If you follow at least one millennial Black mom on Instagram, you may have come across the hashtag Black-Breastfeeding-Week. Normally, I just appreciate hashtags from the sidelines. You know, watching and liking everyone else’s post but never contributing to the conversation. This time, however, I wanted to join in. As I scrolled through the many images and read the captions, I knew that this time I could not be comfortable being an onlooker.
And this is how I announced my breastfeeding journey before I ever announced my pregnancy. PS: I have a child. 🙂
Full disclosure: I thought that breastfeeding had become normalized (naive, I know). Over the last few years, I’ve been flooded with images of breastfeeding and articles on “Why Breast is Best.” But in reality, there is still a lot of stigma and controversy around the topic. In fact, it’s only become legal in all fifty states as of two years ago. Now add being Black on top of that already heavy baggage and we’re opening up a whole other can of worms.
I have a decent amount of knowledge about the history of slavery and wet nurses in this country. I’ve also recently learned that formula was promoted more among Black communities after white male doctors decided that the mother’s breast was unsanitary. What I didn’t know or rather didn’t pay attention to was how that history affects us today.
I was not breastfed. Not one little drop. Nor do I remember witnessing it while growing up. I’ve seen pictures up and down the gram of people’s children copying them and pretending to feed their dolls because that’s what they’ve seen. My dolls drank from bottles. I didn’t even know that was a thing. The only milk I knew of came from cows or cans, or it was powdered. I’m pretty sure I was in high school when I learned that humans can make their own milk. Don’t judge me. Even after learning about it, it would still be a few years before I would become a hardcover advocate. Actually, for a while, I was worried that I would sexualize nursing. I would later learn that there is no possible way to sexualize nursing. Most of the time I just feel tired and gross.
Breastfeeding as an option to sustain your children became more real for me as my friends started having children. Specifically my non-Black friends. It was all very casual. We would be having lunch and they would just whip out a tit and start feeding. At this time I was practically a nudist and looking for excuses to take my clothes off so I wasn’t the least bit fazed by this. I just thought that we were all Berkeley hippies and this is what hippies do. We make music, we talk politics, and we take off our clothes. My hippie ways would later inspire me to major in Ethnic Studies and practice more green living, which would later inform my choice to breastfeed.
I will breastfeed in a car, on a plane, on a bus or a train. Here, there, anywhere. I prefer feeding outside. Maybe it’s just me but since giving birth, I sweat like nobody’s business and that breeze can feel pretty good on my boobs. Also, public nursing helps me weed people out. If I can’t comfortably feed my child around you, we can’t be friends.
What I love most is watching my baby grow. I am amazed every day that I have managed to keep a person alive with my body. I recognize that nursing does not come naturally for anyone. It requires a bit of learning and lots of trial and error. And regardless of what you’ve heard, it is not some innate ability that all women have. Thus I am grateful that my body is able to perform in this way and I don’t take it for granted.
Now that I have joined the mommy club, I got folks all up in my bra. Aunties from all over wondering if I’m breastfeeding, how long I plan to do it for, how often I’m doing it, which way am I holding the baby when I do it, and so on. Apparently, the women in my family have been having a members-only conversation about breastmilk for years and I just never knew. Not only did I learn that these women had knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding but that many of them had tried it.
After welcoming me into the circle, they each told me snippets of their stories. The recurring theme in each one was the lack of support they had. Many of them were very young mothers and the only thing they were asked was whether or not they wanted an abortion. These stories and the many like them are the reason that Black Breastfeeding Week is important. I am sharing what I’ve learned in hopes that it may make things a little easier for someone else.
Breastfeeding is work
- It is a full-time job with no vacation or days off. Whether you pump or feed straight from the boob it’s going to require some effort on your part. Newborns eat nine or more times a day every 1-3 hours, and in the beginning, a feed session can last for up to an hour. You won’t be paid for this work and you will start to feel like all you do is breastfeed. Over time the load will lighten to about 8 feeds per day with each session lasting about 15 minutes and you’ll find some sanity again. Then your baby will start cluster feeding and you’ll wonder what is the truth?
You can schedule feeds
- Shout out to Mom’s that feed on demand. Yall are the true MVP’s because Claude knows I don’t have the strength! After only 3 days of breastfeeding my nipples were all the way messed up. My baby was not only using me for food but comfort and entertainment as well. It was really wearing on me and I knew that I had to find a resolution or I wouldn’t be able to continue feeding. We were on scheduled feeds by week two and my doula thought I was absolutely insane. I have an alarm that goes off every 2-3.5 hours reminding me to feed. If my baby gets fussy in between feeds, I cuddle them or give them a pacifier and they usually accept. Some breastfed babies will not take pacifiers but this is what works for us.
Have a breastfeeding kit ready before you deliver
- You will need nursing pads, nipple balm, a warm compress, and a much bigger bra. The compress will not only help when your breasts are engorged but also when you’re contracting. Yes. You will continue to have contractions after delivery and nursing will further prompt them. Additionally, you will need a new bra as your breast will continue to grow. Your milk will not come in until about three days after you’ve had your baby. Before that, they’re eating colostrum. I was not prepared when my milk came in. Not only was it extremely painful but I had to send my partner out in the middle of the night to find me a size K bra. Like where do you even find those?
Toothless bites still hurt
- I was warned about the horrors of nursing older children because they have teeth. I was not warned about teething infants. My baby likes to press down as hard as possible and lock their jaw. Each time I manage to not go off I reward myself. Listen, I’m not claiming to be Jesus but I’m pretty damn close. Anyone who has ever continued to nurse after the child has literally bitten the hand that feeds them will understand.
Pumping is weird
- When you look down at your nipples in the pump and notice that they look like little sausages, don’t panic. It’s due to the suction and it’s completely normal.
Breastfeeding can make you tired and sometimes even queasy
- Again, completely normal. Your body is putting in work, giving away nutrients and burning ridiculous calories in the process. I often feel like napping afterward and food becomes very unappetizing. I’ve found that hydration is crucial to help with this.
Now, I want to reiterate that I am only speaking from MY OWN experience. Whether you choose to breast or bottle feed, all that really matters is that your baby eats. I believe that ultimately you know what’s best for your child. This post was created as a reference for people who are able and want to breastfeed. And while it’s true that it can be hard, just know that you can do hard things.
After struggling with the soreness that comes in those early weeks, I asked my cousin when it got easier for her. She quickly replied “It doesn’t get any easier. Eventually, the nipple just dies.” So cheers to us and our dying nipples. May we rest peacefully knowing that they have served well!