NYC's A-Train has been a popular subject for music, migration, and activism since its opening in 1932. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as way to tell people how to get to Harlem, composed Take the A-Train which was later named by NPR as one of the hundred greatest songs of the 20th Century. Not welcome to live in many parts of NYC in
the early part of the 20th Century, the A-Train was also key to allowing African-Americans to migrate from Harlem into Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, thereby cultivating another center of African-American culture and life in NYC. However, not known to many is the use of the A-Train as a vehicle to advocate for civil rights.
August is National Breastfeeding Month. Every year during the month on one early morning, moms, babies, dads, families, and advocates from all boroughs of NYC hop onto the subway to meet each other to rally, march and lead one of the largest subway caravans on the A-Train. Convened by the NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council since 2004, it is an effort to draw attention to the importance of breastfeeding and the freedom to breastfeed one's child anywhere and at anytime.
This year's subway caravan carried even greater significance. For the first time, the meet up point prior to entering the A-Train caravan happened at the center of City government — City Hall. Secondly, this year marked the 20th year anniversary of the passage of New York State's law protecting a mother's civil right to breastfeed her baby in any public or private place:
"1994 NY ALS 98; 1994 NY LAWS 98; 1994 NYSN 3999 79-e Right to Breast Fed. Not with standing any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location,
public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother's breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding."
Over 200 advocates from government, community and faith organizations, non-profits,
elected officials, parent groups, as well as a few celebrities celebrated and chanted a clear call to action: all mothers, babies, and families should have easy access and support to provide their children with the optimal first food - breastmilk. The reality is most mothers start breastfeeding after delivering a child, however, by six months of age, there is a dramatic drop in those that are exclusively breastfeeding. The numbers are even lower for mothers with not as many resources, teen moms, and for our communities of color.
Advocates shared the many benefits to the baby such as providing vitamins and nutrients, helping to support brain development and a stronger ability to fight infections, and decreasing the risk of diseases such as asthma and obesity. There are also benefits from mothers who breastfeed such as supporting the body to recover after pregnancy and delivery. Not as many know about the decreased risk of diabetes, ovarian cancer, and certain types of breast cancer.
After remarks and testimonials, the group was charged up and the A-Train processional
continued over to the Chambers Street subway entrance; parents pushed strollers, mothers breastfed their babies while others carried signs and life-size cut-outs of women breastfeeding. After filing down onto the platform extending the entire length of the train,
the 150 or so remaining advocates poured into the A-Train, and the subway ride began to Brooklyn. Other passengers watched with curiosity. Those with enough courage even asked questions and made comments, "What is this about?" "I tried to breastfeed but it did work out." "This is great." Others just minded their business.
At Nostrand Ave in Bed-Stuy, the group exited and led their final march to Restoration
Plaza, home of the nation's first community development corporation, where they met about 200 other advocates for their final rally of the day.
As the month continues, there will be many more demonstrations of breastfeeding support that happen across the country and here in NYC. Later this month, NYS Assemblyman Walter Mosley will open a community lactation station in his Brooklyn 57th district office.
This follows the leadership of NYC Councilman Robert Cornegy of Bed-Stuy, the first elected official in NYC who launched a community lactation station in his Council Office earlier this year.
The lactation stations provide breastfeeding moms and families who may be working close by or out and about shopping with a safe and comfortable place to feed or pump breastmilk as well as provide a refrigerator to store the milk. Partnerships with organizations such as Worksites for Wellness and the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone which is supported by the NYC Department of Health and the WK Kellogg Foundation, have been instrumental in igniting this movement.
Community lactation stations, however, are just one way to support breastfeeding moms and families. There are ways in which we can all support breastfeeding in our communities in NYC:
- Women can sign up for a text messaging service, Mobile Milk, while pregnant or after giving birth by texting MILK to 877877. Women will receive 1 — 2 messages per week with tips and guidance on breastfeeding.
- Another text messaging service that is available nationally is text4baby and can be started by texting BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411.This service provides advice on breastfeeding as well as health and safety tips for her baby.
- If you are an employer or business, learn how to support your breastfeeding employees, ensure that you have a workplace lactation room and create businessesthat are baby-friendly. You can also display a sign in your window that says "Breastfeeding is Welcome Here."
- Over 125 faith-based organizations across NYC who have joined the movement and become baby friendly in which breastfeeding is explicitly welcome for mothers in their places of worship.
Supporting babies and families will take each one of us to act intentionally everyday. Start a conversation about breastfeeding with your family or friends, or ask a pregnant woman or mother, breastfeeding or not, how her day is going. Building a healthier next generation will truly take a village.
For more information on how you, your business, or organization can support families, email firstname.lastname@example.org.