17 Apr Q&A: At Black Infant Health, ‘There’s Something We Can Do to Support That Family’
Interview, Malcolm Marshall
Editor’s note: Black Infant Health is a statewide program to help Black women navigate the personal and systemic challenges surrounding pregnancy and early motherhood. It provides support and resources such as baby supplies and information to help women communicate with their doctors. It has locations throughout California. You can read more about the program in our story: Black Infant Health Helps Black Moms ‘Give Birth the Way She Wants’
The following is an edited conversation with Lonni Watkins, a health education specialist at the Contra Costa County chapter.
Richmond Pulse: Tell us about the Black Infant Health program and what it offers.
Lonni Watkins: The Black Infant Health Program with Contra Costa County is free to all pregnant [people] and moms of babies less than six months — if they identify as being Black and live in the county, they can join us. Services are free, such as diapers, one-on-one support, anything that kind of helps them reduce their stress in the areas of health, relationship and finances. That’s what we’re here for. We offer prenatal and postpartum groups in a social setting, whether it’s on Zoom or coming out in the community. And we try to get people to know what’s going on, such as reading rates. That’s why [we give] books, just so they know that educating our children starts in the womb … talking, reading and singing with our children. We want to make sure we’re doing that at all costs.
Richmond Pulse: How long has the program been around?
LW: The program itself has been around for 30 years. We are in different places in California. I’ve been in Contra Costa County for seven years. It’s a new program where the structure of the program is a little different. We have a curriculum that is followed in all 15 different jurisdictions. So no matter where you are, if you see a pregnant Black mom or a mom and a little baby, you should tell her about blackinfanthealth.org.
RP: What are some of the biggest needs for pregnant Black mothers that you see through your work in the county?
LW: I would say the biggest need is for awareness on how to get support where it can help with their finances. So most moms and most Black moms everywhere are head of household. So we’re usually working, taking care of the children, but our ends aren’t meeting. So if there are different programs that we qualify for, where we can save our money and get extra food, get extra books, get extra kid clothes. That is what is kind of needed. Now, we also need just awareness on how racism impacts everything. It impacts our stress and impacts the health care we receive, education we receive. And when we always stress, we can’t take care of ourselves and take care everybody else. And that’s why our lifeline is shorter than most people. We have higher rates of diabetes and hypertension. It’s not just what we eat; it’s the life we live.
RP: Did the pandemic make things harder for mothers?
LW: For sure, especially since access was cut off. The ease of getting there was made extremely difficult. Isolation was increased. Getting resources, even getting to your doctor’s appointment — a lot of stuff [was] virtual, so if we already feel like we’re neglected and now we can’t even get seen, you can just imagine how that’s just going to impact our overall health rates and disparities.
RP: Anything you want to add?
LW: I would say follow us online. And like I said, whenever you see a mom or dad holding a Black baby, tell them about Black Infant Health. There’s something we can do to support that family.
Also, we have our Deliver Birth Justice campaign. [For] any dad of a Black baby — they don’t have to be Black as long as the baby’s Black — we have a dad program as well, where they encourage all the same things. Look up [Partners in Pregnancy] in Contra Costa County as well.
If you need more information, check us out at blackinfanthealth.org. We are a Public Health Department program, and our contact number is (925) 313-6254. If you are interested in supporting the Black family in any way, give us a call, check us out and follow the hashtag #DeliverBirthJustice, where we are helping fathers and mothers so our babies can make it and our moms can make it as well.