I remember sitting in a breastfeeding class as the only expecting African American woman in the room. I was so excited about the opportunity to breastfeed after hearing about the many benefits that it provides the baby’s health as well as the bond that is formed with the baby, but I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the only black woman there.
The CDC states that, “breast milk is widely acknowledged as the most complete form of nutrition for infants, with a range of benefits for infants’ health, growth, immunity and development. (Healthy People, 2010). From a spiritual stand point, it is the very milk that God gave us to give to our children. Naturally, mammals drink the milk that their mother’s bodies provide; from dogs to cows this is the case. Yet humans are the only mammals that attempt to supplement the natural order of nursing and weaning.
A few days later I sat chatting with a girlfriend and she asked, “You aren’t going to breastfeed are you?” I was taken aback by the question and by her tone. It was as if she was insinuating that there was something wrong with me wanting to nurse my baby. “I do,” I said. “Girl, better you than me,” was her response. I was so shocked that I just didn’t say anything else. I wondered what would cause her to have such a negative view of breastfeeding.
No one in my family ever talked to me about breastfeeding but I learned that I was breastfeed and that my grandmother breastfeed all eight of her children. Those facts didn’t influence my decision as much as it was me wanting to give the very best to my children and there’s no doubt that a mothers breast milk is God’s absolute best for the baby.
Despite the benefits, studies show that black women simply don’t breastfeed. In fact the CDC has reported that African Americans are least likely to breast feed compared to other racial groups. Why? Studies suggest that black women who chose not to breastfeed are either uneducated, unmarried or of lower income levels, amongst other factors.
We’ve read time and time again about the stats and the numbers that show that black women don’t breastfeed, but what about those that do. It’s important that we all understand why some women chose to nurse their children, understanding the benefits behind breastfeeding just might start a revolution in our community.
Here are the testimonies of black women from across America:
Inspiration to Nurse
“My pregnancy was a complete surprise and shock, so when I found out, I did lots and LOTS of research about what would be best throughout my pregnancy and once my baby was born. I had always intended to breastfeed my children once I had them. My mother breastfed myself and all of my siblings save the last one because of lactation issues. But I was never against formula until I started doing more and more research. Formula is so expensive and does not compare to the nutritional value of mother’s milk. Not to mention the risks of formula feeding including allergies, respiratory issues and obesity in adulthood- all of which the adults and children in my family suffer. Breast was the only choice.” – Monique Cowan, Hawaiian Gardens, CA, 31 years old
“Long before I had ever thought about starting a family, I read an article that stated breastfed babies tend to be more intelligent than their formula fed counterparts. At that moment, I knew that when I decided to have children I would breastfeed them. Excelling in the classroom and standing out amongst peers has always been an important cornerstone in my upbringing. I always knew that I would approach my parenting with the same values. I am going to do everything in my power to help my children achieve great things and I knew that breastfeeding was the first and one of the most important steps in doing that.” – Stephanie Wilkerson, Greensboro, NC, 27
Information Available on Nursing
“I feel like the information is available but I feel like many of the families within the African American Community don’t see [the] positive effects of breastfeeding on a long term scale and how the act itself can possibly mend the relationships we have with ourselves and our children. Nursing in most cases fosters a healthy bond between mom and baby that carries that baby throughout life. The fact is that it creates healthy attachments, which can later on contribute to healthy forms of communication. Although I am very aware of the barriers of long term nursing because the working mom has a lot more on her plate especially if she is single and or unsupported. And that’s when we have to begin to look at how we as a society and community can [can step in and help]. – Ayanna Djata, New York City, 22 years old
“The education is out there. I think that we as members of our community need to really make our voices heard about the benefits of breastfeeding. From my experience, it is the older generation that has some misinformation about breastfeeding and it’s being passed on to newer generations. The ones that have breastfed need to talk to their families and friends about the positives of breastfeeding. It’s time to break that cycle. The research is clear that breastfeeding is best. With your working class, it does get a little more difficult to get them to nurse or pump because employers have to make the situation better for nursing mothers. Although it is a federal law now to provide nursing mothers the adequate resources they need, some employers are not making it easy. We have to continue to make changes at the policy level and make sure they are being enforced. Most African American mothers are working moms and some are single moms that need their jobs.
Also, we need hospitals to promote breastfeeding for newborns instead of promoting formula and give our nurses the information needed to help new moms start breastfeeding and inform them about colostrum and how long it takes for milk to come in, and that newborns do not need formula until your milk comes in!” – Nikiya Simpson, Little Rock, Arkansas, 31
The fact is that there are black women that chose to breastfeed and they love it. For me, breastfeeding was the best thing I felt I could have done for my child and I look forward to doing it again. It’s a feeling that you simply can’t explain in words.
For the mothers that chose not to, let’s give them the information that they need. I’ve heard ridiculous things from breastfeeding making your breast sag to babies biting off nipples as being reasons for not breastfeeding. We’ve got to do a couple of things different as a community; 1) we have to be willing to look back and help others that find themselves in situations that we were once in and 2) we need to stop sharing negative experiences only! Divorced women tell you the bad about marriage but they don’t tell you about the day they fell in love. The same is true with any situation. A woman who had a bad experience breastfeeding may only recall that experience and not speak about the other amazing moments that she shared with her baby.
Breastfeeding is awesome! Like a healthy marriage it’s not perfect and there will be good and bad days, but in the end, you’ll be pleased with your decision. And when it’s time to wean you’ll find yourself missing the experience and bond that you shared.
There is information and support out there but it may not fall into your lap. You may have to do some research but be sure to look at factual information that’s out there instead of listening to what someone else told you about breastfeeding. There’s even a Facebook page called Black Women Do Breastfeed that I urge you to check out as it advocates for breastfeeding in our community and provides information and encouragement on the journey.
Remember, the milk that comes from your body is the milk that was created just for your baby!