Dear Michele Bachmann: Shut Up About Black Moms and Breastfeeding

Here’s what I’m gonna need: I’m gonna need Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Michele Malkin and Fox contributor Sandy Rios and them to sit down and hush. Like, now. Because their particular brand of ignorance is wearing on my one last good Mama Grizzly nerve.

Let me explain: Earlier this week, as she celebrated the one-year anniversary of her Let’s Move campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama said she now intends to train her anti-obesity efforts on early intervention, including making it easier for mothers to breastfeed—seeing as breastfed babies tend to be healthier and less likely to be obese as they grow. A centerpiece of the FLOTUS plan is to help put mothers on the good foot of breastfeeding from the moment they push out their babies—by working with hospitals to stop pushing formula and quit separating newborns from their moms, two practices that make it harder for mothers to start, practice and sustain breastfeeding.

Mrs. Obama’s plan would go hand-in-hand with new government measures designed to give breastfeeding moms support, including: new IRS rules that make breastfeeding supplies deductible and reimbursable under flex spending plans; a new child nutrition law that provides more breastfeeding counseling and supplies to eligible low-income moms, and; new federal rules that require some employers to give nursing moms break time and a dedicated place—other than the bathroom—to pump milk.

So let’s see: Hospitals will be asked to do right by new moms; low-income moms will be given the support they need to breastfeed if they choose to do so, and; moms will catch a financial break from the most expensive part of breastfeeding their newborns.

And somehow, this is a bad thing in the eyes of the Tea Party princesses who strut around talking about how they’re all about women and moms and family values and whatnot.

Now, I don’t pretend to subscribe to anything Bachmann and her ilk have to say. Neither have I ever been compelled to speak up publicly about their particular brand of politics. So not worth my valuable brain matter. But Bachmann went on the attack this week after Mrs. Obama promised to do more to get black moms breastfeeding—bizarrely accusing FLOTUS of some kind of leftist, anti-business conspiracy to form “a nanny state.” Later, Rios was prancing all over Fox News, talking about how she’s “in favor” of Mrs. Obama helping black women, but giving working mothers time and a place to nurse and pump their breast milk “is not right.” Palin jumped on the bandwagon yesterday with some nonsense that was so confused and confusing, I absolutely refuse to spend my precious time trying to make hay of it.

*Insert image of Denene giving all three of them a massive side-eye.*

Really, y’all? Really?!

Am I the only one who sees the ridiculousness of these women and their asinine arguments? Because I absolutely cannot understand why women would be so willing to go hard against policies that actually helpwomen do womanly things—like feed their babies in a clean environment without threat of losing their jobs. What’s more? I don’t appreciate nan one of them trying to frame this conversation on behalf of black mothers. Because I can guarantee you, they haven’t the slightest clue the barriers black moms have to hurdle to get to what my friend *Akiba Solomon called the “very natural, very basic way of nurturing our babies and ourselves.”

I promise you, I damn near needed a cape, Wonder Woman’s magical lasso and a special order from the President and sweet Baby Jesus to get the support I needed as a black mom to breastfeed. Now mind you, when I had my babies, a lot of things went right for me; I had a supportive husband who did more than the average man when it came to diaper/feeding/burping/bathing duty, I had employers that let me pile up my vacation days for an extended maternity leave, and I had the cold, hard cash I needed to make sure my babies had everything they needed to get the healthy start my OB-GYN, pediatrician and every baby book on the planet said would be best.

Still, when I gave birth to my first baby in a hospital in Harlem, the nurses made quick work of handing me a bag of Similac, shoving a pacifier in my baby’s mouth to quiet her and disappearing for, literally, hours—leaving me to figure out on my own how to get my baby to latch on to my breast and nurse. By the time one arrived to my hospital room to “help me” feed my newborn—bottle-full of formula in tow—I’d nearly allowed my baby to tear off my nipple from pulling her off my boob the wrong way. Five minutes with a lactation consultant, or hell, a nurse who believed I could, should and would nurse, would have saved me hours of frustration and grief. Luckily, I was determined. And the nurse took pity on me and gave me a number for La Leche League so I could get some sound advice on how to feed my kid. But what about the black mom who didn’t have access to the books or a dedicated doctor or a supportive network of friends to encourage her to breastfeed? Baby formula was likely going to be the food of choice for her newborn.

And don’t even get me started on what it was like to be a working mom who pumped breast milk while on the job. Again, I was lucky: I was a journalist and had a pretty loose schedule that didn’t keep me tied down to my desk, so disappearing for fifteen minutes to pump really wasn’t that big of a deal. But when I had my Mari, the only place to pump my milk was the bathroom. So I bought myself a car adaptor for my $200 pump and expressed in my car. Mind you, I had to walk past the dedicated room for smokers—we dubbed it The Butt Hutt—to get to my car. Imagine that? The bosses didn’t have a problem finding a spare room and filling it with expensive, cozy furniture so that my co-workers—mostly men—could be as comfortable as could be while they shoved cancer sticks in their mouths, but no one could spare so much as a broom closet with a plastic chair so I could have some privacy and a funkless space gather food for my baby.

Three years later, when I had my Lila and was working in a different, smaller office, I again faced pumping in the bathroom—a nasty little two-stall space where women peed and pooped and changed their tampons and farted and threw up and goodness knows what else. There was no way in hell I was going to gather my baby’s food in there. So I regularly kicked my superiors out of their offices so that I could handle my business privately and in a reasonably clean environment.

But what about the breastfeeding mom who works on a factory line? Or at McDonald’s? Or who doesn’t have enough of a personal relationship with her bosses to get some alone time in his/her office to pump? Or who would love to breastfeed but can’t so much as afford the pump that would allow her to collect her baby’s food when she goes back to work, let alone the unpaid breaks and hostile attitudes she’d have to endure to conduct said collections?

I won’t bother to get into the almost pathological resistance African American moms face from family and friends when it comes to breastfeeding. It. Is. No. Joke.

And so the last thing any of us need is for the likes of Bachmann, Rios, Palin, et. al. to try to act like they understand and care about what black moms need to help them and their babies get a great start and thrive while, in the same breath, they work overtime to try to tear down policies—both proposed and passed—that would make it so that we—AND ALL MOMS—can stop having to scratch and buck and fight to do something so basic and natural as breastfeed.

Clearly, they don’t give a damn about us. And I’ll bet you my bottom dollar none of us stand at the ready to even pretend to believe like they do. Mostly, I wish the Tea Party princesses would just sit down and shut up about breastfeeding and childhood nutrition already. At the very least, they need to keep our names out of their mouths.

This isn’t a game for black moms and black children.

Or about politics.

It’s literally about life and death for our babies.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I totally agree! If I could not afford a pump I would not have been able to breastfeed for 6 months. If I could not pump at work, I would have had to stop after 3 months. Why do people insist on putting up obsticles for us. Breastfeeding is a hard enough job as it is. Why Hate! Great post!

  2. LOVE this. First they criticize Michelle Obama for promoting healthy eating and exercise. Now they want to criticize her for promoting breastfeeding?? What possible good reason is there to make it harder for a mom to breastfeed her baby or to criticize anyone who is trying to make it easier? Thanks for pointing out the utter ridiculousness of the likes of Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin.

  3. I am SO glad I met you at Blissdom. You are truly opening my eyes to a whole different perspecitive on my own passion. Thank you so much for your wisdom, passion, and desire to make changes for yourself and others! You ROCK!!!

  4. Thanks for this post. I’m so passionate about this issue. I’m not judgemental about women who decide not to breastfeed, I just really love when women choose to at least try it, with all the support that is available. Interesting note from my OB Gyn last week about my own breast health- since I nursed my 3 for a combined total of 48 months, statistically, that puts me at a lower risk for breast cancer.
    Love the term, “tea party princesses”! That’s a very couth way of saying what I really think about them.

  5. You are so on point. The sad and fearful part about it all is that ppl in their position with that much ingnorance on board can seriously be dangerous to rest of us if we don’t keep ourselves informed. Keep talking and spreading and sharing the word ladies!

  6. Thank you for your post! It was spot on! I was lucky enough to breastfeed all three of my kids, including a set of twins, until they were almost 2 years old. It was what I thought and still think was best for me and MY CHILDREN. It is about women making the best choices for themselves and their families. In this current political climate and with these types of folks opening their mouths and talking out the butts, we moms and women- with and without children need to tell the powers that be WHAT WILL BE. Let’s not sit around and gripe. Let’s not let these ‘women’ speak for us. Let’s organize and demand that every and all options should be open for us and our families.

  7. Women shouldn’t be able to pump at work? You’d think I’d get used to these dumb remarks, but no. Doesn’t seem to be working. My child comes before anything else, even a job. Yes, I need to be able to make money, but I also need even more to be able to nourish my child in the way I see fit. I’m posting this article everywhere.

  8. I love this!!! They’re always promoting “Breast milk is the Best milk”, now those people are out here contradicting themselves & trying to condemn us for doing what’s best for our babies. My oldest has hardly ever been sick in his 15 yrs. on earth because of the great start he got from being breastfed. My twin’s were 13 weeks premature & all of the NICU staff attributed their healthy weight gain & recovery to them being able to receive my breastmilk…even with them having to be tube fed for awhile. My children have never been overweight and have had less childhood illnesses than most bottle-fed kids I know. So to all of the naysayers, forgive my French, but I’d have to quote CeeLo to them….F you!!! Breast is ALWAYS Best!!

  9. I had to stop paying attention to the ignorance, I was almost near-sighted from all the side eying.

  10. I had the unique pleasure of breastfeeding both my daughters. What an awesome experience. The opposition to these loving moments between Momma and baby amazes me. We won’t even get into all the health benefits for the baby and the sweet bonding relationship with Momma. What about the budgetary spending for the WIC program? Their concept that it is better to spend money on the expensive formulas then to provide education, pumps and support to healthy African American Moms and babies is absolutely ridiculous. Yes…they need to sit down and shut up!

  11. I don’t know WHY anything they say shocks me. But it DOES!!!!

  12. What exactly are they saying (whenever I hear certain politicians names being mentioned, I turn off the tv)?

  13. I totally agree! Can I add that breast feeding as an option is much too taboo for my generation (i’m an 80’s baby). I’m going to stop there before I let out my sarcastic “Well, you can’t be leakin in the club!”. *oops*

  14. i breastfed both of my sons. my oldest for nine months exclusively and my youndest for four months exclusively. i was able to purchase a pump, but pumping at work was extremely uncomfortable. i had to pump in a warehouse environment where my first boss told me that the company didn’t have to give the time nor the space to pump. i had to explain that there is a law stating that they have to provide me with that. i applaud and admire the first lady for shedding more light to this. the tea party princesses, especially Palin should be far more understanding, being that she has a lot of children.

  15. I knew from the get go, I was going to breastfeed my daughter. No one gave me their two sense on this matter. I wanted my daughter to be as healthy as possible, and I knew breastfeeding was the answer. I would have loved to keep breastfeeding longer, but I stopped around 4 months. Due to that I could not pump a lot a work. But I did nurse her at night. I encourage all mom’s no matter of what their background is to do breastfeed their children. It is a wonderful thing.

  16. Thank you for the post. When I gave birth to my daughter in 2009, I was fortunate enough to receive assistance from a lactation consultant. When it was time to feed my daughter for the first time, she came in and casually excreted milk from my breast. The consu;atant went on to explain what Colostrum was, the importance of breastfeeding and establishing my milk supply, etc. I’m not sure if having private insurance made a difference. It could have been the hospital I was in (BTW I delivered at Lenox Hill Hospital). What really disappointed and saddened me was the lack of support from the Carribean nurse (my background is Bajan) who was assigned to my room. She saw that I was in extreme pain while nursing. My nipples were cracked and bleeding and all she could say to me was, “Are you sure you don’t want to give her the bottle (of Formula)?” When I replied no she said, “Alright trooper”, and left me to nurse. What!!! She didn’t offer any relief or options. I cried that night every time my daughter woke up to nurse–which was often. No Lansinoh(r) was given to me until the next day when the lactation consultant came by to check on me. Us WOMEN, ALL WOMEN need to band together.

  17. Please don’t confuse it, their comments had nothing to do with mothers, babies or breastfeeding. If Mrs. Obama said she was going to help mamas get an extra pair of shoes, there would be freak out about the gov’t giving out shoes. It’s all politics. Quite sad.

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