It’s National Breastfeeding Month, but even closer to home, Black Breastfeeding Week. I’m glad to see there’s a national awareness month dedicated to breastfeeding, but I’m even happier to see one specifically for Black mothers and our babies.
For one, we need to dismantle the stigma associated with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed one’s baby, but it became taboo. Mothers who breastfed were viewed as weird, as if they were doing something unnatural — and nasty. The first time I saw someone nurse a baby I was about 10 or 11. My mom had a friend who nursed her son. To me, it just went along with her healthy, vegetarian, brown-rice-eating, co-op-shopping lifestyle. She did everything else different so why not how she fed her baby?
I think the next time I experienced another Black mother breastfeed her baby was when I nursed my son. I did it as a teen mom almost three decades ago. Trust me when I tell you I was all alone. The support that exists today didn’t exist then. I’m so glad things have changed and are continuing to change. I experienced that difference when I had my daughter. Since my children are 13 years apart — and I was a well-established adult this time around — my breastfeeding experience was different. I wasn’t alone. By then, several family members had nursed their children (although many were still resistant). I also worked with a woman, albeit white, who nursed her son who was just a month older than my daughter.
At this time, places of employment and recreation still didn’t have lactation stations or even rooms for nursing moms to pump or feed in private. I expressed milk in a stall in the women’s bathroom, and thankfully, being a reporter provides some flexibility, so I left work every afternoon to go to the sitter’s to feed my daughter.
Black people still looked at me as if I was strange, but a little less so. Nursing my daughter made people less uncomfortable than it did when I nursed by son. Times they are a-changing, however, people still wanted to give me my “privacy” by either going into a different room or making sure I was covered. It became amusing to watch people’s reactions.
The second reason Black Breastfeeding Week gives me joy is because breastfeeding is the best thing for our babies. It’s from us. It’s the way things are designed to work. When you think of how your body not only sustains your baby during pregnancy but also in the first year or so of life, you can’t help but marvel at the process God created.
Babies have undeveloped immune systems. Breastfeeding provides some immunity to disease. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of asthma, diabetes and obesity — three conditions that affect African Americans disproportionately.
While the benefits are amazing, it doesn’t matter if you feel alone. Support is the third reason I’m excited about Black Breastfeeding Week. There is nothing like having someone or a group of people you can relate to in your corner. There’s nothing like venting to someone and feeling heard and your concerns validated. I know women who were unsuccessful at breastfeeding, and I believe if they had the support they needed to get them through the tough time — the beginning — they could’ve persevered.
Events for Black Breastfeeding Week end Aug. 31. Visit the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition on Facebook for events, and visit indianablackbreastfeedingcoalition.com to learn more about the organization.