I have often wondered what my own breastfeeding outcomes would have looked like if not for the immediate encouragement of my mom, my husband, my midwives, my doulas, my chiropractor, and my close mama friends. Outside of my community of support, I consistently struggled to find images of Black mothers breastfeeding with pride and affection.
For the past eight years, Black Breastfeeding Week has been on a mission to dismantle the barriers faced by Black mothers in their pursuit to nurse their babies. The last seven days of August are used as a time to empower, educate, and uplift Black breastfeeding mothers. An intentional drive for positive representation leads to further normalization of Black mothers using their own bodies to nurse their babies. This, in and of itself, is revolutionary, especially when acknowledging the painful past of wet nursing. Black slave mothers were often forced to use their milk to nurse white babies before their own. Sometimes, they were even separated from their newborns for long periods of time for this purpose.
This is why I celebrate and cherish my journey as a Black breastfeeding mother. The freedom to nourish my baby feels magical to me. I hold tightly to a gift that Black women who existed long before me were robbed of the opportunity to savor.
In the spirit of representation, I thought I’d share six simple, yet meaningful truths that I’ve learned along my breastfeeding journey. My hope is that these resonate and, perhaps, help future and current mothers to feel seen and understood.
A good nursing pillow is a lifesaver.
As a busty, full-figured Black woman, I learned very quickly that latching a tiny newborn to a very large breast was an extreme challenge without a sturdy foundation. Because I almost always hold the breast that I’m feeding with, having a reliable nursing pillow has given me so much peace of mind. It’s fitting that the pillow I’ve used with all three of my babies is called My Brest Friend. I love that it fits around my entire body and provides a firm flat surface for babies to securely nurse on.
Breastfeeding doesn’t always lead to weight loss.
Everyone told me that the nursing would result in the baby weight “melting off” of me. You can imagine my dismay and frustration when my body decided to stubbornly hold on to my post-baby pounds.
With my first child, I was bitter about this. My body had already changed so much and it was hard to accept its new form. Now, three babies in, I am learning to honor my body for the nourishment it provides my little one. Embracing my body for what it does allows me to hold space for this chapter of life. For me, the weight usually trickles away after weaning.
Nursing exclusively may not keep your menstrual cycle away.
Like clockwork, mine has always returned at six weeks postpartum. Even my midwife was surprised about this based on how frequently I was nursing at that point. The first time around, I was certain that something was wrong. Now, I just realize that this is my normal. It varies for all mamas.
It’s OK if you don’t have a huge freezer stash.
This isn’t a knock to mamas with established freezer stashes. More so, it’s a reminder to the mamas who are barely pumping enough to send to daycare the next day that they are just as successful. Sometimes, pictures of massive freezer stashes can prove to be triggering and discouraging for those of us who aren’t living in that reality.
Right now, I have five bags of milk in my deep freezer. I pumped them back in January and I haven’t been able to add any further milk bags since. They are there in case of emergency and they don’t define me as a breastfeeding mama. Milk supply can be a sensitive subject. Any amount that you can give to your baby, even if you have to also supplement formula, is more than enough.
The first six weeks are the hardest. Keep going! You can do it!
Someone gave me this valuable piece of advice after I had my first baby. You better believe I clung to it like it was scripture. Every time I felt myself slipping into despair and defeat in the early weeks of breastfeeding, I reminded myself that things would get better as my baby continued to grow. And guess what, they did!
No two breastfeeding journeys are the same.
With my first, I had no colostrum and it took more than a week for my milk to come in. I had to use a supplemental nursing system for a short time. I went on to nurse her for 15 months. My second had a tongue and lip tie which was revised at 8 weeks. Even so, we only nursed for six months. My supply tanked after returning to work and I decided to give her formula. It was a lifesaving decision for us and it didn’t affect our bond in the least.
As I navigate this last journey with my almost 9-month-old, an extended amount of time at home, due to COVID-19, has allowed for my easiest breastfeeding experience of all. I am hopeful that we will make it to a year and maybe even beyond that.
Each baby is unique. Each nursing relationship is worthy (no matter the length of time). Be gentle with yourself.
This year’s Black Breastfeeding Week theme is Revive. Restore. Reclaim! May we continue to heal from our past through cultivating new norms and nourishing new life on our own terms.