This Black Breastfeeding Week, I am barely breastfeeding for the first time since I became a maker of chocolate milk in 2017. A few weeks ago, we celebrated my son's 3rd birthday, and although he rarely asks to nurse, COVID-19 has made me offer a session whenever I feel up for it (which is rare, let me be honest). This Black Breastfeeding Week, I reflect on the milk I made that lovingly and tiredly nursed my beautiful black son for 3 years. I praise God for His hand in making this possible, and allowing me to see the fruits of my labor. I reflect on how proud I am of sticking with it, despite the nights I cried wanting to pull my son off my breasts. I cannot say I felt like I had many supporters. I feel like I had way more critics, and it was like the number doubled after we continued to nurse beyond age 2. I thought nursing an infant was hard with all the comments and criticism, but a toddler?! "He's got teeth now, he don't need your milk, give that boy some real milk", "If he can reach up and pull it out, he's too old for it", "He's eating real food now, he doesn't need milk", are just a few common things I was constantly told, and I'm sure many can relate. These things are so discouraging to hear, and even harder to hear from elders and people you love and respect. It's even harder when they frame it as help because they've had kids and "have done it all already". I hope that one day we can be in a place where this occurs less and are more educated as a community. Black women are 9x more likely to be offered formula milk after birth than white women, and we breastfeed at lower rates than white women too. I knew I wanted to nurse at least a full two years, and that helped me choose where I would receive prenatal care, birth my baby, and take my kid for pediatric care. This is important, because the above are places where their advice and power can affect your choices and outcomes. My biggest supporter was my partner. We had a shared common goal of nursing a minimum of 2 years because of all the benefits of breastmilk, as well as our religious belief that breastmilk is a child's right on their mother; the milk is there to nourish them. I say all this just in case someone's reading, wondering how they can set themselves up for success on a very basic level. After that, I believe the secret, after establishing a good latch, is to nurse on demand, whenever the baby wants milk, may possibly want milk, or you know what, even if he didn't give off any cues. I'll see if I can pop a boob in there anyway, and I usually can. Why? Because babies nurse for all types of reasons, not just hunger, and the best way to make milk and have a good supply is to "empty" your breasts consistently whether by nursing or pumping, BUT the best way is by your baby's mouth suckling directly from your breasts.
My motto became, "If you're not gonna hype me up, I don't want to hear it." Breastfeeding is too much work, and too rewarding to not be supported. I only allowed "you can do it", and "you're doing a great job" to enter my space. It was hard navigating the negativity at first, and I received comments from family such as, "try a bottle or else he will be too attached to you", or "you'll be up all night". Being gracious in the face of criticism is hard to do, and the best advice I received was from my sister who told me that people may not be trying to be rude even if it it's coming off that way, and that it can be from a place of ignorance. An alternative to getting upset is to try to educate. So, I try my best, but I still get sensitive at times. However, negativity, and the anxiety it brings can affect breastfeeding and relaxation is important for producing milk. I will say that after 3 years of this mom thing, I finally feel confident in my choices as a parent enough to not get super hot and nervous when people are overly fixated with giving me advice. Which reminds me, if you're at a family gathering and you want to nurse your baby out in front of everyone so you can still feel a part of the fun, nursing covers will be your best friend, and I recommend the infinity scarf type ones bc baby can't accidentally or purposely lift it up. Don't sweat it if you feel like you need to get away to a separate room because the eyes on you are making you nervous, or even further, if you've been trying to narrow down why you may have been producing less/little milk, and you're commonly around a lot of people, this could be a reason. Here's the thing, as Black women, we have little to no support prenatally and even after we birth our babies with breastfeeding. Being that there are generations of black women who have received no support with breastfeeding, stemming from white supremacy, we have little to no support at home. We must reclaim it. We are the torch bearers of this. The work of undoing the trauma that's been inflicted on us is a constant one, but we're doing it. It's a must. This Black Breastfeeding Week, I reflect on how I wasn't sure I wanted to be a mother. How I was unsure that I could do a good job because I didn't feel like I had a mother for most of my life. That I couldn't possibly be nurturing enough, I don't know what that looks like. It hasn't just been motherhood that has been healing for me, but breastfeeding and the bond it creates. The beauty and hard work, long nights and lack of sleep, cuddles and feeling touched out, it all has been healing for me. We need this. I think it's a good step in the healing we all can benefit from, and pass down to our children and theirs.