Meet Dr. Ifeyinwa Asiodu, breastfeeding researcher centering Black women

photo of Dr. Ifeyinwa Asiodu
Dr. Ifeyinwa Asiodu’s research isn’t meant to sit in journals. “To know that my work is resonating with people and that they can use it to amplify and support the work they’re doing is one of the biggest motivating factors for me,” she says. “That’s why I do this work.” She wants her research to spark ideas and questions in a way that helps advocates and health care providers who are working to improve the lives and health of Black women.

Dr. Asiodu found her focus on maternal and child health centered on marginalized communities during the undergraduate UCSF Summer Research Program. She then pursued a job as a home visiting Public Health Nurse with the Black Infant Health Program in San Mateo County, and her interest in breastfeeding equity took flight. As she visited clients, Dr. Asiodu heard them express concerns and hopes about breastfeeding their babies. Their hopes came up against an array of structural and institutional barriers. “I realized this wasn’t an issue specific to my clients or to California, that it was a national issue in terms of breastfeeding disparities in Black communities.” She strove to meet the needs of the community by becoming a board-certified lactation consultant, while also diving into research to better understand and address these disparities.

Dr. Asiodu traces racial inequities in breastfeeding and other maternal and child health issues back to the US legacy of slavery. Enslaved women were separated from their infants without nursing them, and were sometimes tasked with nursing the infants of slave owners. This historical foundation has created a complex relationship to breastfeeding and access to human milk in Black communities. “It’s something that we see has been perpetuated through generations, even post-slavery. We definitely see and hear remnants of that time period.”

Today, that legacy manifests in racism, discrimination, and bias, all of which impact the availability of resources. Many women lack adequate paid family leave. In California, Black and Latinx women are less likely to have lactation accommodations when they return to work. Health care workers are not as diverse as the communities they serve, and providers are less likely to talk to Black women about breastfeeding during pregnancy and after birth.

To fight these disparities, Dr. Asiodu partners with individuals and organizations doing grassroots, community-based work. She works with groups like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to highlight breastfeeding as a way to protect, promote and support Black maternal health. She’s researching Black women’s experiences with breastfeeding and human milk banks to ensure that their perspectives are included in studies. She’s also studying whether implementing the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative at UCSF will have an impact on Black women’s experiences of birthing there. It’s all tied together through a focus on improving breastfeeding and access to human milk in Black communities as a reproductive justice issue.

Her work is dependent on deep relationships with partners who share their expertise, and she wants that community to grow and thrive. “There’s so much work to be done. I don’t like being one of very few Black breastfeeding researcher in this space. I want there to be more of us, more folks of color who are investigating and addressing disparities and inequities within their own communities.”