On May 23, 2019, I was wheeled into the recovery room after my emergency cesarean birth to reunite with my beautiful chunky baby boy. It was different from when I first laid eyes on him as he was lifted over a blue curtain, underneath bright lights in a stark white room. As I now lay there looking at him, I thought to myself we made it, we survived. And guess what? He latched on to my breast almost immediately! All thoughts about what is next escaped my mind. The initial gaze as he found his way to where he was meant to be made nothing else matter. Breastfeeding was important to me and I never thought of feeding my baby any other way. After not being able to have a vaginal birth, I was hoping that this intimate opportunity wouldn’t be taken away from us as well. I immediately felt a sigh of relief as the nurse stood in awe. “At least I could get this part right,” I thought to myself.
Breastfeeding is a natural process, both a science and an art. Most people don’t realize that it is accompanied by a huge learning curve for both mama and baby and that it can sometimes be difficult for mothers who have had a C-Section like myself. Knowing this, you could imagine how grateful I was. After having every intervention possible during labor, this sacred moment of bonding for me was the first thing that made me feel connected to my whole birth experience.
That milky substance, also known as “liquid gold,” was for sure flowing, and my baby and I were indeed glowing. Those first few days were tiringly perfect and breastfeeding couldn’t come easier. I was excited that his latch was great, we had a routine, and everything seemed to be flowing as it should. Little did I know that our journey would encounter some hurdles after what seemed like a perfect start. Hurdles that I knew nothing about. The one thing that I wish I knew then that I do know now is that breastfeeding is way more than just a perfect latch.
You see, it is common for us to hear about the importance of getting that perfect latch, what you should do to achieve it, and how to avoid feeling pain at all costs. In a society that is driven by social media, “stash pics” being glorified tends to make mothers feel as though you have made it once you fill a bottle or two during a pumping session and have a freezer overflowing with breastmilk. What about all the other things that may come up during your journey that for some reason are not talked about? Do we know how to overcome them? Do we have support from someone who is knowledgeable on what should be done? I did not. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. A pesky tender lump that had the power to suppress my milk flow, my first clogged duct, came with me finding myself on all fours for hours into the darkness of the night to dangle pump at the highest most comfortable setting after nursing my little one to sleep. Google became my friend as I began to research solutions to remove clogs to avoid the dreaded mastitis at all costs.
The battle of recurrent clogs was soon accompanied by a deep throbbing, shooting sensation after feeding my son. A sensation that I could explain all too well, but my nurse-midwife, pediatrician, and hospital lactation consultants all did not know how to help me. I remember feeling unseen and unheard as I hung up the phone or walked out of the office when I would be told “maybe it’s just your letdown” after stating many times I knew what my letdown felt like and honey this was not it. Although I did not receive the support I would have liked from my providers, I am grateful for the support that I received from my village. I am thankful to my husband who applied pressure to my clogs and massaged the area with coconut oil while I dangle pumped, or waited with our baby boy while I rushed to the bathroom to hand express the blockage out to finally feel the immediate relief as the pressure was released and milk sprayed from my breast. Thankful to my sister-friend, a black nurse practitioner, who came and helped me pop a blood blister after being sent home distraught from my doctor’s visit to do so on my own. Thankful to my cousin, also a black nurse practitioner, who heard the pain in my voice but still reminded me that I ultimately know what’s best for my baby as I cried to her saying “This was the one thing that I was actually able to get right!” after being told by my pediatrician that I may need to supplement with formula. Thankful to another sister-friend, my coworker, who went out of her way to create a sign for me to put on a door when I had to search for somewhere to pump or would allow me to sit in her office with her. They all contributed to me being able to successfully breastfeed my son for over a year confidently and unapologetically.
Dips in supply, power pumping, poor latch, nipple trauma, clogged ducts, dangle pumping, engorgement…do I need to go on? You may or may not understand how all of these can impact a mama who is especially sleep-deprived and working through a storm of emotions. Support can truly make all the difference. As a Black mother, I don’t recall seeing many women in my family breastfeeding. During my journey, I heard comments like, “are you sure that will be enough?…he will need more than just that” or “your baby needs water.” This showed me that more lactation education is needed within our community.
I like to think of my breastfeeding journey as a blessing. A blessing that will allow fellow black mothers to receive support from someone who looks just like them. It is an experience that will serve as a tool for me to go on to educate and support black mothers like myself so that they too can reclaim their power, and always feel seen, heard, and empowered throughout their journeys.
To my new parents, the beginning of your breastfeeding journey may seem tough, but there are 4 tips I have for you to ease some of the possible stress:
- Hire a Lactation Professional: Consider adding a lactation professional to your birth dream team. Take a prenatal breastfeeding class and build that relationship with them prior to the arrival of your little one so you know who to call on when things get tough. Not all providers are well versed in lactation education or breastfeeding-friendly, so in doing this you will ensure you are getting the best advice and support.
- Hire a Birth and Postpartum Doula: A doula can assist you through labor to increase the chances of having an uncomplicated birth. A postpartum doula will assist and educate you in caring for your baby and yourself
- Get your village together: It takes a village! When creating your birth plan, remember to take some time to also create a postpartum plan that also focuses on who your primary support people will be.
Indicate how you will feel best supported while mom and baby learn the ins and outs of breastfeeding.
- Trust yourself: Remember, you are providing nourishment to your baby so don’t hesitate to feed your baby wherever and whenever. With that said, 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.
During this month of honoring breastfeeding, I would like to affirm all of you with these words. You are enough. You know what is best for your baby. You are amazing no matter how long you nurse. You got this!
Romie Beaujuin has been immersed in Reproductive and Maternal Health for quite some years now. A former IVF Embryologist and breastfeeding mother, her love and passion for supporting families as a doula was reignited after the birth of her son. Prior to becoming an IVF Embryologist, Romie’s doula journey began when supporting her cousin’s birth and she has since then supported several families. Encountering hurdles during her own breastfeeding journey also brought to her attention the great need for education and support in the lactation field, especially to those within the black community, and the need for more lactation professionals of color. She is now a Perinatal Community Health Worker at a local foundation, The Perinatal Health Equity Foundation, and also a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist working towards attaining her IBCLC. She is very passionate about helping mothers on their journey to and through motherhood, and she is dedicated to ensuring that every mother feels supported and empowered. From the lab to the birthing space, Romie has always felt that something as simple as her hands has had the honor to connect with and bring joy to so many families. She hopes that the work that she will continue to do as a birth worker will contribute to the immense work we have yet to accomplish when it comes to ending racial disparities in the maternal and infant health field.
You can connect with Romie on Instagram or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org!