Black Mothers: Let a Tradition Be Born

Natalie D. Preston-Washington

Excerpted from from Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers published by Praeclarus Press, used with permission.
Photo: Jeanine-Valrie-Logan

There is no legacy of breastfeeding on my side of the family. I am my parent’s only child and my mother did not breastfeed me. Nor did her sister breastfeed her daughter, which explains why my aunt was so curious and attentive when I would breastfeed in her presence.

Is he still sucking?

Does it hurt?

How long you gonna breastfeed?

Is he finished?

Every visit. Every nursing session. The same series of questions.

At first I was put off by her extreme curiosity. Then, after speaking with my mother and learning how breastfeeding was not embraced “back then,” I understood. My aunt had not experienced it firsthand and there we were in living color for her to observe. From that point on I viewed her queries as an opportunity to enlighten.

Yes, he is still nursing. Sometimes he will break for a bit and then resume. At first it hurt when he latched on until we both figured out what we were doing. Now it’s easy breezy…I committed to three months, then six months, now who knows? I am in no rush to give Luke milk from a cow or some artificial source. Yes, he is asleep. A successful nursing session!

I find it interesting that slaves nursed their children, and their master’s kids. And, I would assume that women breastfed during the depression years, if for no other reason than financial motivation. However, my mom’s civil rights generation appears to have dropped the baton during the sexy ’70s, when I was born.

In 2011, visits to my OB/Gyn have not convinced me that breastfeeding is on a resurgence. I see a clear delineation between the nursers and the nots.

Families should be the first line of support when it comes to breastfeeding. If a mom is able to produce milk, then she should be educated, encouraged, and enabled with the necessary resources to breastfeed. The fact that milk is available from other non-maternal sources at little-to-no cost is irrelevant.

Likewise, as Black women who nurse, we should make it a point to educate, encourage, and enable other mothers to nurse. The fact that the other mothers are not relatives, or are of a different ethnicity, is irrelevant.

Cover of "Free to Breastfeed: Voices of Black Mothers"