Black Breastfeeding Week: Sharing A Story & Breaking The Mold

by Michelle Clookie

Several weeks ago I had two patients in one day share a similar story. They were both passionate about breastfeeding, both committed to work through any challenges they were facing, and they were both the first Mama in their entire family to breastfeed. Both of these Mamas sought out education through Black Infant Health (@blackinfanthealth_tcci), and are just two of hundreds of thousands of Mamas changing the legacy and statistics.  This week we honor those hero’s who continue to break the mold. To help me in tell a story, that I personally cannot tell, I asked Jennifer Evans (@jennifer_d_evans) to help me out. Jennifer is a Certified Lactation Educator studying to be a Lactation Consultant, a mother of two boys (6 years and 1 year),  and an advocate for black breasting Moms. Jennifer, I am inspired by your work, and hope as other Mamas read this, they too can be moved by your bravery!

Hey Jennifer, tell us a little bit about your breastfeeding journey!  

"My breastfeeding journey began 6 years ago.  I decided to breastfeed just off of reading some basic facts about it online.  At the beginning we struggled with latch issues and I found I had an oversupply. I remember those postpartum days like they were yesterday,  my partner and I googling how to hand express and massaging my breast milk into a bowl. Two months before it was time for me to return to work part time, we found out my son wanted nothing to do with bottles.  No one told me this was a thing. In the hospital I learned how to latch the baby and that’s about it.  Some family members wanted to support me, but they either didn’t breastfeed, or did for just a short period of time. I received unsupportive comments like, ‘What do you mean he won’t take a bottle?”, “Just give that baby formula”, and “If you gave him a bottle earlier this wouldn’t be an issue.” I started seeking help whenever I was out in public. Whenever I would see moms breastfeeding I would try to sneak in my issue I was having for some advice.  They were mostly white women, and I always left feeling like no one could relate.  All this made my second-guess my feeding decision. Something I loved doing! He never did take a bottle and ended up nursing all night long when I was home from work.  We ended up nursing until he was a year old and weaning was bittersweet. Fast-forward to now I am nursing my 18-month-old son and a lot more confident than I was 6 years ago. Breastfeeding a toddler is a new ballgame, and it’s something I really wish I had received more support about with my first son."
 

Numbers are increasing, but breastfeeding rates are still low among black women. From your experience, why do you think that is? 

"I am so happy more black mothers are breastfeeding! I believe that not having enough support when it comes to returning to the workplace to be a big factor. Black mamas return to work sooner than our counterparts and this affects breastfeeding duration.  I was privileged enough to only have to go back to work part time until my son was weaned. I think about how different my experience would have been if that were not the case. If my partner didn’t agree with my feeding choice. What would have happened if we didn’t have family to watch him? Who would have watched my screaming child with love and care and tried different feeding techniques? Would my job have been supportive if I had to pump more than once a day? These are realities for a lot of mamas."

What can we do as a Mama community to help increase these rates,
and provide the support needed for this population? 

"Normalize it already, and be supportive of all breastfeeding journeys! The more images of black women breastfeeding the better, the more stories shared the more we encourage. Let’s stop promoting the trend with bottle feeding and formula images. I feel blessed that I get to tell my story to the moms I encounter in public, to let them they aren’t alone.. These stories, this sharing, are so important! As a community we have to lend our ears and hearts to other mothers, especially women of color. This is where we will find the answers, in the real experiences. We also need more support systems that speak to the challenges of black mothers as a whole."

 
If you could tell Mamas of color 2 things to help encourage their breastfeeding journey, what would they be?

"I would tell them that you don’t have to do it alone. Find a support system whether friends, family, a breastfeeding support group, a doula; whatever it is that works to you, find it and lean into it.  Breathe mama and know that you have what you need inside yourself to take care of your baby."


Thank you Jennifer for being an advocate, a voice and for telling your story! We would love to hear your stories. No matter what challenges you are facing, you are not alone. We are all in this together, and this week I encourage you to sit a little closer to that mom at the park, ask her about her story, ask each other about successes and challenges, and maybe even offer a hug. We would love to hear your story, and see your pictures of you feeding your sweet babes so please share and tag us! #youarebest


Michelle Clookie, Contributor • A Mother Is, the blog All For Mom • Ingrid & Isabel

Michelle Clookie is a Lactation Consultant, and also works for the Postpartum Health Alliance supporting families in their parenting journey. As a Lactation Consultant, Michelle works to help families reach their unique goals for feeding their babies, and is passionate about normalizing all things motherhood. Michelle also works to provide Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMADs) awareness by providing families, and clinicians with education through the work she does with the San Diego Postpartum Health Alliance. Before shifting her work focus after her first born, Michelle spent 9 years in non-profit working as a Training and Development Director. Michelle, along with her husband Jeremy, live in San Diego with their daughter Charlotte (4 years), son Beckett (2 years), and baby number 3 due this Fall! 

You can follow on Instagram or visit her website www.michelleclookie.co