I breastfed my daughter and son for 19 and 24 months, respectively. Yes, they had teeth. They were talking and walking. In the end, it was one of the best gifts I could have given to my children. I loved the bonding experience of breastfeeding my kids, but it didn’t start out that way. As a pediatrician, I understood the importance of the first precious food. When I gave birth to my daughter, I told the nurses no formula supplementation. I gave birth in a hospital with a breastfeeding center so the lactation consultant came by to see if I had any questions or needed help. I was all in.
Then, about three weeks into motherhood and breastfeeding something happened. Breastfeeding became a painful and not-so-fun experience. Every time my darling daughter latched on, I got a shooting pain. It was so bad my husband would sit in front of me so I could brace for the pain by pressing my foot against his back. All the while, she was nursing like a champ. Happy. Growing. Now let me be clear, I’m no wimp when it comes to pain. Natural child birth—TWICE. So for me to say it hurt, well, IT HURT! So here I am, a pediatrician with no clue as to what was going on. I had discussed breastfeeding with tons of moms and they had never shared this experience with me. In reality, I hadn’t shared it with my pediatrician either. After days of pain and doing my own research, I broke down and called the lactation consultant. She immediately knew the problem. My daughter had oral thrush which is a rash in the lining of the mouth caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. It is common in babies and I had diagnosed it probably thousands of times. I looked in my daughter’s mouth. I saw nothing. She said, “Trust me, you don’t see it yet, but it’s there. Your daughter needs to be treated and so do you.” So I took her to the pediatrician, explained what I was told by the lactation consultant. She trusted my judgment and treated both of us. From then on it was smooth sailing.
I became a better pediatrician that day. From that day forward, I asked breastfeeding moms if they were having difficulty with breastfeeding. I specifically asked them about any pain and I was surprised at how many said yes. I am grateful that I gave birth at a hospital that supported my choice to breastfeed and that I had free access to a lactation consultant even after I went home. But for most African American moms that choice isn’t available
The hospital where I gave birth is very similar to a “Baby-Friendly” Hospital. “Baby-Friendly” hospitals are maternity hospitals that have passed a set of guideline established by the World Health Organization to assist brand-new parents to begin breastfeeding. Unfortunately, a recent review by http://womensenews.org/story/reproductive-health/130828/baby-friendly-hospitals-bypass-black-communities#.Uh9TMBYSOfQ” target=”_blank”>Women’s eNews found that very few maternity wards with large African American populations have the designation. For nearly 1 in 5 African American babies, there is no ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital in the state.
So when people ask why we have a Black Breastfeeding Week, the answer is simply this: WE NEED IT!
Ivor Horn is a mom, practicing pediatrician and researcher with several publications in medical journals. She has appeared on the Today show and Good Morning America Health discussing topics such as childhood obesity, puberty and breastfeeding. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.