Black Women Breastfeeding: Obstacles and Motivation

by Isreal Jean Holland

If you spend any time on social medial, you’d have no idea that black women nurse their children just like white women do. Most of the images you see are those of white moms and their kids. In most movies it’s always the white granola mom whipping it out in the park, at the café and at church. There are magazine covers, movies, and more all focused on white women nursing. This is a shame because black women nurse their children too.

Historically, black women were the wet nurses for the white masters’ children. This caused them to end up neglecting their own children. This fact has left a lot of women of color questioning whether or not they want to nurse at all. You see, we don’t want anyone to think of us as subservient. However, nothing is better in life than serving your child in this manner. No matter how much infant formula has improved over the years, there is still nothing better than what God has made for your baby. This National Breastfeeding Month, let’s go over why mother’s milk is best.

Isreal Jean bfdg image - 2016

Mother’s milk is full of nutrients for your baby. What’s more is that those nutrients are specifically designed and created just for your baby. The design is so amazing that your body will produce exactly the type of milk your baby needs if he’s sick, healthy or going through a growth spurt. Breast milk, according to The Lancet is actually “very specialized medicine” created just for your child. Many women report the milk changing texture or color when their baby has a cold or is vaccinated.

Even though the milk is individually designed, any mother’s milk can nourish another baby successfully. Donated mother’s milk keeps the babies in neonatal units healthy. It does wonders for the babies and is often thought of as the only reason these special babies grow and get healthy. Think on that for a moment. Even highly funded neonatal units use breast milk to save the babies. That says something. There are even ingredients in breast milk that we don’t fully understand and cannot duplicate in the lab.

Today, black women don’t have the same blocks to giving their own children this highly nutritious food like they did in the past. However, there are still forces that try to interfere in the education of women about nursing. For example, anytime a woman signs up for W.I.C. she’s often given free formula. Many formula companies often target women of color in poor neighborhoods because they assume they’ll get W.I.C. to pay for the formula.  

As a Black American Jewish woman from D.C brought up in a not so great neighborhood, I can vouch for the fact that women like me have to overcome a lot of obstacles and stigma to succeed in one of the most natural acts a woman can do. I know, because I am part of the first generation of black American moms to breastfeed in my family. Breastfeeding isn’t supported or encouraged and those in authority seem to be doing everything that they can to stop black women from being successful at nursing. I want to change that.

I believe that we can get more women to nurse by showing more images of black women nursing, fighting the powers that be by encouraging breast feeding education in inner cities and lower middle class neighborhoods and right in the W.I.C. office. If nursing starts as the norm, the thing one does unless there is a serious problem, more black women like me will nurse their children. Nursing has proved to improve I.Q., keep kids healthier, lower obesity rates and the act itself has shown to even improve self-esteem. When you know the truth, why wouldn’t every mother who can nurse?

____________________

IMG_1123

Isreal Jean Holland is a Black American Jewish woman from a bad neighborhood in Southeast DC who is part of the first generation of Black American women in her family to nurse and she wants to empower black women to take back their bodies and nurse their young regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. You can learn more about Israel at www.breastfeedingincolor.com.
Share

Aja’s Story; A #MyStoryMatters Leaky Share

by Aja Davis

Aja Davis, breastfeeding support, guest post

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.

We had a great time bonding after work and during the middle of the night feeds. At 15 months postpartum, I realized that we were expecting baby number two. While excited, I was concerned about how a pregnancy would affect my breastfeeding relationship with my first baby. A friend suggested that I join a group about nursing aversion (just in case) and one about pregnant/tandem breastfeeders. Both groups were immensely helpful in aiding my navigation of this new, strange territory. It was great for me to learn and see, once the icky feelings of nursing aversion began, that I was not alone. This is especially common in pregnant women. I was able to make my peace by laying boundaries for nursing to help get us closer to my initial goal of two years.

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).

____________________

Aja D. is a wife and mother who resides in Philadelphia. She hopes to create a nonprofit organization to offer support and education to women of color and/or with low income, aiding them in becoming properly informed of their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum options.
Share