Complex Trauma + Breastfeeding

As a Mommy Blogger, I always find myself engaged in the age-old debate regarding the B-word. Not the books we have in our bed-time rotation or the best bottle brand that has my husband and I’s loyalty. I’m talking about the other B-Word.

That’s right, you’ve guessed it: BREASTFEEDING.

Whether it be online in the comment sections of trending posts or at our daughter’s playdates, it always seems to come up one way or another. And as a woman of color, I’m finding that there are two types of perspectives regarding the matter.

One is in the spirit of empowerment and the ability to unapologetically provide our children with what is naturally produced while the other stems from a place of resistance and uncertainty. This culturally antiquated way of thinking is one of the many activities our bodies are equipped to do. I guess this is why 28.9% of Black women breastfeed exclusively through the first three months in comparison to 51.6% of White women.

28.9% of Black women breastfeed exclusively through the first three months in comparison to 51.6% of White women.

CDC National Immunization Survey, 2013

When deciphering the disparity amongst breastfeeding mothers, we have to consider the generational trauma caused by historical obstacles that women in our community have faced. During slavery, black women were forced to act as wet nurses to the plantation owners’ wives. A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds and cares for another women’s child.

Consider the optics, many times, black women were not permitted to breastfeed or care for their own children, but were forced to do so for the family that was enslaving them. The same family that was literally tearing their children from their arms, they were now forced to feed.

As a mother, I can’t imagine the pain and heartache these women must have felt. So understandably so, over time black women chose to distance themselves from the trauma of the past.

As a result, the cultural narrative became this isn’t something we do. We are communal. Raising a baby is a family contribution, so if you don’t have the support and guidance from your elders, not breastfeeding becomes the cultural norm. You don’t go against the grain. Breastfeeding becomes a taboo topic.

Coupled with the sexualization of a woman’s body the cultural narrative now shifts to breastfeeding is inappropriate.

You can’t do that in my house. You need to cover if you’re going to do that.

All of these restrictions and expectations are placed upon a new mother when she should be getting support and encouragement from her loved ones.

Not to mention, mothers have to battle mainstream marketing from formula companies and lack of representation in the lactation field. Doctor’s offices, clinics, WIC offices, all have supplies of formula on hand for mothers, but many don’t offer evidence-driven breastfeeding support.

Companies that produce breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies appeal to their ideal customer: middle class white women. You can search through their marketing materials, websites, and brochures with a fine tooth comb, but you’ll be pressed to find many Black women represented.

Even if a mother does decide to breastfeed, where can she find the support she needs? If your hospital provides a lactation consultant to assist with initial breastfeeding education, (they do not have to employ Board Certified Lactation Consultants full-time) the odds are the consultant is not a woman of color. So, when she’s accessing a mother’s breast and educating a mother about breastfeeding is she prepared to adjust her mindset and routine of thought for the black woman before her? Does she understand the cultural differences and is willing to be sensitive to them?

Black women and breastfeeding have a long complicated history, but this should not deter you from breastfeeding your child. Your body naturally makes all of the nutrients and antibodies your child needs. Breastmilk fights against disease and infection, it enhances brain development, and it’s easier to digest than ANYTHING else you could provide your child. We have to tackle these disparities head on and fight for our children.

More About Our Contributor

Follow Royeal at @TheFraLewWay on Instagram and visit www.thefralewway.com for more dope content!

I wanted families to know that there are multiple ways to “family” and feel empowered in the decisions they make for their own families. A big portion of The FraLew Way’s outreach is dedicated to educating black women about breastfeeding and providing them with support and a village to lean on during the journey. 

Sierra H.
sierrahillsman6@gmail.com