What is First Food?
First Food, or support for breastfeeding and breastfeeding education, is an emerging part of food equity and community health movements. Often, food equity is thought of in terms of traditional food systems: access to fresh fruit and vegetables and proximity to grocery stores and farmer’s markets, affordability of essential food items, treatment of food workers, farmers, and land ownership, as well as healthy options in both urban and rural neighborhoods for people of all income levels and racial backgrounds. The field of First Food encompasses healthy food options—from the birth of a child to the critical first years of life. Access to First Food, therefore, is a critical part of food equity and healthy food systems.
A child’s first food is more often than not, breastmilk. However, the encouragement and facilitation of breastfeeding for new parents, depends on many external factors. We know from our own research and the body of findings in the first food and health equity sectors that women of color are:
- less likely to breastfeed;
- less likely to have access to breastfeeding support or education;
- and, if able to breastfeed their infants, are more likely to breastfeed for a shorter time than their White counterparts.
First Food equity is impacted by and intersects with community health, maternal and infant health, employment policies, and health education. Not only do new parents need to be empowered to learn how to comfortably breastfeed, but they also must be permitted to breastfeed in safe and affirming spaces—whether at home, in hospitals, in public, or in places of employment.
At CSI, we support efforts to expand the first food sector so that more people, including people of color are more likely to face systemic barriers, are able to breastfeed and have access to health care, breastfeeding supports, education on breastfeeding health issues, and have the opportunity to become breastfeeding health practitioners or advocates.
Most recently, CSI convened the National First Food Racial Equity Cohort, a group of 16 breastfeeding advocates, supporters, academics, and other practitioners from across the country. Using a train-the-trainer approach with the ultimate goal of centering Racial Equity in the broader First Food field, the First Food Cohort developed a collective vision. After over three months of collaborative learning, which included the March convening, the First Food Cohort members are sharing knowledge and embarking on team projects together across the country. CSI also produces original research on breastfeeding and racial equity.