The U S Breastfeeding Committee declared August National Breastfeeding Month on August 6, 2011. National Breastfeeding Week runs from August 1-7. Black Mothers Breastfeeding Week is celebrated August 25-31, and was started in 2013. The founders acknowledge concern with having higher infant mortality rates, lack of access to professional and community support, increase in nutritional deficiencies, and lack of experience with breastfeeding.
I remember when I decided to breastfeed my children. I was sitting in my OBGYN class. They were lecturing about the benefits of breastfeeding. You can say this was the first time I had even thought about having kids. I used to talk about having kids. I had never thought past the thought of having them, until that day. I said, “Well my kids will be breastfed.” I continued to hear the theme natural and easy. Breastfeeding is normal, ALL babies can do it. I had this vision of saving money because that is what I was told.
My experience with breastfeeding was naturally hard. Not ALL babies can breastfeed. I did not save money. But the experience was amazingly challenging. It tested my ability to commit to breastfeeding even when I was emotionally overwhelmed. I overcame doubt. I doubted my ability to mother for much of my life. I called it a “mommy button”, and I didn’t think had one. I remember saying it once and the response I got stuck with me. “If you are questioning it, then you have one!” I needed that message. I don’t remember who said it but thank you.
I decided that day in class, that I would breast feed my kids for six months exclusively. I set expectations that I would also breastfeed for the entire first year, at least. I said I was going to save money because everyone that knows me knows that I am cheap, I mean frugal. I don’t remember exactly when I learned about the disparity between black moms and breastfeeding but black moms are less likely to receive counseling and support for breastfeeding. This article also pointed out the lack of black providers, doulas, lactation consultants and postpartum specialist available. As a black woman, I am well aware of the impact that representation has on one believing, seeing, and doing.
I worked with a lactation consultant after having my twins’ tongue and lip tie revised. They hoped this would help Kali feed better; it didn’t. It did decrease the pain I felt when Kori would latch on. She told me about the impact formula companies’ marketing had on the decline of mothers deciding and successfully breastfeeding their babies. I was so intrigued that I decided to look into it more. I learned about the types of tools utilized to feed babies as well as the long history of supplementing when needed. According to verywellfamily.com, formula companies specifically target black mothers. Studies show that black mothers are 16% less likely to breastfeed compared to white mothers.
As I reflect over my breastfeeding journey, I am happy that I did the best that I could do. I didn’t meet my goals and for a while I had some regrets and feelings of failure. The first time was with my son Kaiden. He wasn’t gaining weight and had eczema. I had to supplement very early on. I made it to 9 months as my milk started to decline. I felt guilty because I worked long hours at busy clinics around the valley. My time to pump was limited, so I quit. Looking back, I should have been proud because my mother couldn’t breastfeed me long. I hadn’t talk to any family members about it. I made the decision on my own. I used what I learned from school and working as a nurse on the postpartum unit. I loved helping and teaching new mothers. I learned from the lactation consultants I worked with. Even with all that knowledge and experience, I would later face my own challenges.
As we celebrate breastfeeding all month, I would like to provide some resources to help support you on this journey. We are continuing to improve awareness but understand that there are disparities and lack of resources for some communities to include black mothers. Breastfeeding has amazing benefits but the most important benefit is the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of the mother. In spreading awareness it’s important respect the personal choice of every mother. We are all doing our best!