My Boobies, My Choice: I Plan to Breastfeed

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NOTE: It is Black Breastfeeding Week, and although I have never successfully breastfed a baby, my current pregnancy means that I have an opportunity to try again. This issue is important to me, and I figured this is a great time to share my passion and failed experience, in hopes that it will help other women.

The last time I was pregnant was 8 long years ago, and I knew little about being pregnant and even less about breastfeeding. I suspect that this is true for a lot of African American moms and moms-to-be.

I can’t remember ever seeing a woman in my family or my community breastfeed while I was growing up. Formula was the norm. I never even thought about the fact that there was a choice until I was about to become a mother myself. And as I mentioned, this was 8 years ago, before I found my path to green living and just genuinely wasn’t aware enough to try doing better.

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As a result, I told myself I’d “try” to breastfeed my daughter, based on a few paragraphs in a few books I’d read, never thinking of it as worthy of any concerted effort. It didn’t help that no one at the hospital where I delivered seemed at all concerned about whether I would breastfeed. In fact, I had to say repeatedly that I wanted to try, and the nurses were still quick to hand me a bag full of formula and coupons for more.

My attempt to breastfeed lasted exactly 2 days. It hurt, and I had no idea if my baby was latching on properly or getting enough milk, so I stopped. The bottle of formula sitting at the ready seemed a whole lot easier. I gave up. And looking back on it, I wish I could have a do-over.

Me, breasts painfully engorged with milk after I gave up on breastfeeding my daughter 8 years ago.

Me, breasts painfully engorged with milk after I gave up on breastfeeding my daughter 8 years ago.

No one in my circle of friends and family had ever breastfed (to my knowledge), so I didn’t have anyone to ask for advice or support, and I’d never even heard of a lactation consultant or La Leche League.

All of this to say that 8 years and lots of self-education on health and green living later, I know better. And now that I’m pregnant with my second, I plan to do better.

I have surrounded myself with women who have breastfed, and who are advocates for breastfeeding. I currently have a doctor and midwife who specifically asked if I plan to breastfeed and enthusiastically encouraged me when I confirmed that I do. I have a husband who gets it and who knows that this is important to me. And, since I’m a card-carrying punk when it comes to pain, I am mentally preparing myself for the knowledge that yes, breastfeeding will likely hurt, at first, but that the benefits to my and my baby’s health will be worth it. I accept that I may not always know what I’m doing, and I may question myself sometimes, but it will be worth the effort.

And frankly, even if all that were not enough, I’m just looking forward to avoiding the expense of formula, because that stuff isn’t cheap.

I Realize That I’m Fortunate…

I recognize my privilege here. I know I’m in a good position to have a positive breastfeeding experience because I work from home and don’t have to worry about what will happen when I have to go back to work outside the home. A lot of women are not so fortunate.

And while I wouldn’t consider myself militant, I’m also the type of person who would dare anyone to have anything crazy to say about ANY of my personal choices, from my decision to wear my natural hair to my decision to breastfeed, at home or in public. My friends and family members know this about me and tend to respect my choices even if they disagree, so I don’t anticipate any of them will have anything unpleasant to say. If strangers do, they will likely get an earful.

However, a lot of women don’t have my personality or the same type of support in their personal circles. In the African American community, there is often stigma attached to breastfeeding, particularly if you do it for longer than 6-12 months. While I’ve never personally witnessed anything like this, I’ve heard and read all too often about women who’ve had their mamas or aunties or girlfriends tell them to “take that baby off their titty” or all manner of other ridiculous things.

This can make breastfeeding tougher for black moms, particularly in a wider society that already views it as a radical parenting choice and something that should only be done in private or while covered with a cape. A society that thinks this contraption is a viable alternative to just discreetly letting your baby feed by unhooking a nursing bra:

Yes. This is a thing that exists. No, I don't get it either.

Yes. This is a thing that exists. No, I don’t get it either.

I also know that among African Americans, breastfeeding rates are lower and rates of infant mortality, low birth weight and childhood illness are higher. While I have no idea how to fix those problems overnight, I will do my part by letting the women around me see that breastfeeding is a viable option in hopes that seeing it more often will normalize it. And I will do this without judging women who formula feed out of choice or necessity. After all, my formula fed baby was healthy and happy.

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But I just want more black women to know that breastfeeding is a choice too.

Check out these resources if you’re interested in learning more:

Also, the awesome and inspiring Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby.com (@mybrownbaby) will lead a twitter chat for African American parents tonight at 9 p.m. EST using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Check it out. I know that I will.

Linking up with Confession Time at Agape Love Designs.

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9 responses
  • Denene Millner August 30, 2013, 9:48 am

    Jennae: youth is wasted on the young. That’s what a mature woman once said to me when I was in my 20s. There are a lot of things we didn’t know better about. But thank God for age and the wisdom that comes with it. This post is beautiful. YOU are beautiful. Your family is beautiful. And breastfeeding your new baby will be BEAUTIFUL. I’m so proud of you and know that you will LOVE everything about breastfeeding, even the painful part (which isn’t inevitable, by the way), because you know that it will be purposeful (and it won’t last long). Do yo thang, sweets, knowing that you’ve got an army of women in your corner.
    Denene Millner´s last blog post ..Cuz He’s Black: When African American Boys Ready Themselves For a War We Can’t Prepare Them For

    Reply
    • jennae September 9, 2013, 3:23 pm

      Thank you Denene! I love that quote, and I’m definitely going to keep it in my back pocket for serious parenting moments :) It is genuinely awesome to have friends like you and a ton of others who I can rely on for support throughout this journey.

      Reply
  • Jane {torontoshopoholic} September 3, 2013, 3:26 pm

    I breastfed both my kids for around 6 months when they both decided that they would rather have a bottle. And to tell you the truth I was ready to have a bit more freedom.

    Still breastfeeding is work in the first month when you and baby are trying to figure everything out. You have to be committed to trying otherwise who would put up with figuring out the whole latching on thing if it hurts?!

    I will say the hospitals up here are kind of the opposite end of the spectrum in that if you don’t choose to breastfeed (because not everyone can) you are ostracized.

    Still give it a go. Commit to at least a month and I can almost guarantee that it will be smooth sailing. Because you do miss it when it is over. It is so much faster than making formula!
    Jane {torontoshopoholic}´s last blog post ..Flower Blazer for Fall

    Reply
    • jennae September 9, 2013, 3:24 pm

      Thank you so much Jane! I appreciate all the advice I can get.

      Reply
  • Kashima September 7, 2013, 10:07 am

    Our community is a trip. People still stare at me in disbelief telling me a lit cows milk and cereal. My son is 13 months old and still nursing he is as happy as can be. Strong, healthy, unvaccinated. He eats a rich diet of full of nutrients and loves fruits and vegetables.
    In New York hospitals they are no longer allowed to promote formulas and give trail packs unless asked. Lactation consultants and breast feeding classes are manditory and employers now must provide private spaces for nursing moms to pump. I recommend seeing a midwife rather than a traditional obgyn.

    Reply
    • jennae September 9, 2013, 3:28 pm

      I sincerely wish more people would look at the benefits of breastfeeding than the stigma attached to it. But it’s great to know that hospitals are moving away from promoting formula and making lactation consultants and breastfeeding support mandatory. I think that will going a long, long way toward making more women feel comfortable trying.

      And I’m actually seeing a midwife AND a doctor (at the same practice), only because my midwife doesn’t has privileges at the hospital where I prefer to deliver, and my doctor does.

      Reply
  • Angelina Toussaint September 11, 2013, 7:05 pm

    Hey Jennae, I support breast feeding 100%. I did it with both of my daughters. My oldest stopped on her own but the second one loved it. She’s three now and if I didn’t ween her off she would still be thugging on me for milk. With your first couple attempts at breast feeding, you might get frustrated. …is baby latching good etc. Don’t sweat it take your time amd as you stated above there are lactation consultant; You will be fine!!
    Again congrats on your new addition to the Petesen family.
    God bless!

    Reply
    • jennae September 12, 2013, 7:53 pm

      Thanks Angie! I really hope that it’s becoming more normalized in the V.I., because I promise you that I couldn’t think of a single instance of seeing a woman breastfeeding when I was growing up. Anyway, I’m genuinely thankful for all the advice from women who have done it, because I know it will be a process of learning what works and what doesn’t, so I think I’m mentally prepared for it (I hope! :))

      Reply
  • Linsey K October 11, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Yay! I didn’t nurse my first baby, because I was discouraged at the time by everyone around me. I wished I had. Now, however, I’m happily nursing baby #6, and besides the awful engorgement of the first 2 days (yes, even BF’ing moms have engorgement pains as the “twins” work on balancing too much milk with too little for baby), I’m happily eating lactation cookies and enjoying all the extra cuddling with little Manny.

    Also, take one step at a time, but remember that society also frowns on extended nursing (something I tried for the first time with baby #5). We nursed him almost until age 3, and he is so well-adjusted, confident, and empathetic to others. I can’t say it was solely due to the nursing, but when people were freaked out by me nursing a toddler, their first lame reason was that it would “make him weird” — which he is evidence of that being total crap.

    In European countries, the pediatric associations recommend nursing until age 2, (the U.S. pushes for just 1) and — while that’s a LONG way off for you — it’s just evidence that even us experienced nursing moms struggle with outside forces and learn more and more with each baby. Each time you get better and bolder with your parenting decisions, nursing included. I wish you the best, Mama!
    Linsey K´s last blog post ..Halloween Snack Ideas: Easy Cheesy Mummy Dogs

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