Photos by Anita Alexander
Today is the first day of Black Breastfeeding Week 2023. Now is an especially important time for us to amplify and celebrate our community’s successes – like Mentoria’s – in promoting healthy families through breastfeeding. As newly minted mothers of color, it can be difficult to navigate all the obstacles that come with birthing and raising a baby within our own communities; by discussing Mentoria's experience in her own words, we aim to inspire other Black moms who may feel alone or overwhelmed during this critical stage in their lives. We hope that hearing Mentoria's story will give other moms the push they need to pursue the best information about nutrition for their babies and help on the breastfeeding journey.
Here is Mentoria's Story...
When I had my son almost nine years ago, breastfeeding was "taboo" to the people closest to me. It seemed like a white woman thing, and I was heavily discouraged from doing it. I heard something like your baby will die from starvation; breast milk isn't enough, and the most hurtful, my brown nipples would not allow breastmilk to come through because of how dark they were. From family members to doctors, they did not take my choice to breastfeed lightly.
Imagine my surprise when I did the work to understand where the disconnect of breastfeeding in the black community came from. On my journey to becoming a doula, I completely dived into lactation. I needed to know why breastfeeding was a norm for white families but not for black families. The discovery came when I learned it was due to our ancestors' enslavement. Some were wet nurses. Which meant they had to feed their enslavers’ babies before their own. White women rarely, if ever, provided milk for their babies. That led us to no longer have enough milk for our babies. We learned breast milk isn't enough; they learned breast milk was enough.
After my research, I learned that formula was created in the late 1800s. Seeing how much money this had the potential to make, the creators sought out pediatricians to further market formula over breastmilk. This marketing ploy started the dwindling of breastfeeding. (This was also around the time when doctors started propaganda to stop homebirths and move births to the hospital, as it was more profitable. However, we won't talk about that now). The pediatricians began to tell parents things such as, your baby will die without formula, breast milk isn't enough, and it isn't "sanitary." Sounds familiar? In the black community, pediatricians even threatened to take the babies away if they did not give them formula. I recommend that you read these books to learn more about the history of breastfeeding in Black communities across America:
Now that we have had a history lesson, how does a black doula support black women's breastfeeding journey? It takes education, communication, and work to change the notion of it being "bad." Breastfeeding requires support from your family, and you cannot get around that. Because of my troubles with breastfeeding and the high disparities, I did my part and took lactation training from a black-owned organization. We know how to help each other.
The most significant step in helping a black woman breastfeed is educating her and her family. We must get past the past generational trauma around breastfeeding and the lingering fears. The older women in a black family typically help with the baby; if I can get them on board, breastfeeding is almost guaranteed success. Adding a black lactation professional, we have a successful breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding requires family support; when the going gets rough, a black professional can help.
Often, I must get some of my breastfeeding clients together to bring in a sense of community and representation. Black women aren't shown in the media as people who breastfeed, so we must show each other. Due to the lack of seeing ourselves, Black Breastfeeding Week was born. It highlights the nearly 50-year disparities in black women breastfeeding and our cultural barriers.
Every year, in the summer, A theme comes out for Black Breastfeeding Week. In the United States, photoshoots and events provide a place to unite and normalize black women breastfeeding their babies. Black women breastfeeding is an act of community, resistance, and activism. Breastfeed your baby, sis!
Photos by Anita Alexander
Mentoria Green, owner of Black Paradise Doulas, is a Full Spectrum Doula, Childbirth and Lactation Educator, Midwife’s assistant based in Manhattan and Junction City, Kansas. Mentoria got her start after experiencing her own birth trauma several years ago. She became determined to not allow anyone else to have the same fate she did. That desire has now led Mentoria to pursue a midwifery education in hopes of bringing more favorable births for women of color in her area.