The day my milk came in was a day I’ll never forget. I gave birth and had a successful latching for the first day and a half. On the second day, I felt my breasts become hot globes, rock hard, and flooded with milk. They were so full that I had to buy new nursing bras that same day. I noticed everyone staring at my new glamorous breasts. Going from an A-cup and no bra to an overflowing C-borderline-D-cup was a dramatic shift for me! I had to learn how to accommodate my new breast friends.
I was committed to breastfeeding well before my son was born. My mom nursed me until I was a year old. My grandmother didn’t nurse my mother. While evidence shows that breastfeeding is the best for our babies, support for breastfeeding in Western culture is lacking, particularly amongst African Americans. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and that children continue to be breastfed for at least two years. African American breastfeeding rates for the recommended first six months of life is 20% versus 40% amongst white women.
Six months to two years may sound like a long time to share your breasts, but think about the developmental and emotional benefits your child will experience from connecting to you in that way! Breast milk is the perfect nourishment for a growing baby. It protects the baby against illness such as ear infections and the flu, and lowers the risk for asthma, diabetes, obesity, and leukemia later in life. Breastfed infants are more likely to try a wide variety of foods when they start solid baby foods and, later, table food. Breastfeeding also gives you and your baby a special connection; the majority of mothers report that breastfeeding makes them feel closer to their baby. Besides the wonderful connection you establish with your baby, breastfeeding also encourages the uterus to contract back to its normal size and can burn up to 600 calories daily. Breastfeeding is also linked to lower maternal weight gain.
All of that said, there are challenges that can make it difficult and nearly impossible for some women to manage breastfeeding. These include stress and anxiety at home or work; lack of support; extended separation of mother and baby at birth; difficulty latching that results in pain for the mother and frustration for both mother and baby; and low milk production. These issues are exacerbated by stress, dehydration, and poor diet. Engorgement and improper latching are two of the most common hurdles to comfortable and successful breast-feeding. Our fear-based culture perpetuates the idea that our bodies are not capable of succeeding at this most primal process- feeding our young. Many women give up breastfeeding after the first few weeks postpartum due to pain and discomfort and ultimately lack of support. As a birth advocate and avid breastfeeding supporter who nursed my son nearly three years, I strive to help the women I serve connect with their bodies, innate wisdom, and celebrate this divine right of passage into motherhood. Breastfeeding is not only an evolutionary act, it’s a revolutionary one.