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Black Mothers Have Positive Breastfeeding Experiences, Too.

Stacey Spencer-Willoughby | August 30, 2021

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a stay-at-home mom with two babies. When I started my breastfeeding journey with my daughter, now 21, I was so excited to explore this new role of motherhood and all that it entailed. I read, researched, and studied like I was getting a second degree in birth and parenting. I wanted to know and experience everything!

I only considered natural (intervention-free), vaginal birth, and exclusive breastfeeding when I was expecting. Everything holistic, natural, and vegan was for me. As a doula, I now know for sure there is no such thing as perfect and there are so many paths to birth and feeding your new baby. I love that.

We do not often hear beautiful breastfeeding stories from Black womxn. Fortunately, I was able to exclusively breastfeed both of my children for six months and with a little help from the lactation consultant at my birthing center and a La Leche meeting, I got what I needed to be confident and happy with my choice. Lactation consultants are lifesavers! My very independent daughter nursed for about a year and a half before moving on to her sippy cup. My super cuddly son ended up nursing for two and a half years before I weaned him. The way he used to chase me and my boobs around the house was exhausting – and a little bit hilarious. 

It’s hard to describe to someone the feeling of bonding with your baby, holding them at your breast and having them gently pull your hair or ear as they nurse, and then watch them fall into a milk-induced coma. The most tender and special moments of my whole life were wrapped in days and nights of on-demand feedings. I got to sit and relax or nap as they were nourished and comforted. The release of oxytocin is such a magical feeling. The best drug. I’ve never slept so well as when I had just nursed my babies and they fell off to sleep peacefully, leaving me some time to sleep as well. I also loved how it helped aid my healing and recovery from giving birth: releasing the love hormone to help my mood, uterus contracting, and losing weight were amazing benefits for me.

I did experience some challenges with breastfeeding, as most do. I recall being worried about my daughter’s latch in the first days and wondering if she was getting enough. I remember being concerned about weight gain and whether I was eating healthy enough, even though I was on a plant-based diet. I asked a lot of questions and read so much. The Complete Book of Breastfeeding by Marvin S. Eiger and Sally Wendkos Olds was so helpful with information. Most of all, I had faith that I was doing the best thing for myself and my children and that I was fully capable of providing them with all they needed for the first six months of life.

I also had a lot of support from my husband with my journey. He was fully on board and supportive of my breastfeeding journey. Other family members and some friends did not understand why I chose to feed exclusively and not use formula to supplement so it would be easier. I was always either nursing or pumping so that their dad could give our babies a bottle of breastmilk, if needed. My supply was great and I was even able to donate my milk to a friend’s baby when she had to be hospitalized postpartum. What a blessing that was. 

I am so happy that my life partner understood how important the benefits of feeding and bonding with our babies were for me. His support was crucial to success. We used a co-sleeper bassinet attached to our bed so that our little ones could sleep separately but also be at arm’s reach (the actual name of the bassinet was Arm’s Reach). So, a lot of patience was required on both of our parts to make this our new normal. When partners support the breastfeeding or chestfeeding person, everyone in the home benefits! Taking care of chores and errands and making sure that we rest, eat, and drink enough water can lead to a great outcome. Without unnecessary stress, the oxytocin can do its job and make for a happy breastfeeding mama and therefore a happy family. 

I do not take for granted the fact that I had a positive breastfeeding experience with both of my babies when Black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates and the shortest duration of breastfeeding in the US. I also know that my ancestors may not have had the luxury of taking care of their own babies because they may have been taking care of, or even nursing the babies of slaveholders instead. This makes me angry and sad, but they paid a price so that I can take back my power and CHOOSE to breastfeed as a revolutionary act.  

I will always cherish my journey and remember how blessed I was to be able to successfully breastfeed for years. Many do not have the support and information that I had. I am a doula and a breastfeeding believer and I will always support anyone who decides that they want to feed their baby/babies this way or any other way. Fed is best!

Follow Stacey’s work on Instagram at @namastesee or @love.light.doula!

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