Today is the last day of Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW). It runs each year from August 25 – August 31. There is a joyous atmosphere in Black breastfeeding groups and lactation communities across the country. It honestly feels like a week long holiday for me 🥳 I’ll be brief about the reasons for BBW, since this post isn’t about BBW per se. According to BlackBreastfeedingWeek.org:
Black Breastfeeding Week was created because for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates.
The Top Five Reasons We Need A Black Breastfeeding Week are:
- The high black infant mortality rate
- High rates of diet-related disease
- Lack of diversity in lactation field
- Unique cultural barriers among black women
- Desert-Like Conditions in Our Communities
Today, I am penning a letter to the first IBCLC I encountered the day after I gave birth to my son and why I go so hard for Black Breastfeeding Week.
Dear RN IBCLC at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital,
I remember feeling bewildered and in shock that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I made a request to the night nurse that I wanted to see a lactation consultant. Truth be told, the first time I heard that term was a few months before when I decided that I wanted to breastfeed. My body was making milk for a reason. Others told me that I should breastfeed since its the best for my baby. No one gave me any other information though. I figured its natural so it shouldn’t be so hard and if breastfeeding didn’t work out, I had a can of formula at home. My mother related her breastfeeding struggles for probably the 2nd time that week. I didn’t realize that I was setting myself up for disappointment.
The first latch was extremely painful. There is a video of me wincing in pain. My husband, doula, mother, younger sister, father-in-law, and hospital staff were in and out of the delivery room within the first hour after I gave birth. I had no clue what I was doing or if my son was getting enough milk. No one could provide me with a straightforward answer or how to lessen the pain.
That’s why I requested for you to see me the next day. You wore a white lab coat. You were a fat, middle age white woman with chin-length greying brown hair. You wore glasses and an expression of boredom. Or maybe you were fatigued. I was probably the 7th patient you saw that morning. You asked me what’s wrong and I said that my nipples hurt. Without much assistance from you, I latched on my baby. You took one quick look and said “the latch looks fine”. I said that it still hurts and you asked if the pain gets better as the nursing session went on. I responded that the pain only got slightly better.
I felt so dismissed by you. Could you not see that I was in pain and struggling?? My husband was in the room too. You barely addressed him. You gave us no information. You didn’t teach me about different nursing positions or assess for a tongue tie. You didn’t show me how to deepen the latch or how to hand express my colostrum. I felt that I was a burden on you. It felt as if I was wasting your time since you know, I was just another young Black woman on Medicaid who said she wants to breastfeed. In your head, you probably thought that I wouldn’t last one week without transitioning my son to formula. And guess what? My 5 day old did indeed have formula. He was screaming in hunger and I couldn’t breastfeed any more because my nipples were pinched, misshapen and extremely sore. To this day, I regret that decision because of what I learned afterwards about the infant’s gut microbiome.
But Ms. hospital RN IBCLC, I am writing to you today because you were wrong about me and I know now that I expected too much from you. Regardless, I was fiercely determined to breastfeed and extremely protective of my son. No thanks to you, I made it to my 4th Black Breastfeeding Week. But thanks to you and your biases, I receiving lactation specific training so that other Black mothers and birthing people do not feel the same pain and unworthiness that I felt that day.
Janice A. Clarke BS, CLC – A worthy and ambitious Black IBCLC in the making