Black Breastfeeding Week with Jessica Reña

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, I just knew it. I had grown up being obsessed with pregnancy, birth and lactation so, it was honestly something I was looking forward to. I didn’t grow up seeing anyone in my family really breast or bodyfeed. Actually, I’d seen one of my aunts nurse her baby for a few weeks before stopping and another aunt who used cabbage leaves to help dry up her milk. I’m my mother’s youngest child and grew up with my paternal family, so I didn’t get to see it on that end either and yet, something about breastfeeding called to me. During my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time researching everything from home birth to postpartum experiences and how to know if I would be able to produce enough milk. That research, positive anecdotal stories and taking lactation courses prenatally really set me up for a successful journey.  

In the first few days of nursing the discomfort took me by surprise. Even after being educated on what the experience may have been like, experiencing it for myself was rough. It was around days 3-5 postpartum, that I looked over to my husband and said “I see why people quit this”. My breasts were so engorged, I cried just thinking about nursing but knew I needed to in order to relieve the engorgement and reduce the opportunity for mastitis, I was a wreck! When you’re in the thick of it and trying to find pain relief it’s easy for your mind to think of every option to mitigate that pain. I started thinking, “okay, if I pump, just a little bit that might help” but I remembered my class and how it could actually have the opposite effect. So, my only option was to move forward with my goal of nursing. I was able to get a lactation consultant to come over to my home, help with latching and our journey was on from there.  

Being able to nurse my baby was so important to me. It was deeper than just feeding, it was activism, it was a form of protest, it was an opportunity to pay homage to so many of my enslaved ancestors who were forced to feed their enslavers children over their own. It was a way to break cultural barriers, a way for me to show the younger people in my family that even though we didn’t see our elders doing it, that didn’t determine what we could do. And, of course it was about bonding and recognizing disparities; while setting my baby’s microbiome up for success from the beginning – it was about advocating for me and my child’s best interest and quieting all the naysayers. It was about listening to my gut, and it was hard, but it was worth it. 

I was often met with some pushback from family and well-meaning individuals asking questions like, are you still breastfeeding that baby? How old are they now? Why don’t you give them a bottle or give them some food, aren’t they hungry? And educating or dismissing people. We nursed for 27 months and weaned gently. I have now been nursing my second child for 8 months and counting and I wouldn’t change a thing. It has been the most incredible and challenging experience.  

Black Breast/Chestfeeding Week is important because many of our ancestors weren’t allowed to feed their babies. That intergenerational trauma lives within so many of us and the disparities in breastfeeding rates among Black birthing and lactating bodies is proof of that. Many Black lactating folx don’t receive the support they need around breast/chestfeeding; from the initial education prenatally, to providers recommending artificial feeding methods more often to Black lactating folx, lack of education around lactation and lack of support from family, partners or community, as well as accessibility and the need to return to work shortly after birth. There are a lot of factors at play.

A few things that can help on your lactation journey are: 

  • Taking an informative and empowering breast/chestfeeding course prenatally 
  • Knowing your rights as a lactating person:
  • Connecting with a lactation professional both prenatally and after birth 
  • Hiring a doula 
  • La Leche League 
  • KellyMom is one of my favorite resources for lactating folx
  • The Lactation Network 
  • Specifically for people in SoCal (Charda Bell, IBCLC & Aaliyah Sade, IBCLC – San Diego, Yuli Smith, LM, IBCLC – IE) & San Diego Breastfeeding Center 

More Breastfeeding Resources

Overcoming Breastfeeding Obstacles 

The All New Natural Curve Nursing Pillow

From Sand to Stone: Building a New Foundation for Black Breastfeeding

Six Ways to Practice Self-Care When You’re Breastfeeding

Simple Solutions and Reliable Resources for Common Breastfeeding Concerns

The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding


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Jessica Reña

September 4, 2023