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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
- Black Breastfeeding Week
- Mocha Manual: Black Breastfeeding 360
- Free to Breastfeed: Voices from Black Mothers
- Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association
- Blacktating Blog and Facebook page
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.