Young, Black and Full of MilkPosted February 26th, 2013 by Tennille Patterson
When I decided to become a mother at age 21, I had no idea how to prepare. I just knew in my heart that I wanted to do any and everything most natural and beneficial for my child. My doctors were supportive of me deciding to breastfeed so shortly after giving birth they placed my daughter in my arms and left the room! Feeling completely clueless on how to begin, I put her to my breast and she nuzzled around for a few minutes, gave me a grumpy look and latched on. I recall thinking “that was easy, she knew exactly what to do”.
I took my baby girl home excited about the journey ahead of bonding and breastfeeding. But the easy start proved just too good to be true when I hit my first roadblock of being engorged. I produced milk, in fact my breasts were full and leaking but a nipple wouldn’t form for my daughter to latch on. It was so painful I cried, then my daughter cried and I had no idea what to do. Hours of a screaming hungry baby led to her father and I arguing. I understood his frustration and worry but he screamed at me for being selfish and a bad mother. That was the first time I felt judged and ashamed of choosing to breastfeed.
More challenges like finding the perfect feeding position, deciding to co sleep, or my daughter cutting first tooth at 4 months, and then those awkward moments when she would get into feeding position and pull out my breast in public. I made sure to cover her while breastfeeding in public, but that didn’t stop the dirty looks along with “people do pump and use bottles”. The truth is I tried pumping milk but my daughter refused to use an artificial nipple so much that she would protest for hours at daycare until I arrived to feed her.
By age one my daughter was walking and talking with a mouth full of teeth also still breastfeeding. That was the most difficult time for ridicule. I would get comments from family and friends like “only white people breast feed that’s sick” or “white people are the only ones who breast feed big children, she’s going to be scarred” and “that’s for your pleasure not her benefit, you need to stop”.
It really hurt me to hear the judgmental comments or see the dirty looks from some of my closest family and friend for 21 months of breastfeeding my daughter. Now, almost 10 years later my daughter and I have a strong bond, she developed a hearty and healthy appetite, has been sick very few times her whole life, consistently in highest rank of cognitive development, and has never had any stomach issues. Breastfeeding was certainly a major contributor to these benefits.
I’ve tried to advocate for breastfeeding to young black mothers over the years unfortunately many reject my strong recommendation and testimony. I will continue to support and encourage mothers to breast feed because it was the greatest decision I ever made.