Content Warning: racism, trauma, abuse, oppression, mental health
Black families deserve better care and support in lactation. Why? Well, the field of lactation has a history of racism and oppressive barriers set up to fail Black bodies—and this needs to change.
The history of Black families and lactation
Black enslaved bodies were used as property. Yes, you read that correctly: property. Black enslaved bodies also have a history of being used as experiments, as well as suppliers to feed the children of slave owners (not their own children). Imagine working under conditions that traumatize your body, being used as an object, not thought of as an actual human being with rights and needs. Imagine having your own children snatched out of your arms right after birth, only to be “assigned” to work as a personal feeder to your owner’s children. Imagine the heaviness and trauma you would experience from mental and emotional pain to “push through” and just do as you are told.
Fast forward to the 1940s: to the rise of formula, including how it was strategically pushed and “enforced” in the Black communities (see the story of the Fultz sisters and how they were exploited by a white doctor who had intentional motives to get rich and profit off of their pain). Even in later years, there are other tragic stories that are not known or being told regarding oppression and trauma around lactation and infant feeding for Black people, especially in the lack of support from lactation professionals. These stories center on how Black postpartum bodies are still not being given body autonomy and are forced to move away from nursing (or other forms of lactation support and care).
As a Black body who is a lactation professional and has also experienced the heaviness of “lactation trauma,” I carry my ancestors’ stories and generational experiences of trauma. This trauma has been passed down to us generation after generation. Whether it is body shaming or criticizing how the way someone is feeding a baby is “not enough to keep them full,” we have experienced a lot of pressure and pain due to racism.
Because of this, it is important to step in to support and encourage Black lactating families. Here’s why.
1.There is a negative connection to lactation and a lack of safer spaces for us to share our experiences. For me, storytelling is key when serving Black families in lactation. Telling our stories is one of the ways we heal from our ancestors’ pain (if space has been made for us to feel safe). Creating a safe space means a Black-led space or being an actual ally who pays a Black lactation professional to create that space for you.
2. We need more joy to be amplified towards Black lactating families. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories about Black bodies and nursing. It is rare that we as a community experience the joy of body autonomy and the full celebration of that. Despite all that we have been through, this is a time to rejoice in taking back our bodies, our healing, and our ways of coming together as a community to express liberated freedom to nurse, to pump, or to use other healthy alternative infant feeding ways.
More and more, Black-led platforms are transforming the way we look at lactation in our communities. It
is important to stay connected and follow these platforms to be better informed on how to show up in this work.
3. The biases and ignorance that continue to be taught about Black families and lactation are damaging. I can’t stress enough how important this is in a lactation practice. Many lactation professionals continue to serve Black families, without doing the work to check, collect, and correct problematic narratives and practices. Racism is real.Many continue to fail to acknowledge this and justify harmful practices that only add another level of trauma, rage, pain, and abuse for Black families and communities. Now is the time to confront racism and bias in this work.
Connecting yourself with Black-led community professionals and leaders in this work can be one of the steps in that direction. I recommend Mahogany Milk, Enriched Lactation, Sonshine and Rainbows Lactation, Hey Mama Lactation and Perinatal Care, and The Mama’s Dula. Black Breastfeeding Week and Black Breastfeeding 365 are also great resources.
As we reflect this month on how to raise awareness around lactation, we should also raise awareness of how to better support Black families (especially those who come from marginalized communities such as LGBTQIA+, disabled, low income, and more). Let’s take the time—to amplify this need individually and collectively from a community-based care approach.