“We need to create spaces for barriers to be broken.”

Janiya Mitnaul Williams, 38, Breastfeeding Champion

When Janiya Mitnaul Williams was breastfeeding her sons, so many parents asked her for advice, she started a Facebook group for it.

The Mahogany Milk Support Group now has 2,500 plus members. Janiya is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Registered Lactation Consultant, Certified Lactation Counselor, and is the Program Director of the Pathway 2 Human Lactation Training Program (NCAT P2P) at NC A&T. NC A&T is the first public Historically Black College and University to have a certification in Lactation.

“I have my dream job,” she says.

Janiya grew up a military brat. She landed in Greensboro to attend NC A&T, her mother’s alma mater. She loved acting, so she studied speech pathology. It was in a health careers course that she saw her first modified barium swallow, a test that shows whether food or liquid is going into a person’s lungs and was introduced to feeding as a career choice.

After graduation, she worked in human resources for American Express. The local office closed the day before she got married. She and her husband decided to start a family.

“Right after that, people started asking me their breastfeeding questions. That is when I decided to pursue the masters in human lactation. “My husband thought I was a crazy person,” she says. “I wanted these families to have more concrete evidence-based information instead of me just telling them what worked for me.”

Black infants are less likely to be breastfed than any other racial or ethnic groups, according to the CDC.  Breastfeeding has health benefits for both child and the lactating person.

“I came from a family of people who always breastfed. But as I started having these conversations with people who looked like me, they had never seen anyone breastfed,” she says.

Janiya saw lots of feeding support groups, but none specifically for Black parents. She started the Mahogany Milk Support Group Facebook group with 20 of her friends.

“It just caught on like wildfire,” Janiya says. “This is a group that needs to be supported and nobody was doing it in our area.”

Some parents didn’t have experienced family members to ask for help. Others got help from the hospital, but not enough. They saw lactation consultants who made them feel uncomfortable or made culturally insensitive comments.

Janiya completed her Master’s in Health and Wellness with a concentration in Human Lactation at Union Institute and University. She also earned lactation certifications from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice.

She found very few Black or African American certified lactation consultants. In 2015, she became the youngest and first Black and Non-Registered Nurse lactation consultant for Cone Health, working at Alamance Regional Medical Center.

“What I found the most rewarding is that you are able to provide a sense of calm for these families who may not think they are doing something correctly — just being able to empower another person to trust their body and trust the process,” she says.

She’s taught teen parents through the YWCA, adoptive parents, and transgender parents.

“It’s about meeting people where they are and respecting everyone, especially when it comes to diversity and how you communicate with someone who is different from you. I am able to relate to these families,” Janiya says.

She provides advice and information, but also makes sure she isn’t forcing her ideas on others. Human milk has many benefits, but breastfeeding isn’t the only option. Some parents pump and use a bottle.

“There are a lot of lactation consultants who just want everyone to breastfeed. But that is not for every family,” she says.

Now Janiya is helping her alma mater launch its own International Board Certified Lactation Consultant certification program. She’s been advocating for the program for three years.

“We need to create spaces for barriers to be broken and to make more Black and culturally-aware lactation consultants,” Janiya says.

The program includes a course Janiya created on cultural communication and diversity in healthcare. It’s a chance for students to explore their own biases and prepare to work with diverse patients.

The first 11 students started the program this week, just in time for Black Breastfeeding Week.

Janiya is also working to make Mahogany Milk Support Group a 501 (c3) nonprofit. Her team of eight has already thrown a community baby shower for parents at the YWCA and helped families in the wake of the 2018 tornado. They’re also developing a scholarship for the Pathway 2 program at NC A&T.

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