Mother’s Day: The Resilience of Black Breast-Feeding

Your Take: Replacing breast milk with formula has been pitched as empowering—but it can actually restrict families’ choices.

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Emotional-wellness advocate Ekua Adisa chose to breast-feed and birth at home last year. She said she is excited to see more black women breast-feeding on social media. It is a positive counter to the flood of formula advertising that low-income women of color, in particular, receive every day.

The images are “subversive to patriarchy because it [says] this is my body and I will use it however I want to use it. For me, when I think about mothering and feeding my son, I think about the women, my ancestors, who were not nursing their babies because they were nursing other people’s babies; and women who were taught that their milk, their bodies, were bad and were pushed to use a product instead.”

Highlighting the historical significance that breast-feeding has had for black families, Middleton says, “When you are in a state of crisis, which we have been since we arrived on these shores, you survive through healing practices. Midwifery brought us through survival, not just to catch babies but [to help with] all the postnatal care and to help with abortion if necessary. Breast-feeding is the way we kept our families alive against all obstacles and at all costs.

“Breast-feeding our own children is an act of resistance,” she continues. “If the milk of black mothers was imperative to the survival of white children to the point where it was denied to black babies, then providing that nutrient to our children is evidence of how far we have come and how we continue to push back.”

In celebration of this year’s Mamas Day—a nationwide campaign that celebrates mothers of all races, ethnicities and sexual orientations—I want to uplift and support nursing mothers and highlight ways to do so:

1. Love and dote on them! “If you don’t have the emotional support afterward, you can give up,” Middleton shares. Her mother never breast-fed, but she stayed with Middleton for two weeks after the birth of Middleton’s children to provide emotional support and to handle chores around the house so that Middleton could focus on nursing.

2. Learn how you can get involved and give mothers accessible, affordable health care this Mother’s Day. Advocate for Medicaid expansion! Currently, low-income women have the option of temporary Medicaid during pregnancy for a few months after the birth of their newborns. Expanding Medicaid eligibility helps keep parents healthy for their children.

Bianca Campbell is an organizer at the Atlanta-based organization Spark. To learn more about this year’s Mamas Day campaign, please visit mamasday.org.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.