"We don't do that... that's white people sh*t"
"That's nasty... who wants somebody sucking on them?"
"That's slavery/ poor stuff"
"Your breasts gonna sag"
"Your baby gonna be clingy and nobody will want to keep them"
"Well, I never could really breastfeed, my baby turned out fine... what you trying to prove?"
These are all things I've either been told, or heard recounted by other Black parents in the three years I've been breastfeeding. I'm currently nursing baby number two, and the rhetoric still runs rampant in some circles. Misinformation abounds in these breast/ chestfeeding streets, but in Black spaces, it runs a lot deeper. Words of failure, and disgust, are more than words that hurt, they are scars- wounds, festering in the souls of Black birthing bodies for multiple generations. Breastfeeding as a Black woman/ birthing person is reconciling the history of Trans-Atlantic chattel slavery, the practice of enslaved or low paid wet- nursing, the proliferation of the formula industry in our communities (Re: The Fultz Quads), and fighting generations of disjointed parenting and a broken village . A study conducted in 2015 examined the mindsets and influences of Black women across several age groups in how they chose their particular feeding method. Of the formula feeding groups, many of the above themes appeared.
When I found out I was pregnant in early 2017, I had made my mind up pretty early that I would attempt breastfeeding. Like many peers, I thought, I'd try it, see if it went well, and if not there is formula. 2017 Whitney had NO idea she'd be a Pathway 3 clinical intern, president of her state's breastfeeding coalition, nursed a toddler, or breastfed though part of a subsequent pregnancy. 2017 Whitney would've told you "you're crazy". Yet here I am. 2020 Whitney is here in the midst of several pandemics- COVID-19 and the systemic and brutal murdering of Black bodies. In 2020, Breastfeeding while Black is an act of resistance.
Resisting the MYTH that Black people DON'T breastfeed.
Resisting the MYTH we CANNOT have healthy, uncomplicated births.
Resisting the LIES that we are NOT WORTHY of information and education because we won't try.
Resisting the PREDATORY AND CALCULATED marketing of artificial breast milk substitutes in our communities.
TRUSTING our bodies are capable of nourishing our children, and the WISDOM to seek help when things are not going as planned.
When I breastfeed my children, I see my mother and mother in law who were not supported by systems to be successful.
I see my sisters, who have yet to bear children, know they have my total and unconditional support. I will be their village.
I see my friends and peers, knowing that they have a chance, and are open to trying something they may not have thought previously possible.
I see our ancestors, whose milk was stolen, freely given to their oppressors children, but denied for their own.
I see my beautiful brown babies, not yet knowing their potential, but fully aware of my love for them; their existence being a giant F*CK YOU to the detractors and systemic racism in this country.
Black Breastfeeding Week is not to shame the parents who formula feed, who didn't make the goals they set out for, who mourned the loss of something they so desperately wanted to do. We also honor these parents and acknowledge the barriers that exist in lactation, and maternal care through the spectrum. Black Breastfeeding Week seeks to celebrate all Black breast/ chestfeeding families regardless of their journey, and call out the injustices we experience daily.
I hope that Black families are able to live out this years theme of "Revive. Reclaim. Restore!"
and continue the fight.
"Until the disparity isn't a disparity, it has to be talked about."
Further Reads on the Black Breastfeeding and Birthing Experience:
Mothers’ milk: slavery, wet nursing, and black and white women in the Antebellum South. Emily West and R. J. Knight
Stephanie DeVane-Johnson, et al.
Dorothy E. Roberts
Kimberly Seals- Allers
Jenine Valrie Logan and Anayah Sangodele- Ayoka
* some folks are leery of the methodology used to write this book, as its also the story of Black women written by a white one, but with such limited information on this topic, I included it. Read with your own discernment.