Overcoming barriers to breastfeeding

As the only board-certified African American lactation consultant in Minnesota, Moore leads the support group Chocolate Milk Club 

November 9, 2020
Meleah Maynard

LaVonne Moore

LaVonne Moore, DNP, MS ’03, CNM, CNP, IBCLC, ICEA, knew she wanted to practice in women’s health long before she earned her Master of Science in nurse-midwifery from the University of Minnesota.

Over the years, as she pursued her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from St. Catherine University, she honed her focus to one clear passion—helping women in the Twin Cities overcome barriers to breastfeeding.

The reason? While studies have shown that breastfeeding is important for moms and babies because it helps boost children’s health, cognitive development and protection against conditions like Type 2 diabetes and asthma, African American women breastfeed at much lower rates than white women do. Reasons for this disparity vary and are often attributed to a traumatic association with women being forced to wet nurse during slavery, as well as a health care-driven message that bottle feeding was better.

But those issues are only part of the problem. As Moore conducted research on this topic in graduate school, African American women told her again and again that what they needed most was breastfeeding education, support, supplies and mentors. It’s not that they didn’t want to breastfeed, it’s that they wanted women who looked like them to help them learn how. “I believe everyone can do something to address health disparities and, for me, the tool was breastfeeding,” says Moore, who founded Minneapolis-based Chosen Vessels Midwifery Services in 1998.

Moore provides home-based breastfeeding services to women, including bringing supplies such as breast pumps and other needed equipment, directly to their homes. “Chosen Vessels is committed to improving women’s health one woman at a time and that’s because I believe good health starts with breastfeeding,” Moore says, explaining that racism continues to be an under-addressed issue in health care. “So breastfeeding is something that I can do myself to improve the health in my community, even as health disparities continue to grow.”

As a nurse-midwife, Moore provides birthing and lactation services through Chosen Vessels. Moore is the only board-certified African American lactation consultant in Minnesota. One of the main ways she supports women is the Chocolate Milk Club, a support group for African American moms who are breastfeeding.

Moore says it’s encouraging that increasing numbers of African American mothers are breastfeeding in Minnesota. But much more needs to be done from a public health perspective to erase the gap completely. “Breastfeeding is a cultural practice that we have lost for many reasons, but the larger medical and scientific community is starting to better understand breastfeeding’s affect on the social determinants of health,” she says.

Moore is committed to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding wherever she can. In August she organized the fourth-annual Chocolate Milk Day, a breastfeeding celebration for African American women that was drive-through rather than in-person this year due to COVID-19. “I really believe that good health begins with breastfeeding because the benefits are so far reaching,” Moore says. “It is natural, but it is not easy, so that’s why we’re here to encourage and support women while helping them understand why breastfeeding is so important for them and their babies.”


Tags: Alumni Profiles