My Breastfeeding Experience
Breastfeeding has been a joy 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 our breastfeeding victories as a source of encouragement and to provide a balanced perspective. I hope my story will offer encouragement to other Black mamas out there.
My breastfeeding journey began long before I even became 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 when she weaned my youngest brother. When I was little, I even “breastfed” my baby dolls! It wasn’t until I was a 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 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 lasting of an impact to not do it. 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 us— 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. It 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 gained a little more than a pound in just 5 days (including the weight she lost from the meconium). I could hardly 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 give me physical confirmation that I was doing it right and my baby girl was thriving. Seeing that look of pride on her face sustained me, even during those long 3 a.m. 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 a lasting legacy.
I have been breastfeeding now for almost 17 months with no plan to stop anytime soon. Though breastfeeding a toddler can be, well, acrobatic (to say the least), I wouldn’t trade anything about my experience. I love the bond and connection it 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 chunky chocolate 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 my 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 letdown (this happens less often 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 though she is now Earthside, my body is still home for her.
I am proud to be a Black vegan mama that has nourished my 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 around 13 months. I’m 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 three 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 was 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, and engorgement during 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 (of our home), on a 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 many nourishing herbs and whole plant foods 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 significantly it increased my appetite (something we need to talk about more, instead of promoting the “snap-back” 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 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’m glad I didn’t take that advice. It would have stressed me out before the journey even began! I think it would have tampered with my confidence, too.
Telling a mama when she is pregnant that breastfeeding can be 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, and there can be unmet expectations and unnecessary interventions. I am not doubting or minimizing this. But it is also true 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. This is cathartic, and builds community. But I also think women who have had very positive experiences 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.