Breastfeeding Was Difficult. Here’s How I Did It
Words: Pamela de la Fuente
Visuals: Erin White
Weaning her son while expecting a daughter gave this writer an opportunity to reflect on her breastfeeding journey.
A few months ago, I did something that still breaks my heart: I weaned my 2.5 year old son Tommy.
Some of you are probably thinking, “It was past time.” (I know, because a few of my friends and relatives said that.)
But I would have kept going if I could have. I stopped because I’m pregnant with my second child, I’m of advanced maternal age, and I have a history of miscarriage. I had some complications early in the pregnancy and my doctor said it was time.
It was hard to give up breastfeeding, because it’s what bonded us from the start. So I couldn’t let Black Breastfeeding Week go by without talking about what nursing did for us. I also want other Black moms to know that even though our breastfeeding rates have historically lagged behind those of white moms, we DO breastfeed.
I did it. My family members did it. My friends did it. Whether we went to college or not, whether we had jobs with fancy pumping rooms or not. We all did what Black women do best: We found a way to make it work.
The theme of this year’s Black Breastfeeding Week is “Bet on Black,” and the organizers are spotlighting “the sweet joy of family bonds and perseverance.”
Here’s how I persevered.
The day after my son was born, he stopped breathing and had to be admitted to the NICU.
Since I was a nursing mom, I got to stay in a hospital room for free to feed him. It was good that I stayed, because I had no idea what I was doing. Black women have been breastfeeding forever, but I really struggled in the beginning. I would try to get Tommy to latch and sometimes he wouldn’t wake up, or he wouldn’t latch on, and I’d trudge back to my hospital room to pump, feeling defeated. Sometimes he did latch, but his nursing would be so painful that I doubted I would be able to make it to six weeks, much less my goal of a year.
We were in the NICU for a week, and I was going back to work eight weeks later—earlier than I would have liked. I figured the least I could do was learn to nurse him. I tapped every nurse and lactation consultant I could find for advice on how to latch correctly, nursing positions, and how to tell when he was done eating or if he wanted more.
Before we left the hospital, one of the lactation consultants told me about La Leche League, a breastfeeding advocacy and support group. Through La Leche League, I found Chocolate Milk Café, a local breastfeeding support group specifically for Black moms, and through that group I found the Black Moms Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook, and other online resources for Black mothers.
About eight weeks in, everything clicked for both of us. Breastfeeding was finally easy and painless for me and frustration-free for my son. So we kept it up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and in 2014, the year my son was born, only 18.8 percent of babies in the United States were exclusively breastfed for six months. I am proud to say he was one of them.
When I posted a picture on his first birthday, I shared, “And still nursing for the win!” Another Black mom I know told me to keep it up, she nursed past 2. So I did.
My son loved it, and it was pretty convenient for me. He’s hyper and won’t sleep? Nurse! Stomach flu? Nurse! Crying because he fell? Nurse! Sometimes I wonder if I truly was being a good mom or if I was just being lazy, but whatever—it worked. Plus, it was a nice way for me to get my snuggles in, especially once he became a busy toddler.
I always hoped he would wean himself before I had to make the choice for him. He definitely misses nursing. He often sneaks a hand into my shirt to hold my boob—I’ve heard that’s a thing—and sometimes he still tries to breastfeed.
I tell him gently, “We’re all done nursing,” and I get a little bit sad.
I know two years is a long time to nurse, and I’m not saying anyone has to nurse their baby for that long. Even though it worked for us, I recognize that’s not for everybody.
But I know that most women—81 percent—start out breastfeeding and wanting to do it, according to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card. But then something happens, and breastfeeding rates drop at 6 months and then drop even more at 12 months, according to the report.
“These rates suggest that mothers, in part, may not be getting the support they need, such as from healthcare providers, family members, and employers,” the report stated.
I found the support I needed to learn how to breastfeed and to keep going. I want every mom to be able to find that same support.
When my baby girl comes in January, I’ll be looking for encouragement again. I’ll lean on people to remind me how to nurse a newborn, and I’ll go to support groups to keep me going as I work full time and chase after a little boy.
Black women do breastfeed. We do this. Let’s be the support we all need to persevere.
Pamela de la Fuente is a proud native of Flint, Michigan. The soon-to-be mother of two now makes her living as a writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.
Breastfeeding Resources Pamela Recommends
Breastfeeding Q&A With Lactation Consultant Anjelica Malone
What was breastfeeding like for you? Tell us in the comments!