Perspectives: 10 Black Mothers on What They Wish They Knew About Breastfeeding

Black mothers on breastfeeding

Verywell / Christian Alzate

Giving birth should be one of the most sacred and sentimental times in a woman's life. For Black women, however, it can unfortunately also be one of the scariest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. And according to the March of Dimes, Black babies are disproportionately born early and underweight in comparison to other races. The harsh reality is that this is all regardless of the mother's income, education, or zip code.

The grim statistics surrounding Black maternal health do not stop at childbirth. When it comes to breastfeeding, Black women are less likely to start breastfeeding than any other race of mother and even less likely to continue breastfeeding beyond six months. Only 69% of Black women initiate breastfeeding compared to 85% of white women.

The benefits of breastfeeding, from financial to health-related gains for both mother and child, are well-documented. So what gives? For starters, enslaved Black women were forced to be wet nurses, even though they were rarely able to nurse their own babies. This cruel practice continued even after slavery was abolished. The generational trauma caused by this dehumanizing practice cannot be overstressed.

Add to that history the disproportionate amount of Black women who reside in food deserts, the likelihood that Black mothers will have to return to work earlier than their white peers, and the over-sexualization of Black women in media. It then becomes quite evident that breastfeeding in the Black community is nuanced and complicated, which contributes to the lagging numbers. However, this paradigm is shifting and there is hope in sight. 

A growing tribe of Black women who, despite the before mentioned data, are more determined than ever to at least try breastfeeding, regardless of their odds. Verywell Family checked in with 10 of these resilient mothers to learn what their breastfeeding journey was like: good, bad, or indifferent. These tenacious and vulnerable moms shared their joys, challenges, and their nursing hacks, along with genuine words of support and encouragement to those who are embarking on their unique breastfeeding journey as Black mothers. Here are their stories.

Nakia Haskins

Nakia Haskins

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Nakia Haskins

Age: 46 

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Occupation: Educator 

Kid's Age: 17

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

I had a great breastfeeding experience. I actually started leaking colostrum in my seventh or eighth month of pregnancy. My son was exclusively breastfed for 14 months. I wanted to nurse because I saw it as a way to not only control the nutrition my son received but also as a way for us to bond. He never had formula. I actually received the most support from Black men whose partners breastfed. They always asked if I needed anything. Unfortunately, I felt the least supported by women when breastfeeding, especially in public. They often shook their heads at me and made negative comments. I wish I had a larger Black breastfeeding community. Neither of my son’s grandmas breastfed, so I had to figure out a lot by myself as a working, nursing mom.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

The decision to breastfeed is personal. If breastfeeding works best for you; do it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Being a mom already has many challenges and you shouldn’t add to them by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.

Cleo Dujon

Cleo Dujon

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Cleo Dujon

Age: 40

Location: Germantown, MD

Occupation: Nurse manager 

Kids' Ages: 10, 22

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

My breastfeeding experience was different for both of my kids. My children were born 12 years apart. I had my first child at 17 years old but had a great support system. Even at 17, I knew breastfeeding was the best option for my son. My mom also pushed me to choose this option. I stayed home for a month after I had my son and went right back to school. He had no issues with latching and he nursed well.

I didn't know about breast pumps; my mom never used a pump. She did warn me about my milk coming while at school. I quickly realized I was not going to be able to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding. I felt like my milk supply was on overdrive. When my milk started to leak through my shirt I knew I had to stop. I breastfed my son for about a month and went to formula. 

With my daughter, there was never a question about breastfeeding. We were told the pregnancy was high risk and she was below the birth weight, so I knew we had to keep things natural and healthy for her. She was born at 37 weeks because of her intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), but was more like a premature baby. She was not able to grasp the concept of latching.

As a mother, you feel so inadequate and defeated by this. I felt like I was losing that bond mothers get when they are able to nurse their baby. We tried nipple extensions, lactation specialists, etc. In the end, the only option was to pump and give her breast milk from a bottle. She also spent a month in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She had to be bottle-fed in the NICU when we were not there. Another complication I experienced was mastitis. I often felt like a cow because I would pump into bags and store them or hand off milk to my husband.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

Buy a hands-free nursing bra. Try to feed and/or pump as often as possible. Get a comfortable chair to nurse in with a support pillow. Remember that it's not your fault if your baby has difficulty with nursing. It is okay if things do not work out as planned. Everyone's experience is unique to them and their baby.

Cleo Dujon

Remember that it's not your fault if your baby has difficulty with nursing. It is okay if things do not work out as planned.

— Cleo Dujon

Lydia Marie Brazzley

Lydia Marie Brazzley

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Lydia Marie Brazzley

Age: 41

Location: Charlotte, NC

Occupation: Patient safety attendant

Kids' Ages: 18, 22

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

When I decided to become a mother, I knew I wanted to do everything naturally and have the ultimate bonding experience with my children. But I didn’t know anyone who breastfed so I had to figure a lot out on my own. I had my daughter who is now 22 via natural birth. I breastfed her for almost a year.

I did rotate in formula in the evening after two months. That was so beneficial for me because feeding every two hours was stressful for my first child. Once they pee they're hungry all over again! l hardly slept the first month. She didn’t have any latching issues nor did I have problems lactating but I did experience breast soreness and cracked nipples! I found that when she was hungry, my breasts would leak on their own.

With my son, the breastfeeding period was short. I wish I would’ve pushed through to continue longer. I only breastfed him for about six months. I had a really rough delivery with my son. I had an emergency C-section and a blood transfusion. So after he was born I came home weak, in pain, and exhausted. It was a bit much getting up every two hours so I started to supplement my breast milk with formula within the first month. After six months I stopped breastfeeding completely.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

I believe women should experience breastfeeding if capable. The bonding experience between mother and baby is like no other. Also, a warm compress, hot shower, and regular pumping can help alleviate swollen and painful breasts.

Lydia Marie Brazzley

A warm compress, hot shower, and regular pumping can help alleviate swollen and painful breasts.

— Lydia Marie Brazzley

Tiana Stewart

Tiana Stweart

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Tiana Stewart

Age: 27

Location: Upper Marlboro, MD

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

Kid's Age: 1

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

The beginning of my breastfeeding journey was a challenge. My baby boy refused to nurse after we left the hospital. For three weeks I pumped every two hours and would go one long stretch of five hours at night. I was exhausted but determined to give him breast milk for at least a year so he could reap all the benefits. I went to my lactation consultant three times which was helpful during the visits since he would latch with her assistance.

At home, it was a constant battle because neither my mom nor my mother-in-law knew much about breastfeeding. Whenever one of us would try to get him to latch so I could take a break from the pump he would fight and scream. I know that sounds crazy coming from a little 7-pound infant but he was mighty and strong. I was so sleep-deprived. I even got mastitis within the first week that went unnoticed because I thought I was just having postpartum night sweats and fevers.

Both of my best friends' moms breastfed and they helped me as much as possible through the phone due to the pandemic. I stopped nursing because my son refused to eat anything other than breast milk and it was becoming ridiculous. I am so grateful for all the support I received from the Black and brown women in my life. I was also blessed to have (and still have) Black doctors for myself and my son.

Tiana Stewart

I am so grateful for all the support I received from the Black and brown women in my life. I was also blessed to have (and still have) Black doctors for myself and my son.

— Tiana Stewart

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

My friend's mother advised me to stop giving my son the bottle and pacifier for the day and only give him the option to nurse. It was the most difficult four hours of my life but such a game changer! After that day we nursed until he was about 15 months and I haven’t looked at a pump since.

Elisha Hood

Elisha Hood

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Elisha Hood

Age: 46

Location: Stockbridge, GA

Occupation: Independent program auditor

Kids' Ages: 9, 13

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

My breastfeeding experience began in 2008 after giving birth to my oldest daughter. As a new mom, I had no idea what to expect but knew I wanted to breastfeed. I equipped myself with the knowledge that breastfeeding is "better" for babies and learned it was also a way of bonding. Little did I know how difficult it would be.

I remember the lactation nurse coming in after my delivery and giving me a “crash course” of how to hold my baby, how to hold and press my breast for precise placement, and how to express my milk if I decided to use a pump. Can you say overwhelming? I was so nervous when the nurse handed my daughter to me and the lactation consultant said, “Okay, remember what we went over.” So, I propped her up and proceeded to try to get her to latch.

It was the most difficult, exhausting, and defeating feeling ever. My daughter wouldn’t latch (she kept turning her head and crying), the nurse was trying to force my nipple in her mouth and hold her head still. I was crying, saying I didn’t want to do it anymore. I finally gave up after trying multiple times and crying through each one. I asked the nurse for formula because I knew my daughter was hungry and I was exhausted from the birth. I pumped for approximately a month but had very little milk to express during that time.

Fast forward three years and I’m back in labor and delivery giving birth to my second daughter. It was the same hospital but a totally different experience. After giving birth the lactation consultant visited my room, sat with me, and asked if I wanted to breastfeed. I agreed but let her know how awful my first experience was.

She walked me through proper head placement, used pillows to show how to hold and place my baby, and followed up by saying that if at any time either I or the baby became frustrated we could just stop. I was calm and relaxed, and when my daughter was brought to the room and the lactation consultant began to help me, she latched immediately. I was overjoyed. I breastfed for three months before switching to formula.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

Go for it! Every experience is different. Although breastfeeding is a great way to bond with your baby, some women may have difficulty producing milk. Don’t let this be a feeling of defeat or disappointment. Breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your child. If your infant won’t latch, then pump. If you can’t produce or you produce very small amounts then research the best formula but never feel you’re a "bad mother" or that you can’t provide for your baby.

Elisha Hood

Breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your child.

— Elisha Hood

Lauren Jones-Sather

Lauren Jones-Sather

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Lauren Jones-Sather

Age: 35

Location: Oakland, CA

Occupation: Founder of Birthbox

Kid's Age: 3

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

They say breastfeeding is natural but that does not mean it comes naturally. I struggled with getting my son to latch properly. Every time I fed it felt like tiny needles were being poked in my breasts. My son also fell asleep shortly after our sessions started which made me worry he wasn't getting enough milk.

I ended up seeking the advice of a lactation consultant because I didn't have that knowledge and support in my community. My mom breastfed me for 6 months, and then her milk dried up. I knew I had to seek help outside of the family in order to be successful. And I have been. I still breastfeed my son.

He's nearly 3, but before you start giving me side-eyes understand that during the pandemic, this has probably been an added defense against COVID-19. He's too young to be vaxxed and our family has not been able to just remain in quarantine. Our jobs require we interact with people outside our household, so to me, it just makes sense to keep breastfeeding him.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

Shimmy your boobs just before feeding! I learned that shaking things around helps the fats roll off your glands and into your milk, making your milk even more nutritious and probably more tasty for your baby. I also swear by a cocktail I call the Lauren Palmer. I brew nettle leaf tea, a known galactagogue that is believed to support lactation and provide essential nutrients for mother and baby. It tastes quite bitter, so I mix the tea with lemonade to make the Lauren Palmer.

Romie Beaujuin-Grant

Romie Beaujuin-Grant

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Romie Beaujuin-Grant

Age: 32

Location: Union, NJ

Occupation: Community health worker

Kid's Age: 2

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

Growing up, I didn’t see many women in my family breastfeeding. I always felt the benefits that come along with breastfeeding made it clear this would be what I would choose to do, regardless of the lack of representation in my community. 

After the birth of my son, through an emergency C-section, that desire grew stronger almost instantly. I remember being in the recovery room, the nurse standing in awe as I was locking eyes with my baby boy, and he immediately latched almost as if he knew exactly where he was meant to be. I thought to myself, “At least I got this part right.” Breastfeeding sparked the mother/baby connection—a connection that almost seemed lost through my birth experience. Little did I know that we would encounter some hurdles along our journey despite it starting off so perfectly.

As a Black mother coming from a family who did not think of breast milk as “liquid gold” per se, I heard comments such as “Are you sure that will be enough?” "He will need more than just that,” or “Your baby needs water.” Imagine how this would make a new mom feel. It taught me about the lack of breastfeeding education in the older Black community due to our history. I also noticed a huge lack of representation amongst lactation professionals when trying to get answers on dealing with certain breastfeeding challenges. 

I struggled with dips in supply, power pumping, nipple trauma, clogged ducts, dangle pumping, and engorgement. Turns out, breastfeeding was not just all about a perfect latch. I expressed concern about a deep, shooting pain that I felt while breastfeeding, which lead to a dip in supply, to a pediatrician. But I only felt brushed off when the only help I got was a recommendation to supplement with formula. I quickly felt unseen, unheard, and upset.

I was determined to continue breastfeeding and did just that until my son was around a year and a half. It is my purpose now to ensure that Black women are educated and empowered through their breastfeeding journey so that they don’t have to ever feel as if they are not seen or heard.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

Remember, you are providing nourishment to your child so don’t hesitate to feed your baby wherever and whenever. Do whatever feels most comfortable to you and whip it out! Nobody stops anybody else from eating whenever, wherever, and however they please, so let that baby eat.

Romie Beaujuin-Grant

Remember, you are providing nourishment to your child so don’t hesitate to feed your baby wherever and whenever. Do whatever feels most comfortable to you and whip it out!

— Romie Beaujuin-Grant

Lakisha Boykin

Lakisha Boykin

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Lakisha Boykin

Age: 43

Location: Winston Salem, NC

Occupation: Mental health therapist

Kid's Age: 8

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

Breastfeeding was very important to me as a new mom. I wanted it to be a key part of my daughter’s growth and development. You hear how beautiful the experience is and you hear how painful it is as well. I didn’t care; there was no other option for me.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as beautiful as I hoped. There were issues with her latching, problems with my breasts being enlarged, and the biggest challenge of all—going back to work. In the three months I breastfed, I attempted to give my daughter the best nutrients I had to offer. But between seeing clients and pumping, life became a juggling act.

I wish another mother would have informed me about the importance of relaxing and looking at breastfeeding as a journey. At first, I felt like I failed [by stopping]. Then I realized I was doing the best thing for me and my child.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

I encourage you to ignore the pressure. Your journey, like my own, will dictate your breastfeeding experience. Don’t feel guilty for not breastfeeding [the way you might have envisioned]. My princess and I have a lifetime to fulfill the bonding and the connection I wanted from breastfeeding. She also needed love to grow and develop—and that I have plenty of.

Malia Gilbert

Malia Gilbert

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Malia Gilbert

Age: 35

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Occupation: Nonprofit executive

Kid's Age: 4

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

I breastfed my son until his 2nd birthday. I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible because of the health benefits for baby and mom, and the opportunity for bonding through skin-to-skin.

In the beginning, I remember crying in the shower because my nipples were raw and chafing, and I felt like I was failing. The imposter syndrome even shows up in motherhood! Eventually, I went to a lactation consultant for support and I learned about the football hold—a game-changer for me.

Over time, breastfeeding became easier and I was able to enjoy the precious quality time I was getting with my child. I decided to stop when the experience became too taxing, and honestly, if I had found a gentle way to ease out of it sooner, I would have.

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

If you are breastfeeding, may you get the inspiration and strength to know when to keep going and when to stop. Breastfeeding is not a one-size-fits-all journey—neither is motherhood, neither is womanhood, and neither is the way we express love to our children.

Malia Gilbert

Breastfeeding is not a one-size-fits-all journey—neither is motherhood, neither is womanhood, and neither is the way we express love to our children.

— Malia Gilbert

Wyonnie Flahterty

Wyonnie Flahterty

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Wyonnie Flahterty

Age: 45

Location: St. Albans, NY

Occupation: Healthcare administrator

Kid's Age: 14

What Was Your Breastfeeding Journey?

Around the time I got pregnant, many parents were being inundated with information about the benefits of breastfeeding. After doing my own research, I decided I wanted to [breastfeed] to provide my baby with the most ideal nutrition. Also, the stats on the number of Black mothers who do not breastfeed were staggering.

Though I expected there would be challenges, I wanted to invest in the long-term health of my child. I exclusively breastfed my daughter for 14 months, which was also around the time we changed her from a babysitter to daycare. My goal was only to breastfeed the first year and after I realized I’d already passed it, I felt comfortable stopping because she was healthy and thriving.

I enjoyed the experience. The physical and emotional connections I made with my daughter during her first year of life gave me a lot of joy. The commitment wasn’t easy given that I returned to work full time when my daughter was 5 months old, and I was also completing a master’s degree program two nights a week. I adhered to a strict pumping schedule of four to five times a day in between nursing. I didn’t get a lot of support from family members who thought it was “strange” for me not to feed my child formula, despite my attempts to educate them on the benefits of breastfeeding.    

What Is Your Advice for New Parents Who Want to Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding can help you snap back into shape! Plus there are things you can do to make the process manageable and allow you more freedom to be away from your baby when you need a break. Typically, the longer you wait to introduce bottle feedings the harder it may be, and often times this change is difficult enough already.

I started pumping and storing breast milk when my baby was about 2 months old so my husband could enjoy feeding our daughter and she could adjust to bottle feedings. This made for a smoother transition when we both returned to work and our daughter started with the babysitter.

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7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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