Photo Project Empowers Women and Normalizes Breastfeeding in Asian-American Communities

Amanda Reyes, one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Amanda Reyes/Photo by Elisabeth Millay/BreastfeedLA)

The Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of Los Angeles, a group of advocates committed to normalizing breastfeeding in Asian-American communities, is launching its first photo project in honor of National Breastfeeding Month August 2019.

As part of the photo exhibit, 17 local moms have joined the movement in an effort to educate, normalize breastfeeding, and share their experiences breastfeeding. The photo exhibits will be hosted in both the San Gabriel Valley and downtown Los Angeles. (See information at bottom of this blog post for more details). 

The Asian Breastfeeding Task Force was formed in August 2017 by community members, hospitals, PHFE WIC, BreastfeedLA, and the LA County Department of Public Health. The goal was to help address the lower rates of Asian-American breastfeeding and address barriers to breastfeeding among Asian-American families. The task force currently aims to normalize breastfeeding in Asian-American communities through education and removing barriers that might prevent the community from breastfeeding due to cultural stigma.

Breastfeeding advocate and former TV reporter To-wen Tseng, who helped coordinate the photo project, shares that she has personally witnessed and experienced breastfeeding barriers in the workplace, after returning from maternity leave in 2013. (More on her story here).

She has also witnessed the stigma surrounding breastfeeding among Asian-American communities. Tseng shares that she came to the realization that somewhere between the generational divide between her mom being born, and her being born, the cultural shifted from one where “breastfeeding was viewed as social norm to stigma.” She added that she feels the need to restore the social norm and send out a clear message that “breastfeeding is not disturbing; it’s beautiful.” Tseng, whose photo with her 19-month-old is also a part of the photo project, has since advocated for the local community, volunteered with local breastfeeding coalitions, and has helped launch the first photo project highlighting Asian-American moms breastfeeding. 

According to various reports, Los Angeles County is home to the largest Asian-American population in the U.S. “Almost half of Asian Americans in the San Gabriel Valley are limited English proficient, yet less than six percent of lactation professionals in Los Angeles County speaks an Asian language and prenatal medical visits offer little breastfeeding education using language-appropriate materials. These barriers greatly hindered Asian mother’s chance to successfully breastfeed,” according to a press release by BreastfeedingLA.

Amanda Reyes, one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Amanda Reyes/Photo by Elisabeth Millay/BreastfeedLA)

Asian-American Moms Participating in the Breastfeeding Photo Project 

Amanda Reyes, Criselle Cruz, and Iren Siosan, are three of seventeen moms participating in the photo project by the Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of Los Angeles. 

Amanda Reyes, who has been a registered nurse for over 10 years, shares that she is a mom of two boys. She and her son Alejandro were part of the Asian Breastfeeding Task Force Project, at the time when he was four months old. Reyes, who is currently in school obtaining her doctorate in nursing practice, says that both her sons were born premature. 

“My mother never breastfed and I was the first of my group of friends to have children. Because my babies were born so vulnerable, I wanted to make sure I gave them the best opportunity in life. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed so that they would have the best possible nourishment,” said Reyes.

Reyes felt she lacked the support for breastfeeding, so she sought out Facebook groups to feel less alone in her journey. She joined groups like “First Time Mommy Group” & “Le Leche League” until stumbling across the Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of LA and the Breastfeeding LA project and learning more about their empowering initiatives.  

Amanda Reyes, one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Amanda Reyes/Photo by Elisabeth Millay/BreastfeedLA)

“Initially, I struggled with my firstborn son to breastfeed but I powered through with the support of these mommy groups. I learned so much from other mothers. Breastfeeding was difficult but not impossible. Your body is going through many changes and challenges. I became a breastfeeding expert and with my second born son, breastfeeding was a breeze,” adds Reyes. 

Reyes feels that breastfeeding is still very much stigmatized, particularly in Asian-American communities, and that it is still not fully accepted in public. She was shocked to learn that Asian-Americans have the lowest rate of breastfeeding, so she decided to join the project to spread more awareness.

“I believe with the right support, tools, and resources; mothers can breastfeed their babies for at least the first year of life,” said Reyes. 

Growing up in a Filipino household, Reyes’ family often told her stories that if one was “formula fed” in the Philippines, it meant “you were rich” because you could afford formula, she shared. “Thus, giving your baby formula was a desirable method of nourishment,” Reyes explained, from the stories she was once told.

Reyes says that while her parents were very supportive about her breastfeeding, she noticed they would often still make comments like, “I don’t think the baby has eaten enough milk,” or, “how do you know you are making enough milk?” There were also times when her brother would make comments to Reyes, suggesting that she should “cover up” when she was feeding her baby, which she felt further stigmatized breastfeeding.

Amanda Reyes, one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Amanda Reyes/Photo by Elisabeth Millay/BreastfeedLA)

Reyes says her family unintentionally made comments like this, but that it inspired her to help bring more awareness and education about breastfeeding in the Asian-American community. “I would tell my family how breastfeeding is a supply and demand. If I want to make more milk, I need to continuously breastfeed my baby so that he stimulates more milk production.” 

At one point, Reyes shares that she would often go to nursing rooms in malls to feed her baby behind a curtain, but soon realized that her baby should be able to eat wherever everyone else eats. It was then when she felt like the only way to dispel myths and eradicate the stigma of breastfeeding moms was to feel comfortable in her own skin and feed her baby in public places, because it was her right to do so, and she shouldn’t feel ashamed.

“I started feeding my baby on open benches, in mall food courts, and even walking in a sling. No need to hide! Sometimes when I breastfeed in public I get mean stares but I don’t care. It’s my right and my baby is hungry.” 

Reyes believes that it is important to have photo exhibits such as the one put on by the task force to help set aside myths and encourage the public to understand the importance of normalizing breastfeeding and supporting moms. 

Reyes says some of the myths around breastfeeding include the idea that she won’t make milk if “her breasts aren’t big.”

“I have never had a large breast and people used to tell me that I won’t make milk if my breasts aren’t big,” said Reyes, who shares that both her premie babies were breastfed and both above average in the growth chart and strong after six months of exclusive breastfeeding.

“My milk was the best for them and their size alone proves that fact.” Reyes hopes that the public realizes how normal breastfeeding is through these photos that will be part of a historic exhibit she is incredibly proud of.

“I don’t want to hide in nursing rooms next to public restrooms anymore. I want to be free to feed my baby wherever and whenever,” said Reyes, who hopes the response to the photo project will be positive and support a rise in Asian-American mothers breastfeeding. 

Criselle Cruz one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Criselle Cruz)

“I hope that people realize that breastfeeding isn’t easy. It is work but it’s all so that your baby can have the best possible nourishment. That us mothers sacrifice and struggle to keep up this skill that should be a natural form of life. And if we had support and encouragement by everyone, especially the public community, maybe more mothers would breastfeed longer.” Reyes is honored to be a part of this project, alongside 16 other empowering women, she says.

“My friends all know that I am a strong advocate for breastfeeding and this project gives me the opportunity to showcase how proud I am to breastfeed my sons.” “I am so thankful that the Asian Breastfeeding TaskForce of LA and Breastfeeding LA came together to create this amazing exhibit. I hope we made an impact in our Asian community and empowered mothers to breastfeed and be proud of it.”

Criselle Cruz, a stay-at-home-mom and small business owner, says she first got involved with the Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of Los Angeles and Breastfeed LA after seeing a post on Instagram regarding a call-out for Asian mothers who breastfeed their babies. Interested and intrigued, Cruz reached out to them because of her ongoing advocacy for breastfeeding and passion for normalizing breastfeeding. 

Criselle Cruz one of seventeen Asian-American mothers featured in an upcoming photo exhibit that normalizes breastfeeding. (Photo courtesy Criselle Cruz)

As the mother of two sons, Cruz shares that she received a lot of comments from family members who have asked her why she was still breastfeeding her two-year-old son. 

“I just smile and say, ‘Yes, I am.’ I don’t have to explain it, I know the benefits of it and I’m lucky to have this luxury that many moms don’t have,” said Cruz, who stresses the importance of showing photos in the exhibit in the local community to help dispel myths and stereotypes about breastfeeding. “…It’s not shameful, it’s not ugly. I don’t believe it should be hidden or tucked away as it’s a part of daily life and it is such a great representation of motherly love,” said Cruz.

Iren Siosan, one of seventeen moms who will be featured in an upcoming exhibit by the Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of Los Angeles. Photo courtesy: Iren Siosan

Being a part of the group of 17 Asian-American mothers breastfeeding is tremendously empowering for Cruz as an Asian-American woman and mother, she shared.

“I am proud of the message we are sending out to the world and hope that it does incite change in the normalization of breastfeeding not only within our Asian American community but to all communities,” says Cruz.

Cruz hopes that people can see the beauty in breastfeeding without judging. She hopes the public will continue to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding—both for the strengthened bond between mom and baby and the nutrients. “The nutrients, the antibodies, the time, the love and the care that mothers provide for their children through breastfeeding has long lasting beneficial effects for both child and mother, and I hope people see and learn that through this exhibit,” said Cruz.  

-This article appeared exclusively on Mornings with Moni.

-Written by Monica Luhar

The exhibit is open to the public daily 8:00am – 10:00pm in August at Live Oak Park Community Center in Temple City, and all weekdays 8:00am – 5:00pm at LA City Hall Breezeway in downtown Los Angeles. An opening event is scheduled on Saturday, August 3, 2019 from 3:00 – 5:00pm at Live Oak Park Community Center
More information here.

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