Black community.

I am so pleased to be able to feature her wisdom on my page and highlight a local resource for anyone who’d like more information or support with breastfeeding here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

Please tell our readers a little bit about who you are, your background, and what led you to doing this work.

I am a registered nurse with a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Similarly an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). I studied at Helene Fuld College of Nursing in NYC and received my nursing degree in 1995. My background in nursing consists of working with adults in medical-surgical, MICU and home health settings. The past thirteen years of my career consists of caring for the neonatal population, and the dyad of mother and child. This allowed me to further my training and education, having received my certification in Low Risk Neonatal Nursing and graduating from Rasmussen College with the status of Magma Cum Laude; receiving my BSN.

I was inspired to become a Lactation Consultant after working in the Maternal Child Division at Tampa General Hospital. I have experienced the different challenges that so many women face with breastfeeding, and wanted to be of further help. I personally know how rewarding this experience can be having breast fed two of my three children. To achieve the status of an International Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC); in addition to my work experience I studied with Marie Biancuzzo of Breastfeeding Outlook and took a proctored international board certified exam. 

I have worked for two major hospitals in the capacity as a lactation consultant/neonatal nurse and similarly started my own private practice. I have volunteered at the Baby Café, attended La Leche League meetings and joined the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), to remain current in my practice with evidence-based information. This also allows me to continue educating, encouraging and empowering the dyad of mom/ baby on their breastfeeding journey.

I am passionate about supporting breastfeeding mothers with their personal goals and normalizing breastfeeding for this and following generations. It is my goal to provide lactation support and counseling whenever and wherever possible.

Tell us about your specific practice and how you serve the women in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

I provide private in—home consultation visits, and phone support. Since covid-19 I have incorporated video consultation in my practice. In the future I hope to include support groups for mom/baby.

Why do you think it’s important to normalize breastfeeding in the US? In the Black community?

I think it is important to normalize breastfeeding in the US for all communities. However the Black Community statistically is one of the lowest groups to exclusively breastfeed and has the highest rate of infant mortality. This makes it imperative to normalize breastfeeding amongst this community. 

Why is it important for Black women and babies to have a distinct week dedicated to their breastfeeding endeavors?

The history behind black women and breastfeeding holds a negative connotation from the days of slavery. This, combined with the lack of education on the benefits of breastfeeding, as well as the social constraints, make having a successful breastfeeding journey challenging for black women. Having a week dedicated to black women and their breastfeeding endeavors provides a statement of support, encouragement and empowerment. 

What are some of the unique barriers that Black women in particular face on their breastfeeding journey, and how are you helping to break those barriers down?

I covered the first part in the previous question but I personally make it my mission to educate, encourage and empower all breastfeeding mothers. Being a black woman and mother who breastfeed two of my three children, I hope that I am also a personal and relatable example for black women.

There are many systemic barriers in place preventing Black women from being able to breastfeed long-term (lack of paid maternity leave, lack of representation in the medical and perinatal fields, biases and wrong assumptions regarding their desire to breastfeed, the generational trauma from being forced to be wet nurses for those who enslaved them, etc.). What can we do on an individual level to support Black women on their breastfeeding journeys?

All women face similar struggles. However, unfortunately black women have some additional barriers, as you mentioned. Education, support and empowerment for mothers and education for the community as a whole are my individual contributions. I promote education and normalizing breastfeeding on all avenues of social media and in person.

What are the most common frustrations or barriers that you’ve encountered in your practice as you try to provide lactation services to women who need it?

Lack of education and the opposition to change when given evidence–based information, and the cultural bias against breastfeeding are my greatest frustration. However with persistent education and more awareness there is hope for breaking down these barriers. We are making strides!

What would you say are the most influential factors to breastfeeding successfully long-term? Do they differ amongst varying communities or cultures?

Support from family is a very important factor. Breastfeeding can be extremely rewarding and also quite challenging. Support from the mother’s significant other, family, and friends are key factors, along with a determined mother. In the black community there is usually less of this overall support.

If there was one thing that you wish all pregnant women knew about breastfeeding before they have their baby, what would it be?

How rewarding it can be! There may be obstacles initially, however, give yourself time and be patient with the process. You cannot fail at breastfeeding. Please hang in there!!

Connect with Sophia!

Facebook @sophiabrownibclc
Instagram @sophiabrown.lactation.services
Email: sophiabrownibclc@gmail.com