When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, seven years ago, I knew that I would breastfeed my child. This, not because I had some profound conviction about the breast being best (I had never heard… or, never paid any attention to, that saying before I got pregnant), no, ma’am. This, not because it would help me lose weight or help with bonding or any of those things that I have since come to learn with research and doula training. I was determined to breastfeed my baby because…. THAT SHIZZ WAS FREE!
I grew up in a large family. I have four sisters and honey bunches of cousins, some of which I was raised with in the same household. I have been around babies my entire life. I have seen only two babies, in my family, nursed. I have heard from my mother and my aunts about how breastfeeding really hurt when they tried or how they were told or they thought they could not produce enough milk. So, I have been to the store, on numerous occasions while growing up, to buy formula. I have seen formula purchased with cash, WIC vouchers and food stamps. I have seen life decisions being made at the cash register because of the cost of formula (and diapers). So, for me, an unmarried, unemployed mama who had to move back in with her parents, breastfeeding only made right, good sense.
Fast forward to after my Ittle Wittle was born, I had had a doula for my birth and I learned a LOT more about breastfeeding. We had some issues (she has what I NOW know to be a lip tie which made breastfeeding fairly painful, especially once my period returned, I didn’t know she had allergies to some of the foods I was eating for the first four weeks, and I had a forceful letdown which caused her to fuss at the breast), but I was determined to breastfeed for at least a year.
Unfortunately, by the time she hit a few months old, breastfeeding became a bit harder for me. Not because I was fearful of my supply being low. Nor was it because it was too painful. For some folks around me, to breastfeed a baby beyond a couple of months was equivalent to doing “white people shit.” It was considered nasty. I was told I was spoiling my baby. I was told that I needed to pump and give her milk in a bottle (which, bee tee dubs, I tried to NO avail. She was not having ANYTHING to do with a bottle or a pacifier… Period). Fortunately, those who REALLY mattered, even if they didn’t understand, supported my decision.
I breastfed my child for three years and a few months. I was fortunate enough to have a doula, who gave me awesome information while I was pregnant, and some super researching skills in order to make the decision to keep going, regardless of outside input. But, so many Black women have not had a doula and have been given misinformation. There is also the 5,000 pound elephant in the room that seems to always be overlooked (read: hella ignored): TRAUMA.
Yes, there is trauma and stigma attached to breastfeeding in the Black community. If your ancestral mothers were owned and forced to feed the children of those that owned them by their own breasts while starving their own children OR having those children sold away OR having those children murdered… well… there is bound to be trauma. And if your more recent ancestral mothers were told that her milk was not sufficient and formula would better serve her babies… well… there is bound to be stigma. And if your contemporaries have not seen their mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters or homegirls breastfeed AND breastfeeding is only a suggestion in the hospitals where they are giving birth- the same hospitals who get funding from formula companies and give babies formula in the nurseries and samples of formula and bottles to take home- well… Breastfeeding is bound to be viewed as more a nonessential, perhaps, even a frivolity, and, lots of times, as “white people shit.”
Except, Black babies die at an alarming rate before their first birthdays. Black children are prone to allergies and obesity because of what they have been fed as babies. These are horrid problems with the simple solution of breastfeeding for as long as is possible for mom and baby.
Black women NEED to see breastfeeding as, not just normal, but natural and the thing their bodies were meant to do. We NEED representation of women who look like us with babies on the tetas! Imagery and celebration are important.
There is already a divide. Black Breastfeeding Week attempts to close it. Not by exclusion, but, simply by declaring that breastfeeding is not just about or for white people… this is Mama Shit!