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Choosing Not to Breastfeed Was My Revolutionary Act

Within 30 minutes of the delivering my son, a lactation nurse was in my room giving me information about breastfeeding. She was adamant about convincing me to at least see if my baby would latch on to my breast, but I was tired and she was pushy, so I asked her to leave. She gave me some reading materials on the advantages of breastfeeding and left. I tossed the pamphlets aside, rolled over and fell asleep.

I woke to a nurse bringing me my baby. She asked if I needed formula for him or if I was going to try nursing. Without hesitation, I asked for formula because what the lactation nurse didn’t know was that I had decided very early in my pregnancy that I wouldn’t breastfeed.

Sadly, that decision was being made for me long before I ever even thought about having a child. My mother has five children, none of whom were breastfed. My sister breastfed my nephew very briefly, but gave up on it making sure to freely share with me how much it hurt. I frequently heard adults around me talk about how “something in the formula” was responsible for how quickly kids were growing and developing. Programs like WIC pushed poor women, most relevantly poor black women, to feed their babies formula instead of breast milk. In my mind, breastfeeding was a thing of the past, all but eradicated by the invention of formula, which provided all the nutrition of breast milk without the chore of pumping or discomfort of actually nursing.

Now that I’m just about ready to have another baby, I’m forced to think about my greatest parenting successes and biggest regrets. Confidently, I can declare that I’ve done a great job with my son so far, but that declaration is sullied by the realization that I robbed both myself and my child of all the benefits of breastfeeding. And digging deeper, I realize that the real reason I did not breastfeed, is rooted, at least partially, in slavery.

During my teen years, I read and learned a lot about slavery in America. One of the images that stuck with me was of a black woman nursing a white baby. Of all the customary violations of black bodies during that time, this one haunted me most. That a black woman’s breasts, organs meant to grow and sustain the life of her own children, would be used as tools to grow the babies of white enslavers — babies who’d one day grow to be the enslavers of the same black women who had used their breasts to nourish them — was inconceivable to me. It is a sickeningly ironic concept that adds to the pile of evidence proving that black women have never been entitled to our own bodies in this country.

So while all of the propaganda against it certainly helped to demonize breastfeeding in my mind, I now understand that my refusal to nurse was my subconscious act of revolution. I was taking back the power stolen from black women like me. I would have a choice over how my body was used.

But what is revolution at the expense of my son? What revolution is there in buying formula, pumping money into the same economy built on the backs — or breasts — of the black women who didn’t have a choice how their bodies were used? Was it really revolutionary to take the “microwave” route and do what was easier for me over what was best for my baby? Was I rebelling against the establishment or doing exactly what they wanted?

The real revolutionary act would have been to go against the racist capitalist conditioning I’d been consuming for decades and feed my baby at my breast, bonding and nurturing him. I would have been the warrior I wanted to be had I sat and learned from that nurse all about breastfeeding. A real revolution would have been declaring my breasts not as objects solely meant for sexual pleasure, but as instruments of nourishment for the most important person in my world. I was not revolting, I was conforming.

Black women are still being pushed, however subtly, not to breastfeed. The breasts that fed and grew entire generations we’re now being told are not the best source of sustenance for our own babies. Too many medical professionals are telling us formula is better, or at least, as good as what the same body that made the child produces. There is a deliberate effort to convince us not to do what’s natural, what we did forcefully for dozens of babies for centuries.

I’m ready to be what I once thought I was. I’m committed to giving my next child what I tragically denied my son. I want to revel in the sisterhood created by black women who are truly rebels, building support networks to share the beautiful stories of the transcendent love they feel passing life to their babies from their own bodies. I will honor all the enslaved black women who never had a choice. I choose to be revolutionary. I choose to breastfeed.

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23 comments… add one
  • Tilly ,

    Many years ago I did a small study on Black women and breastfeeding. I ended up abandoning it because I was so heartbroken over so many women’s bold and confident rejection of breastfeeding. I just couldn’t understand it then – they said a lot of what you did here – I couldn’t get past the willful ways that they chose to privilege an ugly history over which they had no control, over and above their current reality, of having a child that needed them to give the best they had to offer, where they had full autonomy. I get it now. We really are products of history, of time and place.

  • Glenys ,

    Powerfully written!

  • Dana ,

    That was beautifully written and expressed. I’ve never thought about that aspect of slavery. Congratulations on becoming a mom again. I hope you meet all your breastfeeding goals. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns. There are a lot of women out there that want to help. xo

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Maybe I'll Shower Today ,

    This was beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for showing us how our choices are deeply rooted in our personal and collective histories.

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Abbey ,

    What an important — if heartbreaking — message for you to share. The wounds of our nation’s history are so deep, and it’s so easy for many of us to miss so much of it.

    You sound like such a loving, thoughtful mama to your beloved son. I wish you a beautiful breastfeeding relationship with all future children, and hope you can find the support you need all along the way — and be that support for other women in your family and community. The odds that your own daughters, nieces, etc will someday breastfeed their own babies increase so much with your support (and even more if you have managed to nurse one or more of your own)…

    Thank you

  • I breastfed all three of my kids for a few months but after a not so good diet and stress my milk stopped coming it. Now that my situation is better, and I have another child I’m going to try my hardest to breastfeed as long as I can.

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Julee ,

    Love this blog LaSha. So powerful! I send you positive thoughts for a beautiful future BF relationship!

  • Jennie ,

    I’m a a professional historian, and at the moment my study circles on the slave mother, and the convict/indentured servant mother. Your story resonates very deeply with the history I study. In this period “respectable” white women didn’t nurse their own babies, all the way from slave mistresses to the Queen. Their job was to pop them out, not nourish them. Where slavery didn’t exist, it was the poor who was forcibly weaning their own child at 3 or 4 months old to be a wetnurse for the gentry, and in America it was the convict or slave mother. Especially the slave mother. Even after emancipation, it was the poor black mothers who played the roll of wetnurse. From the moment formula was invented, it was marketed for babies in orphanages, and the children of mothers who weaned them so they could nurse another child for an income, which inevitably was black. Marketing today, as you noted, is still aimed as proclaiming formula as a kind of ‘freedom’.
    And now? In very very very broad general terms the number of white women breastfeeding is increasing, while the number of black women declines or grows at a much slower rate. They are still being denied a choice over their own bodies through predatory marketing.
    Not everyone wants to breastfeed. And as an advocate for nursing that saddens me, but they have a right to their own body – and I respect that. Formula has its place in the world. The marketing of the formula company… not so much.
    Good on you for making a choice that YOU want – not the marketing, not the nurse, not your mother or community or husband. You. Slavery took away those womens right to choose who they fed. Good on you for taking it back.

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    Thanks, Kristy!

  • I just shared this to my page @Breastfeeding Mama Talk. This was an insightful read ! Thank you for opening up . I hope this helps some people understand the need for Black breastfeeding week. You are pretty amazing.

  • oopsie..my bad. I breastfed one of three, whatever works. ?

  • Congrats!

  • Barbara Hein Hall ,

    Powerful!
    Sorry benefits were not discussed earlier!
    Studies show when early on or before pregnancy we make our
    Decision!
    I am one of five and from a culture of formula feeding
    And mom fed us all by bottle, formula not for long
    Cause she could not afford it!
    I am aware of the history of slavery and wet nursing not only with
    The African Americans but of other cultures! The connection and the bad
    Sense that is felt by many African American mothers.
    Hopefully with education at the right time and teaching / promoting
    Choice of all the benefits at the right time will increase BF rates!
    I have learned to fine tune my message as an IBCLC.
    Also as a L + D nurse we like to put all babies skin to skin!
    Close to 40 years of experience I love to promote mums r restaurant but I
    Believe in mums informed choice! Thanks for sharing!

  • Oh no! Well, all the same. A brilliantly written article and when you are pregnant again, you’ll be a better more experienced mom. Being a mother is all instinct, you do what you know in your gut and in your heart is best for your baby. No one can tell you otherwise, no doctor, society whatever.

  • Thank you for continually telling your story and how it connects to the past. You connect many things and light bulbs are always going off in my own head whether I say anything in response to your blog posts or not. Thank you for what you do.

    I hope the revolution of taking back control of your own body and what YOU choose to use it for brings you all kinds of confidence and power. <3

  • I love this Sha!

  • Kinfolk Kollective avatar LaSha ,

    I’m not pregnant yet. ?? Everybody’s been saying the same. I think I inadvertently made it seem like I was.

  • Congratulations on your new baby. What a blessing.

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