Imbued With Nutritional Riches: A Black Woman’s Breastfeeding Journey

We know the statistics. We’re familiar with the trends. The organizational one-pagers, mission statements and excerpts already exist. Still, even with a wealth of information within reach, most discussions about breastfeeding rates among Black women tend to overlook evidence-based research, lack cultural competence and ignore our lived experiences altogether.

On the other side of the rainbow, there’s Black Breastfeeding Week, which culminates National Breastfeeding Month each year, where our firsthand narratives are highlighted and celebrated. We raise awareness to #ReviveRestoreReclaim Black women as nurturers who have nourished a nation forward, one latch at a time.

This is my story…

Hand in hand, my husband and I journeyed happily toward parenthood. We marveled as the two of us evolved into Mom and Dad. My husband had the grand idea that we should wait until the delivery to find out the sex of our baby and I was all in after confirming that he wasn’t just trying to save money by skipping out on a gender reveal party. For Baby Mitchell, as we affectionately called our growing child, there were four things that I looked forward to most:

  1. That s/he be a healthy, happy baby
  2. That I have the honor of being the one who teaches my baby to read
  3. That s/he gets to visit Walt Disney World during the early years
    I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida — This is a necessary rite of passage!
  4. That s/he breastfeeds for at least the first year!

Oh, I read just about every published article, Pinterest post, comment board and paperback book in preparation for this great journey. My husband and I signed up for classes, watched endless video tutorials and sifted through the web to find a lactation consultant who could provide postpartum support and assistance, if needed. I even chose a Baby-Friendly hospital to birth my child.

Well, the time had come and after 47-hours of labor, my darling son was delivered at 8:02 a.m. on Christmas Day. He latched shortly thereafter and I was delighted as my body produced a gratuitous supply of colostrum. My little baby seemed to love it and appeared to be receiving just the right amount despite his somewhat-shallow latch at the time. No worries, I thought! This base was covered because upon admission to the hospital, I requested a one-on-one with the lactation consultant though she hadn’t yet met with me. Also, I had already roped in the nurses who were said to be the best at early initiation of breastfeeding, too… Though, none of them ever got around to visiting with me either.

What I received was an electric breast pump and an instruction manual no more than 6-hours postpartum along with endless questions asking “Enfamil or Similac” with the implied notion that my newborn would need one of the two. This was followed by explicit statements indicating exactly what I perceived to be true: Reportedly, my son required infant formula.

I was perfectly capable and wanting to breastfeed but vulnerable and exhausted having just given birth and actively dissuaded by the medical team. Why was this happening? My baby appeared to be well-fed, plus I had already stated my desire and unwavering commitment to nursing. Still, I was being deterred and robbed of the early, critical support that was needed. Now if this were a lone narrative, I could live with that and walk away knowing it was nothing more than an unfortunate encounter with medical professionals who would’ve rather been home on Christmas Morning than at work dealing with a persnickety first-time mom. Shared narratives from a wide range of close mommy friends, though, proved this to be more than just an anomaly or “a few bad apples” scenario. This was a pattern!

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Denys Symonette Mitchell is the Policy & Advocacy Advisor at 1,000 Days and the Founder & Principal of Symonette Strategies & Solutions, LLC, a health policy and strategic advocacy consultancy.  She is also the co-owner and second shooter of M3 | Mitchell Media & Marketing, LLC where she captures life’s candids and memorializes moments with still images.  Denys resides in Prince George’s County, Maryland with her husband and their infant son.