My Breastfeeding Experience
Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
I’m sharing some of my breastfeeding story to honor this week and to be an encouragement to other Black mamas out there.
Breastfeeding has been a very positive experience for our family. I am fully aware that breastfeeding isn’t a positive experience for everyone and that it can be very challenging. At the same time, it’s really important that we continue to share the positive experiences, too, as a source of encouragement and to provide a balanced perspective.
In fact, my breastfeeding journey began way before I became a mother or was even pregnant.
I am a second generation Black breastfeeding mama. And, proudly so!
I am the oldest of 5 children and grew up in a home where breastfeeding was super normalized. My mom breastfed me for 12 months and my siblings for 18 and 19 months. I was 3 years when my mom began breastfeeding my brother and almost 12 years old when she weaned my last brother (4th sibling). When I was little, I even “breastfed” my baby dolls! It wasn’t until I was. teenager and started babysitting that I realized that not everyone breastfed and that some babies were fed formula.
Seeing breastfeeding as a normal, healthy, and loving act at as a toddler is the very reason why I breastfeed now. In my mind, it’s always been the only option. I decided in my heart that no matter what happened, my baby was going to be breastfed. The benefits (nutritionally and emotionally) are too vital and have too much of a lasting impact. Even if I had to exclusively pump or receive donor milk, I was determined that my daughter would be breastfed. When my daughter was born she slept for a long time and wasn’t very interested in eating, but when she woke up and began rooting and showing signs of hunger, the three of — my husband, our daughter, and me — sat up against the headboard of our bed and talked the process out. You read that correctly, we patiently talked to our day old daughter and explained to her how to latch. I leaned my back up against my husband and laid our daughter on top of belly and watched her take her first latch. Her first latch was a bit shallow, but 20 minutes later we figured out how to get a nice, deep latch and she has been hooked ever since.
In those beginning days, I watched my baby girl EAT! She even gain a little more than a pound in just 5 days (including the weight she lost from the meconium). It was hard for me to believe that she was really eating until our midwife did the weigh ins and I had evidence that she was gaining weight. I was fortunate to have my mom around that first week to even give her physical confirmation that I was doing it right and baby girl was thriving. Seeing that look of pride on her face sustained me even during those very, very long 3am feeds at the beginning. In a way, I felt like I had been passed the baton. My mother wasn’t breastfed (nor did she grow up around breastfeeding), but her choice to do so has sparked the creation of a lasting legacy.
I have been breastfeeding now for almost 17 months with no plan on stopping anytime soon. Though breastfeeding a toddler can be well, acrobatic (lol), I wouldn’t trade anything about my experience. I love the bond and connect is has created with her. I see our feedings as an invitation to be present in the moment, and I do my best to take it all in. I love smelling her hair, kissing her forehead and playing with her chocolate chunky thighs when we feed. I love the way she looks up at me with her daddy’s eyes and waves at me with one hand while she either taps by breast or rubs my stretch marked belly with the other. I love that I have such a simple way to comfort her when she is tired or frustrated. I love it when I occasionally can still feel a let down (I don’t as much anymore now that she feeds significantly less), and how my fingers get tingly as the oxytocin runs through my veins and I immediately feel such peace. I love that even those she is now earthside, my body is still home for her.
I am proud to be a Black vegan mama that has nourished her baby with MY body! I am proud to stand in the tradition of Black women who feed their own babies with their milk. Sometimes while I am nursing, I am still shocked that my milk brings her such joy and sustenance. I have never supplemented and have exclusively breastfed on demand for 13ish months. I grateful for the blessing and the choice to be an entrepreneur and student who is able to do this. We’ve recently stopped nursing on demand, but she still nurses quite regularly along with her 3 meals a day. Our daughter has been in the 85th percentile for her weight, is healthy, alert, strong, and has yet to be sick since she has been born. I have yet to experience a dip in my supply (even when my menstrual cycle returned at 13 months postpartum) and I never had any infections or experienced pain (except for the afterbirth cramping at the beginning as well as engorgement that first week or so). We’ve breastfed in the back seat of the car, in the park, in church, during meetings, in restaurants, at concerts, in the bathroom (in our home), on the plane, at the mall — you name it! Sometimes covered but most of the time uncovered.
I have never eaten any special cookies or anything to “boost' my supply. Just water, nursing on demand (which means no strict timing or schedule) and eating as much nourishing whole plant foods and herbs as I desire. In fact. for the first year, I was shocked to discover that breastfeeding didn’t make me lose weight. Instead, I actually gained some weight because of the sheer volume that I was nursing and how it increased my appetite significantly (something we need to talk about more instead of promoting the “snapback” culture).
I have truly loved breastfeeding and I can’t wait to continue my journey with my daughter’s future siblings. I can’t understate the importance of having confidence early on and not letting the fear of what “could” happen overwhelm you. When I was pregnant, I was advised by my midwife, other mothers, and some of the mommy blogs that I read that I needed to find a lactation consultant before having the baby. And while I very much appreciate where they were coming from, I am glad that I didn’t take that advice. I think it would have stressed me out before the journey even began! I really think it would have tampered with my confidence, too.
Telling a mama when she is pregnant that breastfeeding is extremely painful and difficult, that her milk supply will be compromised, and that she needs someone to show her how to breastfeed has the potential to do more harm than good. It can mess with her innate confidence and maternal intuition. It can bring unnecessary doubt. In a lot of natural birthing spheres, we talk about the body already knowing how to give birth and birth being a very primal and instinctual experience (when everyone involved surrenders to it). I think we need to talk about breastfeeding in a similar way. In both instances, complications can arise, there can be unmet expectations, and unnecessary interventions. I am not doubting or minimizing this. But, what is also true for both is that when given appropriate time, space and support, both the body and the baby know what to do.
I hope that my story can be encouraging. I think that it’s very important for women who have had difficult experiences to share them! I think this is cathartic and builds community. But, I also think women who have had very positive experiences also need to share. Especially, Black women. This only further normalizes the experience that God intended for us to have.
Black mamas who breastfeed are not the exception. This has long been our tradition and is our birthright.