by Aja Davis
I didn’t always know that I wanted to breastfeed. When my closest friend gave birth at 19, I was happy when she supplemented her milk for the short time she nursed so that I could feed her baby from a bottle. When she became exclusively formula fed, I had made the decision to feed a specific formula to my baby because it didn’t stain clothing or stink as much as the first formula my little goddaughter had.
A few years later, my sister had her second child and was determined to nurse her. She fought the good fight with a nipple shield for almost six months where she was informed that my niece was suffering from “failure to thrive” on her mom’s milk alone and was told to switch to formula.
Shortly after, my friend (mentioned above) had a multiple birth and her babies were sent to the NICU. She was urged to pump for them. The weeks that she transported milk to the hospital, she was a warrior mom! Her dedication to her babies and her milk left me in awe. I visited one day with her and she took me into a very special place called The Lactation Lounge. I had never heard of such a thing. There were a few hospital grade pumps for moms to use to express milk for their babies. There were encouraging signs and posters all over the room. I left the place curious, inspired, and weirded out to have seen my friend topless.
These were my experiences with black women breastfeeding until last year. I delivered a 9lb 3oz beautiful baby boy in November. When we were left for a few minutes after delivery, I tried to latch my little boy on to my breast and he did it! He was suckling like a pro, but he had been sucking his thumb on 3rd trimester ultrasounds, so it wasn’t so much of a surprised that he loved suckling on me.
Things were going well but due to his size, he was a bit of a sleepy eater. It was explained to my husband and I that we needed to wake him on schedule. We woke him, stripped him naked, plucked the soles of his feet, bounced him, turned the tv up as loud as it would go… Nothing worked to keep him awake through feeds. Our 3 day weight check bought on a 4 and a 5 day weight check. At his lowest weight, he had gotten to 8lbs even. We were sent home on Day 5 with a case of formula and ill-sized nipples, told to supplement one ounce of formula at the end of each nursing session.
I was certain I had officially failed my son. I knew that formula could lead to supply issues for me. I nursed my little one when we got home and when he dozed off, I handed him to my husband who attempted to give him a ready to feed bottle. I cried as I pumped, trying to produce an ounce of my own milk so that at the next feed, we would supplement with MY milk.
And we did.
By the next day, he had gained 7oz. I went on to meet with a lactation consultant when he was 9 days old. He had great milk transfer. We were all set to continue on our breastfeeding journey!
At 11 weeks, I returned to work full-time. I was determined to make time to pump at work for at least the first year. Between 11 weeks and 8 months, we dealt with thrush twice, washed more bottles and pump parts than I can count and used many, MANY breast milk storage bags. I am eternally grateful to my supervisor who gave me a wide berth and unyielding support for my dedication to pumping. I am also incredibly grateful to my mother, who looked after my son while my husband and I were at work. She followed proper storage and thawing protocol, as well as stored hundreds of ounces of milk in her deep freezer. At 8 months postpartum, I realized that I was dealing with an oversupply and worked to correct that by not pumping on the weekends and by dropping from 3 pump sessions to 2. This continued until my little guy was 11 months old, when I dropped to one session per work day. At 12 months, I stopped pumping all together. I felt liberated and felt like being free of the pump left me able to nurse forever! Or so I thought.
Unfortunately, we made it to nearly 21 months. There is a bit of sadness about that part of our relationship, something that was so sweet, peaceful and calming for us both being gone, but we are okay. During the 21 months we spent as nurser and nursling, we went through several colds, a stomach bug, and the eruption of 16 teeth, and donated over 300oz of milk to babies in need. I am excited that we had the time together and that I will be able to start all over again with his baby brother in December.
Breastfeeding has been one of the best things I’ve even done. I had many people try to tell me I couldn’t do it, suggest formula (which wasn’t need), that I let someone else feed him give him cereal, etc. But in the end, my instincts won out and I am proud of what we have accomplished as a family. (Special and eternal thanks to my husband who washed pump parts and packed my bag many nights, who retained information in our first hours as parents when my mind was full of mush and wonder, and who acted liked nursing a baby was the most normal and natural thing in the world.) I hope to inspire and support other moms, especially black mo, who feel like nursing isn’t a feasible option for them. Moms who feel like breastfeeding is weird, embarrassing, or unnatural.
If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).