The Unique Black Breastfeeding Experience: Resources and Solutions

I struggled with this post a lot. For our second and final Black History month post, I decided to write about the unique experience of back breastfeeding mothers. I began to write about care provider neglect, lack of familial support, and postpartum depression. I wrote about the ties that connect breastfeeding to our slave ancestors and how it has translated to our mothers believing that breastfeeding is “nasty” and “for white people.” I even began to write about the hypersexualization of our bodies and how we are taught to not think of our breasts as functional assets used to help sustain life. However, after digging through my collection of articles and statistics, something didn’t feel right. It almost felt as though my writing was meant to inspire fear. My job as a doula is to give you all the information you need to make an informed decision regarding your birth and feeding experiences. This post should help empower you. As your first line of defense, I strive to fill you with knowledge as well as confidence. And although all the points mentioned above are significant in all regards, today I want to encourage you to know your resources, to understand how to seek out assistance for your loved ones, and to trust your instincts when the time comes. So instead of inserting statistics that could probably cause a panic attack, I’m going to offer resources and solutions. Please keep in mind that this post is in no way discounting or discrediting mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed their children. Always remember, fed is best!

Many black mothers endure a unique experience when deciding to breastfeed their child. Most women set ideal time frames and deadlines for their breastfeeding plan, but like all things, breastfeeding is about the journey and not the destination. In this journey lies what can feel like an excruciating number of obstacles placed in front of most black breastfeeding mothers. One is a lack of family support and another being care provider neglect. In this post, I will offer a few suggestions counteracting these obstacles presented to you.

As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding in the black community has a significant tie to slavery. Most female slaves who gave birth were required to be wet nurses for their master’s children, all the while having to feed their own children dirty water and cows milk. An immeasurable amount of slave children died because of this. The result of this horrific reality is the unfortunate mindset of our elders, believing that breastfeeding is wrong, nasty, or something only for white people. Because of this ideology, many black women grow up thinking that formula is their only option.

Furthermore, those fortunate enough to have the ability to choose to breastfeed their children, are met with nasty looks and demeaning comments from family members. Some family members go so far as to give babies formula or cow's milk against the parents explicit instructions. This lack of support and blatant disrespect from family members does not encourage a fruitful breastfeeding experience. Luckily, newer generations of mothers are choosing to push through and form support groups for others in similar situations.

There are many groups in North Carolina alone that meet online and in person to offer support to mothers and fathers who have decided to provide their children the best they can, regardless of the negativity thrown their way. These groups are judgment-free, and allow parents to seek advice, share experiences, and support each other in ways that their families may not. Mahogany Milk is one of the more popular groups based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mahogany Milk is a safe space created for women of color or women who have biracial or multi-racial children to discuss breastfeeding in a supportive environment to promote, encourage, and normalize breastfeeding for families of color. Other resources to help mothers with a lack of family support are mother-to-mother support groups such as Le Leche League and WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling.

Another measure expecting families are taking to combat the lack of support given by their family members is hiring a postpartum doula. Postpartum doulas offer support to families after the baby is born. They possess knowledge ranging from how to care for a newborn to how to care for the new mother. Most postpartum doulas are for hourly hire and can give support by offering encouraging words, instructions to help make breastfeeding easier to grasp, and assisting new mothers with establishing a self-care routine that encourages lactation. Journey Doula Services offers a postpartum doula package that can be found here.

Women of color also face an uphill battle when choosing a practitioner. Black mothers are more likely to feel hostility from their care providers, rushed during prenatal, infant and postpartum checkups, and experience a  lack of referrals to therapist and lactation counselors. Due to this, many black mothers live with undiagnosed conditions like mastitis, ankyloglossia, and cracked nipples, making breastfeeding difficult, if not impossible, especially for first-time moms.

Many black mothers are choosing to trust their prenatal period, labor and delivery process with midwives versus Obstetricians. Like Obstetricians, Midwives are explicitly trained to deliver babies, but in a less medicalized environment. Midwives focus on natural birth and are taught to use less monitoring and intervention. Midwives are also said to be more mindful of and attentive to the birth giver’s wants.

Many black mothers are also seeking out lactation counselors, consultants, specialists and educators before labor and delivery to encourage a successful breastfeeding experience. Your breastfeeding journey begins before your baby’s first latch. Seeking out breastfeeding specialist before you give birth can help you be knowledgeable about all things breastfeeding so that you aren't heavily relying on your care provider to hand over information. Carefully choosing a practitioner that you trust and feel comfortable with as well as contacting a lactation specialist are two of the most critical steps to take if you decide to breastfeed your child. Listed below are the many types of lactation specialists that can help you.

  • International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC): Healthcare providers that specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding

  • Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC): A specialist in lactation counseling who have completed 45 hours of training and passed a criterion-referenced examination

  • Certified Lactation Specialist (CLC): A specialist who has taken a 5-day course in working with breastfeeding mothers and children as a stepping stone to obtaining their IBCLC credential.

  • Certified Lactation Educator: Someone who has completed a 20-hour breastfeeding training course. They usually work as public health educators, WIC peer counselors, or community educators.

  • Certified Breastfeeding Counselor (CBC): A counselor who has completed an online training course and provided 20 hours of breastfeeding support.

  • Lactation Educator Counselor: Typically health professionals who have received five days of on-site or online education and training and has completed periodic testing on the subject.

Know that the field of birth work is growing fast and is multi-sectional. For every obstacle placed in a black mother’s path, there are twice as many resources that can help her knock each and every one of them out. As Black History Month 2019 comes to an end, Journey Doula Services wants to stress the importance of getting to know and utilizing these resources. If you should have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact us.

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