I was thinking about a few things while I was at the Black Breastfeeding Summit at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum in Detroit: So now that National Breastfeeding Month has come to an end, what happens now? What have I learned from this experience? And how can others continue to celebrate and support breastfeeding moms?
During the August summit, I talked with three amazing breastfeeding moms: Tiffany, Alicia, and Kamisha. I asked them about their breastfeeding journey, and they shared with me their experiences and how they feel women should be supported.
THREE BREASTFEEDING MOMS SHARE SIX BREASTFEEDING TIPS ON HOW TO SUPPORT MOTHERS & BABIES
1. Check on breastfeeding mothers during the postpartum period.
Tiffany is a first-time mom of a 6-month-old baby boy. Tiffany said she believes the first three weeks after a mom gives birth is when a mom needs strong support for breastfeeding “because it’s so hard.”
After giving birth to a baby, there is so much going on. Tiffany pointed out during those first few weeks of postpartum, she experienced challenges such as being tired and recovering from the birth of her baby.
Thankfully, she had the loving support of her husband during her recovery period, but she would have liked to have had additional support for breastfeeding.
When a mom has strong support during her postpartum time, the chances of her continuing to breastfeed her baby for a longer period of time are much greater.
2. Encourage breastfeeding mothers to embrace the journey.
It’s true. Breastfeeding is challenging, especially if you’re a first-time mom like Tiffany, or you’re a seasoned mom but are new to breastfeeding. Alicia, for instance, is a mother of 5 children and a newborn baby. She is breastfeeding for the first time.
Alicia told me a nurse had encouraged her to breastfeed. I asked her how her breastfeeding journey is going so far and she said it’s, “touch and go…[with] some good days, some not so good days,” but she is “enjoying it now because we’re learning together.”
And I think that is important to know about breastfeeding. It can be very challenging and it is a journey where you and your baby are learning together. If a breastfeeding mom understands breastfeeding is a learning experience, she will be able to keep an open mind and embrace the ups and downs.
3. Be honest with breastfeeding mothers about the challenges.
From my experience, I have seen more people focus on the good things about breastfeeding. This is great, but there still needs to be more discussion about the challenges of breastfeeding. I think if more women are aware of the realities of breastfeeding, they will be better prepared for it and be more inclined to stick with it.
For instance, when I breastfed my daughter Zhen (2012), I could only get her to latch onto one side. So I would pump on the other side and feed her the pumped breast milk by bottle. After a while, it became frustrating for me and I felt like a failure. I thought I was doing something wrong.
Sadly, instead of sticking with it, I gave up nursing my baby after three months. I didn’t know that it’s normal to experience such challenges. I thought it was something I was doing or maybe my daughter just didn’t like being breastfed.
I, also, didn’t trust seeking help from a lactation consultant because of a bad experience I had with a consultant the first time I inquired about the issue I was having. The consultant I saw was too rough with my baby and made me feel very uncomfortable. She also spoke down to me. This discouraged me from seeking additional support. Perhaps if I would have understood the challenges, I would have breastfed Zhen longer.
4. Do not shame breastfeeding mothers who choose to publicly nurse their babies.
Kamisha, mom of six and a 2-month-old baby, shared with me a negative experience she had at a doctor’s appointment.
While waiting in the medical room, she was breastfeeding her baby uncovered. A medical assistant saw Kamisha nursing her baby, “and the medical assistant came and said, ‘Oh my God!’ She swung the curtain around and then slammed the door.”
I asked Kamisha what did she do and she told me, “I let her know she was rude and…inappropriate. I don’t understand why she was offended.”
Kamisha is also a breastfeeding advocate and peer counselor. She believes people who are against public breastfeeding need to understand breastfeeding is normal and is nourishment to a baby.
She said, “I use any opportunity I can to educate them.” Kamisha believes if more people understood why “breastfeeding is beneficial to babies and mom and family, “then they would not have an issue with women who nurse in public.
Unfortunately, many breastfeeding moms experience such negativity when they are nursing their babies in public. Some mothers are asked to go to the bathroom and nurse their babies. I had a similar experience when I needed to feed my baby in a public place in Downtown Detroit, which leads me to my fifth point.
5. Offer a private room for breastfeeding mothers who wish to seek privacy.
A few months ago, I was at an event in Detroit and I asked about a nursing room for breastfeeding moms because I needed to feed my baby. I was told I could feed him in the family bathroom.
The family bathroom did not have a chair or a separate room without a toilet in it. The family bathroom was just a large-sized bathroom, and if I would have used it to feed him, I would have had to sit on the toilet. So instead, I used a cover to cover myself and I sat in a hallway near the bathrooms.
When I was offered the restroom as an option to feed my baby, I felt very insulted. Would you eat your lunch or dinner sitting on a toilet in a public bathroom?
If a private room were available for breastfeeding moms, it would have been more comfortable for me to feed my baby. I would not have had to sit in a hallway near the bathroom. Some moms, like myself, prefer to nurse their babies in a private, quiet setting. It makes feeding time less stressful, which then allows for better milk flow.
When a mom is feeling stressed, sometimes it can slow milk production during feeding time. I know that was my experience: if I felt stressed, I didn’t produce as much milk.
If more businesses and public places offered private rooms for nursing mothers, then moms would not have to feed their babies in awkward places.
Buy Buy Baby, for instance, has a mother’s room for breastfeeding moms. I have used it before and I was very impressed with the nursing room. It was a comfortable size with two rocking chairs and a changing table. I felt very comfortable feeding my baby in Buy Buy Baby.
6. Just be like Target! Support public breastfeeding.
Some moms are very comfortable with breastfeeding their baby in public. For these moms, they should be respected for their choice to nurse in public and they should not be shamed. AT ALL.
I wish more businesses would follow Target’s example and become for breastfeeding-friendly to mothers and babies. I found this article which shared Target’s breastfeeding policy from its employee handbook.
Target’s employee handbook states:
Guests may openly breastfeed in our stores or ask where they can go to breastfeed their child. When this happens, remember these points:
Target’s policy supports breastfeeding in any area of our stores, including our fitting rooms, even if others are waiting
If you see a guest breastfeeding in our stores, do not approach her
If she approaches and asks you for a location to breastfeed, offer the fitting room (do not offer the restroom as an option)
National Breastfeeding Month may be over, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done. Many people still need to be educated about breastfeeding and the benefits of breastfeeding babies. And women still need the support– our support!
Breastfeeding moms need support not just from family and friends, but also from other businesses, organizations, and the general public. The more we support breastfeeding mothers, the more women will choose to breastfeed and also breastfeed for a longer period of time.
Special thanks to Tiffany, Alicia, and Kamisha for sharing their breastfeeding experiences with me at the Black Breastfeeding Summit! I enjoyed talking with you and wish you the best on your breastfeeding journey!
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This post was updated on 10/18/2020. All photographs are courtesy of Jennifer Hamra for Good Life Detroit.