I’m a first-generation breastfeeder thanks to a documentary, The Business of Being Born, by Ricki Lake. I was amazed at the idea that my body would not only carry my child but nourish them until they could eat solid food. I remember telling my Nana I planned on breastfeeding and her immediate response was, “Why do you want to do that? In my day we bought formula because we could afford it.”
Mind you I was 22 years old, fresh out of college, barely making $25,000 a year. Affording formula was not my reality. I brushed off the comment and said something like, “My body was made to do this, and it saves so much money!” I look back at those comments now and laugh at that girl. I brought up my Nana’s comment to my Doula (Yup, I had a Doula 7 years ago; imagine the comments I got about that.). She helped me understand what my grandmother heard when I told her about breastfeeding. I was reminded that breastfeeding was forced on slaves to feed white master’s children.
Poor women took up a profession known as wet nursing so the wives of richer men could return to work. Once formula was introduced in 1865, wet nurses were replaced by slaves who would do the same job for free. Black female slaves were forced to feed their master’s children from their breasts and were dehumanized in the process. Breastfeeding was viewed as low class and for the poor. Slaves would be so overextended from nursing other people’s kids that they didn’t have the energy to nurse their own kids. So many babies died due to poor eating conditions, and most black families turned their backs on breastfeeding.
Now in 2021, we are celebrating the 9th Black Breastfeeding Week, a week of events that are centered around education and support of black women breastfeeding. Each year I’ve seen more black women in lactation support roles and more black images and figures reclaiming breastfeeding. If you haven’t watched the documentary “Chocolate Milk” watch it; you hear more stories from black women by black women about how important and what a privilege it is to breastfeed. Black women are living each day to make their ancestors proud, trusting ourselves in motherhood, and reclaiming our role as producers. The revolution will be latched and they will know that breastfeeding is not dirty, it is not sexual, it is natural and our baby’s birthright. We break the stigma by openly sharing our wins and success with breastfeeding and stop holding our tongues when people say things that don’t make us feel supported.
Have you heard unsupportive comments from friends or family? Has someone said something to you they think is being helpful but it’s really hurtful? Here are comments that I’ve heard, as a mom and as a doula, that we need to tackle and address. I learned, and you will too, you have to teach people how to support you for yourself and for others to come.
“That baby isn’t getting enough milk.”
DOULA’S ANSWER: Your body produces exactly what your baby needs. The more you latch them, the more signals your body gets to make that capacity of milk. You will know they are satisfied because they end their feeding session and appear content and/or your breasts no longer feel as full. It’s a bonus if your baby has those rolls you can show off!
“Nobody will be able to keep her because you are going to spoil her breastfeeding.”
DOULA’S ANSWER: Babies are not food, they do not spoil. Your newborn is transitioning from their first home, the womb, to their new home, Earth, and that transition takes time. Being connected to you helps them regulate easily. The biggest benefits of holding your baby is you can do skin to skin, which releases hormones to calm your baby and aids in better nursing, promotes a better milk supply, and decreases the chance of postpartum depression. If someone would choose not to keep your child because of your choice to feed, they maybe never needed to be an option, to begin with.
“Put cereal in her milk and put a hole in the bottle nipple!”
DOULA’S ANSWER: Unless there is a medical indication that more calories are needed, please let this old tradition of cereal in bottles die. Babies can survive on breastmilk alone for the first 6 months of life per the Academy of American Pediatrics. Poking holes in bottle nipples can alter how the milk flows out for the baby and may increase the rate at which milk comes out, which could lead to choking.
“How long do you plan to breastfeed?!”
DOULA’S ANSWER: There is no set time breastfeeding must end. The best time to stop is when you and your baby no longer choose to go on the journey together. We consume cow’s milk for an extended time; why not human milk?
“You are never going to be able to travel or hang out if you’re breastfeeding!”
DOULA’S ANSWER: The great thing about breasts is they go everywhere with you and now so can your pumps. Invest in a silicone pump, manual pump, or electric pump once your supply is regulated and live your best life.
“You should not be exposed in public. Cover up.”
DOULA’S ANSWER: You should be able to feed your child wherever you are without it causing an uproar. It should be your choice to opt to use a feeding cover or blanket or to not. I ask people, “Do they enjoy eating your food with your head covered?” Anybody staring that hard wanted to see a nipple or two anyway!
“Give that baby some water!”
DOULA’S ANSWER: Babies do not need to be given anything other than human milk or formula for the first 6 months of life. Breastmilk is more than 80% water and suffices even in hot climates. Giving water too early could lead to poor eating.
“Breastfeeding is a lot of work. You should just do formula.”
DOULA’S ANSWER: It is never ok to tell a breastfeeding parent up against an obstacle they can just do formula. Affirm their efforts, listen to their struggles, offer positive encouragement, or explore solutions together.
“It didn’t work the first two weeks for me so I quit.”
DOULA’S ANSWER: If you had a poor experience, consider what you wish you would’ve done differently that you can offer to share instead of your trauma. It’s ok to be supportive.
“Drink this ____ or eat this ___ to build your supply”
DOULA’S ANSWER: Breastmilk production occurs the more a baby suckles. If you truly want to build your supply do tons of skin-to-skin and latch often. Ditch the schedule and feed on demand. Note that newborns feed 8-12 times a day.
We must do our part to break the stigma around breastfeeding, especially in the black community. We are so used to relying on our moms and aunts to sprinkle us with their wisdom but unless you come from a line of breastfeeders, they too will need education on the journey. I’m happy I got a second try at breastfeeding and I allowed my son to wean himself, not me letting society wean him. We happily breastfed for 15 months, and I hope you get to feed or support someone feeding for just as long, if not longer, if you so desire. I’m rooting for you mama and so is your baby *wink wink*!
Have you ever heard a comment not listed? Let me know so we can better educate and inform our loved ones.