Why I’m Still Breastfeeding My One-Year-Old

Even Ryan Gosling agrees.

This piece is a cross-publication series with our former Politrix columnist Kenrya Rankin Nassel. Last year, she gave birth to our first Parlour baby, nicknamed Babygirl, and recently decided to chronicle her mommy tricks and lessons on her blog called Black + Green Mama. My sister said I should have mommy things on Parlour long ago, so here you go sis. Enjoy! 

August 2012 marks the second annual National Breastfeeding Month, and the start of yet another month of people asking when I’m going to stop nursing Babygirl. She’s 13 months old, and still firmly attached to my boobs, signing for her favorite beverage following most solid food meals, and whenever she’s feeling sleepy. Each time I’m asked, I calmly explain that while I used to think I’d wean when she turned one, I had no idea what I was talking about, and now that I’m here, I’m planning to let her self wean. Inevitably, they ask if we’re going to be like the family on the cover of Time, Babygirl standing on a stool, boob in mouth, looking at the camera. While I truly can’t see her pushing up my shirt at the age of four, I’m reluctant to push her to detach before she’s ready. She still likes to cuddle, and I love that it’s something only we can do together. Not to mention that she’s still working with just two teeth (which means I pre-chew the bulk of her food), and though she eats three meals and at least one snack a day, she’s still getting a lot of her calories from breast milk.

Turns out, doctors would agree with my reluctance. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and supplementing solid foods with breast milk for at least one year, as long as mama and baby are interested. And the World Health Organization recommendsthat moms nurse at least until their children celebrate their second birthdays.

But Black women aren’t even coming close to meeting those guidelines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 26.6% of Black mamas make it to the six-month mark, versus 41.7% of the total population. And only 11.7% make it a year, as opposed to 21% of all American moms. The bottom line is that it is the healthiest choice for our little ones, when it’s possible for the mama to nurse. The AAP reports that breastfeeding reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, SIDS, asthma, eczema, obesity, diabetes and childhood leukemia, and makes for smarter kids.

Which begs the question: Why doesn’t everyone breastfeed their children? I’m not exactly sure. But in talking to many Black women — who with and without children — I hear a lot of fear circulating. A lot of women worry that it will hurt, or they try and feel discomfort in the beginning and opt for the bottle soon after. But I also echo what every birthing education and lactation consultant I’ve ever spoken to has said: It doesn’t hurt if the baby is latched correctly. In my experience, that’s true. I always hope if I explain how it feels, that it will help. So here goes: There was some discomfort for the first two weeks, but nothing I would describe as pain. It felt like a quick pinch on my nipple each time she latched. Then the feeling slowly subsided as she nursed. I pushed through because it was important to me, and the pros she would reap far outweighed a few minutes of discomfort on my end. Over the next six weeks, it was like a little twinge right when she latched, not as sharp as the first two weeks, but I definitely noticed it. After the first two months, I eventually realized that I didn’t even feel it when she latched. And now, seriously, sometimes I have to look to see if she’s eating, because I feel nothing, lol. If you have pain, you can request to see a lactation consultant for free before you leave the hospital or birthing center. And you can contact La Leche League to find someone to visit you at home.

It also seems that some women are afraid of the commitment it requires. I can’t lie. Nursing isn’t a game. I am with Babygirl most of the time, in part because nursing makes it hard to stay away from her for long. She never took to bottles, and at this point, it’s hard for me to pump much milk at a time, so I have to plan far ahead when we need to leave her with a sitter. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone has her own path, and if you start your little one on bottles sooner than we did (we didn’t try until 10 weeks, due to fear of nipple confusion and a nonresponsive lactation consultant who apparently didn’t want my business when I tried to buy my pump from her) you’ll likely have more luck on the bottle front. And while nursing typically means more night waking (babies process breast milk faster than they do formula), when I wake at night, I just pop a nipple in her mouth and we go back to sleep. There’s no getting up to make and warm bottles when you carry your milk with you!

Then there are the outside forces. We live in a society that pushes infant formula. New mamas who opt for breastfeeding are sent home from the hospital with a “breastfeeding kit,” which contains formula and coupons for more formula. And I received so much free formula in the mail before and after Babygirl was born that I started taking it to my old apartment management office and leaving it for women who needed it. The only reason I escaped the constant mailing was that we moved. The AAP recently issued a recommendation that doctors no longer give patients freebies from formula manufacturers.

And then there are the recent public battles with folks being nasty to women who nurse their children in public. All but three states protect our right to nurse in public (boo to West Virginia, Nebraska and Idaho), but that doesn’t stop restaurant and retail workers from harassing moms. Research shows that this hostility makes women uncomfortable nursing in public, which leads to early weaning. I’m shaking with anger right now, btw. I wish a muthafucka would try to tell me to put my boob away.

Shoot, I’ll just tick off some other positives, to make me feel better: It’s free, it burns 500+ calories a day, and your milk evolves with your baby’s needs, so you never have to worry if she’s getting what she needs.

I recognize that breastfeeding is not for everyone, but I truly believe that even doing it for one day is better than not doing it at all, if you are able.

Did you opt to breastfeed your children? Why or why not? For the mamas-to-be, what are you planning to do when the time comes? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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