The Miseducation of Breastfeeding

by Shaunté Atkinson

Milk making mamas: STAND UP!

In the Black community, we don’t celebrate this enough.

Breastfeeding is beautiful… 

“I’m pregnant!”

The excitement you feel once you find out you’re about to take on the biggest journey of your life-MOTHERHOOD.

Nine months later the baby is born and the doctor is handing you your baby. Right then and there you witness their natural instinct to feed as soon as they are laid on your chest for skin-to-skin bonding. At that moment, my decision to breastfeed was confirmed. My partner was on board as well, so I knew I was on the right path. 

I wanted what I felt like was the best option for my baby’s health, physically and emotionally. I’ve always heard breastfeeding your child was super healthy for them but then it dawned on me: “Why aren’t more moms doing it? Specifically, Black moms?” 

Now here is my story, the part where I can only speak from my own personal experience…

Becoming a new mom on December 31st, 2018, to a beautiful baby girl, allowed me to answer that question. A lot of times we think it’s because of the lack of support we receive or the lack of milk we produce (and sometimes it is JUST THAT), but most of the time it’s the fear (which for me, was the miseducation).

If more people were aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, I believe more moms would consider it. Back in the day, our ancestors breastfed, which, in turn led to a lot of complexities around breastfeeding that still exist today. In a sense it became taboo in our communities. That’s why it’s important for me to share my experience to help any mother that may be struggling with the decision to breastfeed. 

I didn’t know this at the time but breastfeeding my daughter was not only beneficial to her but to me as well. There were so many reasons I considered breastfeeding and why I stayed consistent.

This is not to take away from any mother that chooses not to for any reason. Breastfeeding is not for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. This is for any mom that needs clarification, inspiration, encouragement and to help those around you understand your choice. 

After I confirmed my decision to breastfeed, lactation nurses came in to educate me on what I was getting myself into. Everything from milk production in the first few days being colostrum, to explaining how often I have to feed, to counting wet and poopy diapers.

Y’all! I was overwhelmed and sometimes I felt defeated.

I would ask myself “did everybody just forget that I’m a new mom?” Lol.

It wasn’t until I left the hospital and had conversations with two of my friends that were doulas. In hindsight I definitely would’ve had a doula. Knowing what I know now it is very important to have doctors that look like you and respect your birth plan. The advice they gave me made me feel confident and relaxed. Just like that I was ready for my daughter’s first doctor’s appointment. Everything went great until they weighed her. She dropped a pound and she didn’t fit their “percentile chart” That’s when the questions started. How often is she eating? Are you producing enough milk? Do you want to switch to formula? Boop, there goes my confidence rate. At that moment I told them I wanted to keep doing what I was doing. Talking to my friends that were doulas helped me stand my ground. My supportive partner helped me stand my ground. It wasn’t until I had to explain it to my village. Here I am telling them what the doctors said but also trying to relay the education I learned from my doula friends. It just wasn’t coming across like I knew what I was talking about so they just weren’t getting it. They were still very supportive. That’s where the miseducation comes in and the fear builds up. Everybody was suggesting that I switch to formula but I knew I wanted to grow through this journey. I knew I could do it if I just learned the ropes and developed a plan. 

Every chance I got I was on Facebook messaging or texting my doula friends. Boom! Second doctor’s appointment is here. Again, everything went great. When the time came for her to get weighed I was nervous. I worked so hard and I didn’t want to hear anything negative. Moment of truth, she gained all her weight back and some. She was one healthy baby getting all the nutrients she needed. My confidence was back and I couldn’t believe that my baby was surviving off of something natural that my body was creating. My baby was healthy and that’s all that mattered. This motivated me to keep going. I continued to educate myself by having conversations with other women of color that were breastfeeding, joining breastfeeding groups on social media, and more.  It was so important for me to have those conversations with other moms of color and not just read about it or google it… The best teacher for me is experience.

Some of the benefits of breastfeeding I noticed with my daughter and things that were shared with me from my doula friends:

  • Boosting her immune system
  • The best nutrients from breast milk doesn’t compare to any other first foods 
  • Protection from diseases and illnesses- their saliva sends signals that she needs antibodies for infection
  • Regulates body temperature – whenever they’re hot or cold breast milk is enough
  • Lowers risk of SIDS
  • No ear infections 
  • Milk baths to help hydrate, prevent itchiness or irritating skin
  • Comforting when trying to sort through emotions

Some of the benefits for me:

  • Reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Produces oxytocin, helps uterus retract back to normal size faster
  • My favorite: BURNS CALORIES!!!

Mothers are typically encouraged to breastfeed their children for atleast 1 year. I breastfeed my first born until she was two. I became a girl mom again on February 4th, 2021. The second go round I felt like I was a pro lol. I am currently weaning my two year old off. Two totally different journeys with my daughters. I know more now than when I started with my first born in 2018. My partner and my family are also pros, lol. I’m not an expert on breastfeeding but through my experiences the main things that helped me was actually learning the benefits, going through the motions and having the support to keep me going. 

Realistically, breastfeeding can be exhausting. There are so many ways that you can get the job done. You can exclusively breastfeed, exclusively pump if you don’t want to breastfeed, or a little bit of both. Breastfeeding sessions vary, the amount of milk you pump also varies. Even the color varies. Yes we all want to pump 8 oz of liquid gold out at one time. Sometimes you might, other sessions you may only get 1 or 2 oz  both are ok. Save it and freeze it. It will add up. Your body responds to your baby’s needs. The biggest take away for me as a milk making mama was to: be kind to yourself and most importantly don’t compare yourself to other moms. I would see posts all over social media of some moms having a freezer full of milk while there were times where I struggled to make it to the next day. Whether you’re the mom with the freezer full or just one boob full your child is getting what they need. No boobs are too small or too little to produce milk. I didn’t use anything to increase my milk supply. My focus was staying hydrated, making sure I removed milk efficiently to keep up with supply and demand. Your body produces enough. Remember you are enough. Breastfeed as little, or as long as you want. I didn’t even give my girls any table food until they actually showed curiosity because I knew that breast milk carried all the nutrients they needed. You have to find a routine that exclusively fits your baby’s needs and your personal needs. 

As a milk making mama I quickly learned that liquid gold isn’t easy to come by when you’re pumping and trying to feed the baby. We sometimes have to explain to our partner or family members the importance of rationing stored milk. I use to get so mad when someone would give my daughter milk I’ve pumped and worked so hard to save when I was literally in the next room. I wasn’t the mom with the freezer full so my goal was to save it for whenever I wasn’t around, or if I just simply needed a break. Everyone will get a chance to bond with the little one, me and my partner had a routine that worked well for us. When you develop a plan, STICK TO IT. Explain it to everyone involved. Your village will understand. Let’s dismantle the miseducation of breastfeeding for moms of color and EDUCATE! 

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