Anyone who thinks breastfeeding a baby is easy and comes naturally for every mother has no idea. It’s supposed to be a perfect, synchronized act in theory, right? Then why can it be so complicated? Because it’s an absolute lifestyle change. A game-changer. A life-changing event. The amount of time we spend prepping, talking about it and doing it is so extensive, it can easily become the center of our lives and a part of our very existence. It can also be traumatic and disappointing if it doesn’t go right. It may seem simple to the untrained eye. But for someone that breastfed 3 babies, please believe me when I say it takes a whole lot of things to align in order for it to be successful. It actually takes an entire village to just breastfeed one baby.
When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s a nightmare.
For some of us, breastfeeding success comes immediately and as intended. No latching issues, milk comes in perfectly, minimum pain, and we ride blissfully into the sunset. But for others, breastfeeding can be an absolute nightmare. Latching issues, bleeding and cracked nipples, uterine after-pains that mimic labor contractions (so painful that you just want to throw something and shut the entire thing down), and, did I mention the bleeding and cracked nipples?
In my hormone-induced frenzy, I can remember breaking down and crying over the fact that my daughter wouldn’t latch and wanting to throw in the towel. We both cried at the same time. Not that I was in my right mind anyway, because the hormones had me feeling like I had lost several of my best friends. But breastfeeding my daughter was overwhelming and the thought of continuing one more day was often daunting. There’s nothing better than having your SO, mom, or a friend reminding you not to give up. It can take a whole village of “yes you cans” in order to keep pushing on. So who is this village?
Your partner is the glue.
Well for starters you need your partner and that support alone can feel like an entire village! The encouragement of your spouse/ace/partner in crime is absolutely dire and irreplaceable. They see the joyous victories, and the gloomy despair. Everything seems easier when they support your choice to breastfeed and help you over all the bumps and potholes. Right by your side, rubbing your back during the gloomy hours when your baby doesn’t latch despite many attempts, positions and prayers. Or to walk you through the frustration of pumping for an hour, only to stare sadly at the ounce of milk you produced. This especially stings when you know other moms pump 16 oz in one 8-minute setting. Or how about when mastitis sets in and you spend sleepless and fevery nights in pain, wishing it away. Your partner is your safe place to fall.
Your medical team keeps you pushing on.
From your OB, to your labor and delivery nurse, to the lactation consultant, and all the way to the pediatrician. An entire team of trained medical personnel helps you along the way of your breastfeeding journey. If any members of this team fall off, one may find it hard to continue. I can remember my son’s pediatrician asking me at his 6-month visit “you know you can start weaning now, right?” It was a gentle push to say, “let’s move this along.” I was totally baffled, having thought most doctors will try to recommend breastfeeding until at least age 1. But I brushed it off as just one of those weird things doctors say.
Until the 12-month visit, when she proclaimed with sincere surprise, “you still breastfeed?” I don’t know whose shock was greater, mine or hers. You see, it wasn’t just a question, it was a statement disguised as concern. Interpretation: “it’s not cool to still be breastfeeding at this age.” Now to her defense, I suppose I was possibly an outlier, since breastfeeding is less common among Black women. But still. And just like that, I had lost a valuable member of my team. The pediatrician took the exit ramp off my breastfeeding journey. And given that the pediatrician is an important link, I immediately felt more insecure about the whole thing.
Your friends and family hold you down.
It helps tremendously when your family supports breastfeeding. There is nothing worse than family members that turn their noses up at the thought of you nursing your child, or having to hide and breastfeed in the car or bathroom just to avoid stares and comments. It particularly hits home when it’s a friend or relative that isn’t in your corner because you yearn for their support above all. It feels special when those you love go out of their way to make you comfortable and accommodate you in their home or public outings. I can recall going out to lunch with a friend and giving her a heads-up “I hope you don’t mind me breastfeeding in this booth.” I was thrilled when she said “not at all” and we continued our lunch like nothing happened. In that moment, she became a part of my village.
Your mom community brings up the rear.
I saved the best for last. This group is there to fill all the gaps in between. If it weren’t for my mom groups, both IRL and online, I would not have been able to breastfeed the length I did. It’s even less common for black moms to engage in extended breastfeeding so it was critical for me to belong to a circle where it was more common. Although my family was extremely supportive, black moms have less support in general because it’s less practiced in our communities. Therefore, society and cultural means suppress our breastfeeding longevity and we are less likely to continue like our white counterparts.
That’s when my mom groups became my village. I hung in there because of them. In these circles I was normal. The majority of group members breastfed and everyone supported it to the very end. We encouraged each other and pushed each other along when we got weary or doubtful. Breastfeeding was the norm, not the exception. As a group we discussed our individual breastfeeding journeys and collectively figured out solutions to our pitfalls. My mom friends were my extended breastfeeding family. They held me up and pushed me to be successful.
So yes, it took a village to breastfeed my babies and I want to thank every member for my success.
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