Among mothers, the percentage that breastfeed are high. According to recent reports, 83 percent of mothers in the United States breastfeed their children at birth. When the numbers are isolated, only 69 percent of Black mothers initiate breastfeeding at birth. The reasons vary. However, many center around education, inequitable resources and lack of representation.
However, for Estelle, her experience wasn’t typical. A mother of four, Estelle, breastfed all her children for a year or more. In her world, this was the norm.
“I grew up seeing Black mothers breastfeeding their babies all the time. It was very common. I saw the mothers in my church breastfeeding, on public transportation, in grocery stores, and in my neighborhood.”
Having a knowledge base helped her to make an informed decision when she began to have children.
“I talked to many Black mothers before I gave birth about their experience with breastfeeding. The advice they gave was that the breast milk was good for the immune system health of my babies and for bonding with them.”
Through her research, Estelle learned that using the milk she produced would create a bond between her children and herself. She believed it was “important for my children to get colostrum milk. Colostrum milk is the first milk produced and it’s rich in proteins, antibodies, vitamins, and minerals.” Her desire was for her children to have the benefits of a strong immune system, a healthy digestive system and early nutrition advantages of colostrum milk.
Living in Salisbury, NC, Estelle, a former daycare owner and church administrator, utilized additional resources as well. She attended breastfeeding classes that taught her how to prep and the best ways to help her baby latch. Estelle also received materials from the local hospital.
Although it has been decades since she has breastfed, Estelle, 60, is still able to recall the journey.
“My breastfeeding experience was painful at first, but I got used to it. I didn’t care about the pain because I knew it was best for my children. I didn’t need a lactation consultant, have much trouble or have any emotional roller coasters since I was well-trained and prepared. I knew how to prep for breastfeeding and how to get my baby to latch.”
Many women have stated that the U.S. isn’t doing a great job adapting to the needs of breastfeeding mothers. Despite the fact that it’s been nearly 30 years since Estelle breastfed, a lot of the same challenges she encountered when needing to feed her children in public still exist.
“I had to make my own accommodations. Society didn’t provide me with any. I had to find my own by going somewhere secluded so I could breastfeed. I would wear a button-down shirt and always have a blanket to throw over myself and my baby.”
While Estelle faced difficulties in public, in her career she was fortunate to be in situations that bred understanding and support. She shared that she had a working husband so she was able to work part-time while breastfeeding. When Estelle was a full-time employee, her job allowed her to work reduced hours while she was nursing.
Estelle realizes that many mothers, especially Black women, aren’t afforded these opportunities which can hinder their ability to try or continue breastfeeding for an extended period. She would like to see more of an emphasis on accommodations so Black women can believe feeding their own children is an option for them. Here’s her wish list:
- I would like to see more Black women consider breastfeeding
- I want to see more jobs accommodating Black women so they can breastfeed
- More places in society such as churches and stores accommodating Black women who
- I want to see more training for Black women when it comes to breastfeeding so they can learn more about the health benefits for the child and the emotional benefits such as bonding between mother and child. The benefits should be promoted more to Black women.
“I feel like there isn’t enough encouragement and emphasis on breastfeeding with Black women, today. A lot of the young, Black mothers have fast paced lives and find it difficult to set aside the time that it takes to breastfeed. Many of them haven’t been trained or coached, so they may get frustrated and have an emotional rollercoaster.”
Even with the roles of mothers changing throughout the years and the demands increasing, Estelle still encourages women who are planning to have children to consider nursing them.
“From my experience, breastfeeding helps build children’s immunity. My children were not as sickly as many other children that weren’t breastfed. The milk that God provided through me was the best milk I could ever feed my babies.”