MyBrownBaby Breastfeeding !It was a no-brainer for me: All the books said I should breastfeed my baby because it was best for her that she would be stronger, faster, smarter, better for it. And so I rushed out and bought myself a fancy Medella breast pump and stocked up on breast milk storage bags and got all giddy when I started filling out my nursing bras. (Um, yeah I was the president of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee and so the prospect of having boobies was a huge plus on my Reasons Why I Should Breastfeed list.) And I proudly told anyone who would listen that I planned to feed my child the natural way—the way my mother’s generation and all the generations before hers did, too. The way God intended.

Um, yeah. The nurses at the hospital where I gave birth to my beautiful Mari had other intentions. I mean, in theory, breastfeeding made all the sense in the world for me and my baby. But in the real world, a.k.a. a hospital in the middle of Harlem, where the environment made doctors and staff more prone to assume that a young black woman pushing out a baby was single, poor, uneducated, and alone, breastfeeding just didn’t fit into the equation.

And so the nurse put my Mari in my arms and disappeared, leaving me for 12 hours with nothing more than my baby and a goodie bag full of coupons for baby lotion and soap, useless pamphlets, and two bottles of baby formula. I was absolutely terrified, overwhelmed, exhausted and clueless; I simply didn’t know how to feed my newborn child. No manner of picture/conversation/book chapter prepared me for The Show the actual breastfeeding of my baby. Was I supposed to be sitting any particular way? Pop in my boob any kind of way? Squeeze it to help get the milk into her mouth? Where was the milk anyway?!

I mean, I was convinced the baby would starve to death. And that she would die with a piece of my nipple in her mouth (those little gums were killer, especially when I unwittingly pulled my breast out of her mouth).

When a nurse finally made her way back into my room, she seemed surprised to find me breastfeeding. (She was also surprised that I had a husband, insurance, a good job, and that Mari was my first child more on this ignorance in another post.) Still, she made quick work of showing me how to get the baby to latch on, how to get her to stop sucking, and, most importantly, she gave me a number to La Leche League so that I could ask an expert questions on how to feed my baby the right way.

Getting the breastfeeding right wasn’t easy or natural; for the first two weeks, the skin on my nipple was literally shredded and my breasts were raw; it was like a toothless little man was sucking on an open, achy wound. I’d smooth Lasinoh on my skin between feedings and sit shirtless with ice packs on my nipples, and literally cry out when Mari latched on.

But I didn’t give up.

Through the pain.

Through the doubts.

Through the pumping in the bathroom at work.

Through the ridicule from my more old school friends and family members who wondered loudly and unabashedly when I’d stop letting my baby suck on my ninny.

I breastfed my baby for 10 months, and pumped and fed her my milk for two more months after that, even after she stopped taking my breast. I was proud of myself for hanging in there. And proud of my daughter, too, for being patient with me. I know that it would have been just as easy for her to reject my breast. But she didn’t. And for this, I’m grateful.

There are plenty of moms who aren’t as fortunate—who don’t have the benefit of expensive breast pumps and copious amounts of time to recuperate from the painful beginning stages of breastfeeding or halfway understanding bosses who give them time to pump or even a pamphlet’s worth of information telling them how it’s done or extolling its benefits. These are things that some of us breastfeeding moms simply take for granted.

Of course, there are plenty of moms who forgo breastfeeding to formula feed and this is their right. No judgment here. To each her own.

But I thank goodness that there are plenty of resources available for moms who do want to successfully breastfeed much
more than was available when I had Mari more than 14 years ago.

And for this, we should all be grateful.

For more information on breastfeeding from how to do it successfully to how to dress to what breast pumps to buy check out La Leche League, an incredible resource for breastfeeding mothers, and the March of Dimes website, which is rich with great information on breastfeeding and many other helpful “bringing home baby” tips. For a more culturally-specific perspective, visit Kimberly Seals Allers’ Black Breastfeeding 360.

“Nipples and Ninny: An African-American Mom’s Breastfeeding Journey” appeared originally on MyBrownBaby in October 2009″

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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.

8 Comments

  1. LOVE!!!!! I was sooo determined to breastfeed. Then my breasts went from a D to an H overnight, bigger than my boy’s head, and I was afraid to hold his head AND my breasts up off his face at the same time, so I decided to pump. I remember the disappointment I felt for so long, feeling like less of a mom because I hadn’t had a natural birth OR breastfed straight from the source. However, the pride I feel that my boy went from breastmilk to whole milk… the best. The amazement I felt when I would see the nourishment for my son flow from me was awesome.

  2. I am a white woman who breast fed a long tome ago, but not too long to forget the pain of nursing that I was unprepared for. When I had my first child, 37 years ago, there was no one to suggest BF, so I used formula, which he was allergic to, and then soy milk. By the time my second arrived 4 years later, I was going to BF no matter what. I read the Womanly Art of Breast Feeding as if it were my bible. Did everything the book suggested and then the day came, and all I have to say is I was in pain for weeks and finally called a stranger at La Leche , spoke to her for hours, while crying the entire time. In the end I nursed for way beyond a year, my son would never take a bottle, so my solution for my husband and I to be able to go out was to let him drink from a sippy cup at about 5 months. I still treasure every moment of BF and happy that I was fortunate enough with the world’s smallest breasts to have enough milk for a dozen babies. If you are able to BF, even for a short time, do it, it is a wonderful bonding experience for the entire family. Thanks for sharing Denene.

  3. I was determined to breastfeed as well. I tried to prepare for the pain, the potential latch problem, and the stress of wondering if my baby was getting enough to eat. What I didn’t prepare for was that my brand new baby would have strokes and seizures on his second day of life and be in the NICU for two weeks. I couldn’t feed him for 2 days and once I could feed him, I was only allowed to do it once a day. Needless to say, he developed a preference for the bottle and began rejecting both of my daily attempts at breastfeeding. Once we got home, I could breastfeed as much as I wanted and I supplemented with bottles of expressed milk. It took us two months, but we finally weaned him off that bottle and he is nursing like a champ (he’s actually nursing now as I type with one hand). I’m so proud of him for being so patient, just like your daughter. It’s been worth all the pain, frustration, and worry.

  4. Please consider linking to la leche league in your post where you mention getting information, support and help. http://lalecheleague.org/ Fabulous post. Love your site.

  5. I just came across your site and I love some of theses stories. I know how it felt when I gave birth in 2010 and people thought I wouldn’t breast feed and wouldn’t stay with it. But I did for 18 months! I would’ve made it to two years had I not been in nursing school.
    People and their negativity and assumptions have no place in my life..

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