When I became pregnant there were a lot of unknowns, but I always had the goal of breastfeeding. At first, my goal was to breastfeed for six months. Then my goal became one year, and now we have almost made it to 17 months.
Breastfeeding my baby has definitely been a journey and a challenge at times. However, I consider it a privilege. If I had returned to work after my maternity leave was finished, instead of deciding to leave permanently due to the pandemic, I probably would not have been able to breastfeed this long since I didn’t succeed at pumping milk.
I tried to pump but decided it was better for my mental health to substitute with formula-feeding once a day for a few months. I wasn’t very forthcoming about supplementing with formula at the time because I was met with a lot of opposition. I felt like I had to fight for my choice to breastfeed my baby. Similarly, now, I don’t always feel like I can be as open and honest about my extended breastfeeding struggles because I’ll be met with judgment from some in my community.
However, I remind myself that everyone’s situation is different and I am doing what works best for my baby and myself. Informed is best.
Over the past 17 months, I’ve breastfed my baby in parked cars, state parks, nature trails, and farms. I breastfed her at doctor’s appointments and at lactation consultants’ offices, and even the children’s emergency room. Yes, my baby has a mouth full of teeth now but I’ve taught her not to bite me. Yes, she’ll be playing sometimes and then run over to take a quick sip. And that’s okay because it works for us.
There are lots of reasons I still breastfeed my baby but I believe the most important is that I still want to and my baby still wants it. I know the pressure I’ve faced to stop breastfeeding now comes from cultural norms that were established during a time when the African-American community was not given the needed education on breastfeeding and/or did not have the luxury of being with baby enough due to the socioeconomic issues of the time. I’m not saying things are perfect now but breastfeeding awareness in black communities has definitely increased in recent times.
I believe when new moms see diversity in roles such as birth/postpartum doula and lactation consultants, they feel more comfortable opening up and seeking assistance. Breastfeeding may be natural but it doesn’t come naturally for all, so support is essential for success. My mother has been my biggest supporter and advocate during my breastfeeding journey. I probably would have given up after two weeks if it wasn’t for her.
I share all this to point out if a mother decides to, and can, breastfeed her baby, that’s great. If she pumps or supplements with formula, that’s great. If her baby is completely formula-fed, that’s great too. I just want new moms of all backgrounds to be offered the education and advocacy they deserve no matter how they choose to feed their baby.
For more information on Black Breastfeeding Week, check out these other resources: