Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stick To It: Lessons On How To Keep Breastfeeding, Despite The Odds



By ELITA KALMA

When my son was born, I was told he needed formula because he had low blood sugar and jaundice, and for five hours, he was stuffed with the artificial milk, despite my pleas that he be brought to me so that I could nurse him. I was the one with the good stuff—colostrum, that early sugar milk brimming with antibodies. But I was scared for the welfare of my son, and too exhausted to fight the power. And by the time my baby finally was brought to me, my nurse, a sistah, was, let’s say, less than encouraging. She took one look at my breasts and declared, “You have terrible nipples—you’ll never be able to nurse!” Then she roughly shoved my boob into my baby’s mouth.

That was the beginning of my breastfeeding journey.

On my way out the hospital door, a nurse practically forced a diaper bag full of formula on me, insisting that my son would need it if he got hungry—as if my always available, always sterile, always-full-of-just-enough milk breasts just wouldn’t do. My discharge papers revealed that my son had been supplemented with formula every time he left my sight!

Lucky for us, this early introduction of artificial nipples and formula didn’t ruin our breastfeeding relationship; my son has been breastfeeding for 16 months now, with no signs of letting up. But there are plenty of moms and babies who aren’t as fortunate. Although our breastfeeding initiation rate is currently at an all-time high (about 60% of black moms are nursing when they leave the hospital), only a paltry 30% are still nursing at six months and only about 12% at one year. Our society has set moms up for failure, often starting from day one. If the nurses aren’t shoving a bottle full of formula down your baby’s throat, we’re often forced to run a gauntlet of well-meaning friends and family who don't know much about nursing and offer bad—and often discouraging—advice.

And don’t get me started on nursing in public! It's as if people expect a breastfeeding mother to never leave the house! Women are so scared of other people's reactions that they hide in bathrooms or their cars or give the baby a bottle to avoid breastfeeding in a public place. You have the legal right to breastfeed your baby in public but sometimes you wouldn't know it! I have nursed my son everywhere: Target, restaurants, my in-laws’ home, the mall. I will whip out a boob to feed my child whenever and wherever necessary. Some people won’t like it and you may get looks or worse. I was asked to cover up in a hotel lobby by a teacher chaperoning a high school field trip. I pretty much had to tell her where to go and how to get there!



I say all of this not to discourage you from nursing, but to encourage you to work through the obstacles because it is so worth it. Breast milk is a living, changing organism designed expressly for your baby. The bond you create with your child when you nurse him is unmatched. There are a million reasons to breastfeed, and for black babies especially, breast milk saves lives. Did you know that 8,000 black babies die before their first birthday in this country—triple the rate of white babies. Did you know that diseases and ailments that plague the black community, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and obesity, are prevented or lessened if you breastfeed and were breastfed?

I know that it is more difficult for black women to breastfeed. Often we don’t have the jobs with the flexibility needed to continue breastfeeding. Our partners aren’t supportive. Our families think of breastfeeding as something weird that only white women do. Our bodies have been so hypersexualized in music and the media that we think our breasts can only serve one purpose. It's a disgrace that if you want to breastfeed it takes a mix of good luck and tenacity. If we, as a nation, a world, a community, want women to breastfeed, want our babies to be healthier, then we have to truly start supporting them. That means fewer unnecessary medical interventions during childbirth, longer and paid parental leave, on-site daycare, laws requiring employers to give women breaks for pumping/nursing, and normalization and acceptance of breastfeeding in public.
Then, and only then, will we see women doing what the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and nursing until age 1 and beyond.

So if you are pregnant, take the time to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. Read Kathi Barber’s The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. Create a birth plan before you go to the hospital, spelling out your wishes for both labor AND breastfeeding. Talk to your friends who have nursed and ask for advice. Call the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance or your hospital’s lactation “warm line” at the first sign of difficulty. Bookmark http://www.KellyMom.com.

And of course, you can always contact me. I think I’ve become a bit of a pro! Breastfeeding is seriously one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my entire life. Snuggling my son close while he stares at me with those big brown eyes?

There is nothing better.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor: Elita Kalma is a librarian and the mother to 16-month-old Miles, who is still nursing. She blogs about breastfeeding at The Blacktating Blog and can be found on Twitter @blacktating.

If you would like to be a MyBrownBaby contributor, email your essays/ideas to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com.



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26 comments:

  1. Man, I just love My Brown Baby! Thank you sooooo much for this post Elita and Denene! I have breastfed all of my brown babies and I'm currently breastfeeding my fourth. I've got and and still get the stares, but no one has ever went there and approached me because I have a mean stare too, LOL!

    I'm also guilty in the past of being nervous about what others are thinking while I'm in public. My baby picks up on that too, and will pull the covers off her face (and me!) and look at me as if to say "what's up with you mama?!" "What's going on out there?"

    I've even breastfed in the back seat of my van a few times because the windows are tinted and I just didn't want to deal with the public. I've never had to use the bathroom to pump, but a friend at my job did- a lot! They've since built lactating rooms for us.

    Breastfeeding is not only good for both baby and mother, but with all moms have to do, breastfeeding gives moms a chance to drop everything, sit down, put your feet up and relax. And that's a great thing. God knew what he was doing. I plan to breastfeed my baby until she is two. I wasn't so successful in going that long the last three times but it's on this time.

    I'm bookmarking your sites!

    Also, I'd love to add that if your milk gets low which happens to do often, there is this tea called Organic Mother's Milk by Traditional Medicinals. You can get it at the grocery store. It promotes healthy lactation, and it really works for me.

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  2. Great post. My own story:

    When my daughter was about four or five months old, she still exclusively breastfed, except for the few bottles of formula when I was dead tired at night and needed my rest. We went over to my in-laws house for dinner. I had fed her about a half-hour before we left, so I knew while we were there she would probably need to eat again.

    Well, she got fussy and I went to go feed her. My well-meaning in-laws told me to just give them the bottle and they would feed her while I continued to eat. I told them I didn't have a bottle and they shot me looks like, "What kind of mother doesn't bring formula for the baby?" Then I had to explain that I was "still" breastfeeding her. The looks of disgust still didn't go away! One of my husband's aunts actually asked me, "So you just let the baby suck on your titty?" I was MORTIFIED!!!!! Sitting around having to defend breastfeeding to women who are roughly three times my age?? Not a great time at all.

    I wondered why they never breastfed their kids. I mean, it's cheaper than formula (hello, it's free!), convenient (most of the time), and um, isn't it there anyway? It's like going to out to buy more milk when you still have a gallon in the fridge. I don't get it.

    But thanks for sharing this story! We appreciate it!

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  3. @Arlice Nichole--Good luck with your breastfeeding goal this time around! I am trying to allow my son to self-wean, but I heard boys don't like to give it up without a fight! :) Mother's Milk tea is nice for relaxing, especially before you pump, but if your supply truly dips low you'll need something a bit stronger, like Mother Love's More Milk Plus. That saved me countless times!

    @Tara: It's really tough sometimes to nurse in public, especially in the beginning. I also hid in the car at first, but then I realized formula feeding moms don't face this stigma and I am just trying to feed my baby the same way they are, and I vowed to never hide again. As far as your in-laws, we have to remember for a long time formula feeding was a status symbol; formula feeding meant you had some money and were middle class. Breastfeeding was seen as something only poor folks did for a long time.

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  4. @Elita - "...we have to remember for a long time formula feeding was a status symbol; formula feeding meant you had some money and were middle class. Breastfeeding was seen as something only poor folks did for a long time."

    But they WERE poor! LOL. What you said makes a lot of sense and helps me understand a little bit better. Thanks!

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  5. I agree with the benefits of breastfeeding. Hospitals may be really quick to push the formula, especially a particular brand but be firm about your wishes.

    The only thing I don't agree with is not covering with a blanket while in public. Why give everyone the opportunity to "peek" at your breast?

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  6. @Chocolate covered daydreams: Have you ever breastfed a baby? Most don't want to be covered and will rip a cover off. Besides, using a cover says to the world that you think you are doing something dirty or wrong. When a baby is latched on, you really can't see anything at all anyway.

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  7. I never breast fed any of my brown babies but after working with Elita, learning and hearing her passion in regards to women (African American) women reaping the benefits of and the bond that is established between mother and child through the act of breast feeding is an awesome experience for both. Keep up the good work LiLo!!!!!

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  8. This is a great story, and I appreciate the opportunity to learn about the African -American breastfeeding experience not being a woman of colour myself. Just over the past couple days I have already learned so much. I am posting something tomorrow that references Jennifer James from Black Breastfeeding Blog a couple years back who talks about how African-American women are still dealing with the emotional fall out of the institution of wet nursing that was forced upon them in the slavery days. Wow. I would so love to learn more. If anyone reading this has anything else they know about the history of African-American wet nursing, then I hope you'll let me know when the post goes up tomorrow.

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  9. Melodie, get your hands on a copy of Kathi Barber's "The Black Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding." In it she talks about how slaves were forced to wet nurse for their masters and had to leave their own babies at home. Often they would only be able to nurse their babies once or twice a day and the babies would die. She also recently did a podcast interview with Tanya at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog where she talked about the heritage of black women and breastfeeding.

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  10. Great post! I'm a mom of colour with a 7 month old who is nursing. My mum didn't nurse me and isn't 100% supportive of me nursing. Fortunately, for me my husband's culture and my religious community are very pro-breastfeeding. I will try to nurse up to 2 years. The hospitals here in the Seattle area are also very pro-breast feeding too :). I don't mind covering up or nursing in my car if need be. I try to feed Latch Master before we go out and once more in the car before we go in the mall/store/etc. That way I'm not stressed about finding a good spot to nurse, but trust I've nursed in Target, whole foods and some restaurants LOL.

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  11. Elita, yes, I've breastfed my babies but I believe that it has to be a preference as to being discreet or not having the desire to cover up. It's a personal preference, in my opinion. My babies didn't mind having a small crib blanket over them. (Mind you, I'm speaking about being in the public, like at church or at a restaurant and not at home). I was in no way ashamed.

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  12. This is a wonderful post and brought back memories of when my girl was first born 15 years ago. I was 21-years old and determined to breast feed. My own family (including my mom and aunts) practically laughed me out of the hospital. I just wasn't something that they were familiar with. With no support and no knowledge, I only kept up the nursing for 2 months. When my son was born, 9 years later, I was ready. But by then, there was so much information on the internet that I had taught myself a lot by the time he was born. Plus I had the lessons from the mistakes I made with my girl (we never did get latching on down). But mostly, I had my mother-in-law, who had nursed her own children. As a result my son nursed for 15 months.

    What a difference the right support makes. I'm SO happy that there is so much help for moms today.

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  13. I am learning so much! Wet nursing in this great of detail is something I have not come across. I'm interested in this topic as well.

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  14. Yup! My baby doesn't like to be covered up.

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  15. I wish I knew about these teas when I nursed my youngest. I had two surgeries and was not able to feed her due to the anesthesia, and for me pumping is definetly not the same as feeding her. Therefore my supply diminished and I stop nursing when she was 9 months.

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  16. this brown momma had a great experence nursing her precious brown baby boy! i nursed until he was about 18 months or so. for some people that was like waaaay too long, however, it was my baby, my boobs and my business. lol.

    i would encourage any mom to not give up on nursing if that is what she really wants to do. and yes, pumping your milk is just as good if that is the only way you're able to give your baby breast milk.

    towards the end of my breastfeeding experience i only nursed before bed time which made the weaning process a smooth one.

    something very interesting - for some reason my son is actually proud to hear that he was a nursed baby and likes to hear the stories of why i nursed him.

    anyhoo, he didn't like to be covered up especially if it meant that he was not going to be able to look at me while nursing. that bonding time was waaaaaay more important to me than what others may have thought.

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  17. Such a beautiful post. I had my daughter at 17 and did not breastfeed due to lack of knowledge and support. Now, I'm 28, my hubby and I are working toward expanding our family and I am determined to breastfeed when we have children. My breast are small compared to what media portrays as normal. So my fear is not being able to produce enough milk, or if I'm perfectly capable, someone seeing my small breast and questioning my decision and doubting my babies health just because of my breast size.

    I have multiple friends who breastfeed and will whip it out anywhere...Barnes and Nobles, Ballet events, restaurants, etc. And proud to do so. I've never seen anyone oppose it or give her weird looks. Thus far, I've seen a supportive community and I have supportive friends, which is an encouragement...now I just need a baby...lol.

    Thank you for introducing me to The Blacktating Blog. I'll be hopping over there soon.

    Ciao,
    LeNesha

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  18. @Toni: Thank you for leaving that beautiful comment! I love it.

    @LeNesha: Breast size in no way determines your ability to make enough milk for your baby. You should only become worried if your breasts don't grow during pregnancy. That can signal a hormonal problem that may mean your body isn't going to produce enough milk. The overwhelming majority of the time, your body knows exactly what to do and breastfeeding is based on supply and demand: the more your baby nurses, the more milk he extracts, the more milk your body makes! Amazing.

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  19. My wife is breastfeeding our 3 month old brown baby and we love it. She is a teacher and takes her pump to school to pump during the day. We have some frozen breast milk that we thaw for night feedings from me and for the babysitter. I have heard of drinking barley tea to increase production from my mother and her mother but she does not want to try it. She thinks she just needs to nurse more.

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  20. This is a beautiful post. I agree with you about being FIRM and confident in your wishes as early as the hospital. I, too, was drugged up and naive in the hospital, and pretty much believed them when they told me that my son's "blood sugar was low" and that he wasn't going to gain enough weight by me nursing him alone... I believed them when they told me that "evidence" that he wasn't getting enough milk (from my breasts) was because of the # of wet/dirty diapers. So i let them supplement him as well, and definitely regretted it.

    It was only once I got home did I realize that it was never necessary, and fortunately it wasnt too late to establish my breastfeeding relationship with my baby. So, like you said, it's really important to go into the situation with your mind made up, and prepare to "fight" for what you believe in when ppl tell you otherwise.

    Thanks for this!!!

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  21. Elita,

    What a great post! I'm glad to get a chance to hear more of your breastfeeding story, too.

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  22. thank you so much for this post!

    i'm a mom of color who is still nursing my first baby - my mom nursed me for a year and was very supportive until recently when she started making comments about weaning and nursing 2 babies (we're currently trying for #2) - when i was pregnant i was adamant that the baby would get "6 months and that's it!" - my daughter is 14 months old and is showing no interest in weaning - if i'm lucky, i'll end up tandem nursing - thanks for bringing such an important issue to the forefront - especially when we still have so many teenage moms - our babies need and deserve every advantage we can give them!

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  23. Dianthe, thanks for the comment. I am loving your blog, too!

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  24. I nursed my first until she was 33 months old. My second was jaundice too and I had to pump and use formula for the first few days. As a result, she didn't nurse -- I pumped breast milk into the bottle because of nipple confusion. I was devastated and my husband suggested I give her the breast just to see if she would take it. When she was three weeks old, she started nursing from the my breast and I was elated. I always hold a special place in my heart as it pertains to her intelligence because it's almost unheard for a baby to learn to nurse after three weeks using the bottle. I knew how smart she was after that and she has never shown me any different. I nursed her for a year (her choice) and I pumped in my office with no problems using the office refrig. for storage.

    Concerning whipping out my breast anywhere and anytime, I've never felt it necessary to do that. I have always used a cover-up, however there have been women to come to my home and whip out their breasts in front of my husband and children. I personally don't like it. Especially if the child is over one year old. I wish they would ask for a bedroom to nurse in private or turn their back, but it sometimes feels like there is a need to assert their womaness everywhere and to everyone in an effort to get extra accolades for just being a good mom who nurses her child.

    Breastfeeding is the right thing do period. There is no need to overly expose yourself just to get the point across that you are doing the right thing. Just do the right thing period.

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  25. wonderful post..... iwas jsut browsing and getting to know the site and came across this post. My daughter, who jsut turned 3, was breastfed until shortly after she turned 2. Miraculously she was exclusively breastfed until she was 6 months old and except for one or two occasions during her first 3 days of life, she has not had any formula. I say miraculously because after going back to work after 3 months, it was one of the most difficult things to do and I believe that if I could do it under my working conditions, anyone can!! or at least most can! But breastfeeding my daughter was a rewarding experience, and the bond created between us is incredible. it really hit me during the process of weaning when i realized I had to fight my own desires to breastfeed - I'd be rudely brought back to reality when those teeth started to sink in! But I encourage all who are thinking about it to do it, and jsut make up your mid to do what is best for your baby. Do your research, educate yourself on breastfeeding and just do it!!

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  26. Experienced nursing mothers, who have successfully breast fed several babies take a little advance in planning, so that they themselves are free to relax and enjoy the new nursing baby without unnecessary obstacles to their physical well-being or their peace of mind.

    Come and Join BluePixo Entertainment - A place for mom and dad to share topics about parenthood.

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