People Who Don’t Have Children Can Breastfeed!


Or at least we can help out!

The other night I called my dear, sweet friend to wish her a very happy birthday and shoot the breeze for a few. Towards the end of the conversation I mentioned I was going to school to become a certified lactation consultant, and without missing too much of a beat she started saying that it is almost impossible to instruct someone on breastfeeding if I have never done it myself. My friend is a mother of two, whom she always proudly boasts of having breastfed, which of course, is awesome. But she said something along the lines of me “trying to instruct and educate someone on breastfeeding it is like trying to teach someone art with an instructor who has never made one piece.” I get it. I’ve heard it before, and I know I’ll hear it again, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to ask how I plan to successfully encourage mothers to breastfeed having never done it myself. I actually think it’s a pretty fair criticism, and I’m glad it comes up because it gives me the opportunity to explain why it is that my participation is possible, and even necessary.

I have always held the notion that there are definite areas one needs understanding through lived experience in order to be most effective. For example, when I was in school I knew a 21-22 year old psychology major who was on her way to becoming a marriage counselor. Not only had she never been married and had only the life lessons any 22 year old would have, but I don’t believe she had ever been in a relationship for more than just a few weeks. When asked how she felt she could relate to clients who, for one, would more than likely be older, and whose relationships were troubled from adultery, commitment issues, family and other pressures to stay or to go, assets, children, conflicting moral and religious views, and a slew of other categories from a lengthy list of issues that would draw these unions to a counselor, she explained experience was not necessary in order to help and understand. What do you think?

Is breastfeeding any different?

Of course there are things I don’t understand about breastfeeding, but then there are  things I do, and believe these reasons require participation. I do understand that breastfeeding as we know it is a tradition that dates back to the beginning of time, but because of human intervention, including synthetic infant formula, is a reason many are not using breast milk to nurture their children. I do understand the sordid history because of the legacy of slavery where slavers bought and sold my sisters to provide their milk to other children, and from this many have theorized is the reason we are not breastfeeding our children. I understand there are disparities in society where our infants are disproportionately affected with childhood diseases, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and other illnesses, and breastfeeding is able to help thwart these. I understand there has been a lack of trust among Blacks and healthcare workers and in order to help counter this it is beneficial to have someone that is culturally compassionate. I understand the benefits of breastfeeding can last a lifetime for mother and baby, which inevitably benefits the entire community. And I also understand that showing someone how to breastfeed and encouraging this tradition  in order to help end these disparities does not necessitate me having a baby and putting it to my breast.

I understand no amount of book reading, people watching, question asking, assignment writing, note-taking, video watching, group discussion, or even showing someone how to breastfeed takes the place of an actual instance where a baby latches onto its mother’s breast — for survival, for comfort, for bonding. I don’t know what it’s like to have engorged breasts and sore nipples, or to have to lift my blouse and feed another human being. It would be foolish to even pretend I knew what that is like.

What I can do is sympathize and empathize, and continue to understand that there is a need for more awareness surrounding the positive impact mother’s milk has on our group. There is also a need to stray from those traditional divisive beliefs that are just too pervasive and hinder our understanding that creating a healthy community and working towards positive change can start with us — sometimes in places it may seem we do not belong. Understanding this, it is especially important for those ‘non-traditional’ people like myself to become equipped with any knowledge and understanding available to practice this form of ‘breast activism’, and spread its message far and wide.

7 thoughts on “People Who Don’t Have Children Can Breastfeed!

  1. People will trip. Like I mentioned, in the past I was real uneasy about having someone who had not breastfed “snooping” around breastfeeding women – and had the same reservation about doulas who had never given birth. But then I learned som…ething important, especially in our community, and that is the following:

    We don’t breastfeed, or don’t breastfeed long, because he have problems that we can’t get answers to among our own. We have a great mix of women who never breastfed, to those who did it a super long time, to all in between, all with different experiences both good and bad. But what we don’t have, is people with proven, evidence based information to help us with a myriad of problems, and it doesn’t take someone who has breastfed or even had children to encourage us to start, continue, or even solve problems with a proven protocol.

    What we don’t need is more people telling us that breast milk and formula are equal, so it doesn’t matter which one we do, or discouraging us in other ways because they don’t care. What we DO need is people who care enough about us and about breastfeeding, and who look like us, so that we can feel comfortable about going to them with our problems or allowing us to benefit from what they have learned – because they took the time to learn it for us! I mean, you won’t get rich being a lactation consultant – lol – but you will love doing it.

    Would I want someone who has never breastfed leading a mother-to-mother group? No. But then, that’s not the job of the lactation consultant. The lactation consultant is a medical professional. And we need a whole lot more of them in the community, period!

  2. Thank you so much for that feedback!! And I agree with you on all points! Providing much needed information from people who look like us IS needed for several reasons — and it is not the same as leading a mother/child group. I hope more pe…ople will begin to understand this. It is sometimes a bit discouraging and then I start to question myself, but then I rememember why I am here and recognize those disparities AND my firm belief that we need to invove ourselves in areas that may seem that we dont’ belong. We need more Black lactation consultants –fer sure!! Make our community healthier!! NO one ever questions a male gynecologist. just sayin :O)

  3. It is possible that having had the experience of breastfeeding could help you to be a better lactation consultant, but by no means would it be necessary. In fact, in some respects, you lack of personal experience could actually benefit you. After all, every breastfeeding experience is different, even for the same woman with her various children, so trying to apply your experience to someone else’s could end up a hindrance. I for example, never had any difficulties with cracked nipples, engorged breasts, blocked ducts, or anything else, so my having breastfed isn’t going to be of any help if I were assisting a woman who is having those problems. The best advice I would give you, you already seem to know, which is that in addition to all the classroom education and reading, you should seek out the firsthand experiences of as many women as possible, taking notes as if it were a classroom lecture. Have you attended any La Leche League meetings? There is always alot of accumulated wisdom there. . .and while I think it is brilliant that you are focusing your efforts on the particular needs of women of colour, much of what you could learn from us pale girls could be applied to your community as well, at least with respect to the physical mechanics of breastfeeding. Oh, and for the record – I would never go to a male gynecologist. Actually, I prefer all my healthcare providers be female! I suppose that makes me sexist, but I can live with that. . .

  4. MalchowMama, thanks for your feedback!! It is very encouraging. I am hoping more than anything my experience of not having children will not only be able to prove that people like me can be a positive figure and provide instruction in this area that is much needed, but to also encourage others to do so. I think this culture is so far away from integrating all members of a particular family into the ‘mother-baby circle’ and has unfortunately wedged this type of divisive ideas and behavior within our society. IMO.

    My focus is definitely on Women Of Color, but that does not mean that I cannot take apply information from white women as far as the physical mechanics — definitely!This will allow me to complicate the act of breastfeeding while recognizing the unique experiences, barriers, and other cultral implications specific to the Black community.

    And by the way, I wouldn’t go to a male gynecologist either LOL, but there are plenty of women who do and these men have shaped much if not most or just about all of the way we practice birthing and breastfeeding traditions today!! For Sure!! — who ever came up with the idea of laying down to give birth? And the whole idea of convincing women that hospital birth was superior to home birth — Idea of men. And there are plenty of men delivering babies, assisting women with breastfeeding information and the like who will never know what it is like, and with credentials on the wall that contain most letters of the alphabet behind his name no one questions this.

    Thanks for the info on the facebook page as well as La Leche League. I will definitely check out both.

    P.S. I don’t think there is any such thing as a women who is a sexist against a man! Don’t think that’s possible :O)

  5. I’m glad I read the above comments first because I was going to say a lot of what was already said! haha.

    I agree that having breastfed would be helpful, but its not necessary. I am a doula who has never given birth or breastfed, and I help women through labor and initiate breastfeeding all the time. Its like Malchow Mama said – every experience is different, so someone who had an easy breastfeeding experience or birth experience only has experience of that ONE WAY. But they still help others in different situations, yes? Because they are TRAINED. and that’s what makes all the difference, I think.

    Like S.C. said “What we DO need is people who care enough about us and about breastfeeding.” There is no lack of need for lactation consultants, and especially for women of color.

    While its nice to have someone helping you who has been in exactly your situation, it is very hard to find, and someone with knowledge and training can help just as well and sometimes better (not coming in with any baggage!) and they have for years before and will for years to come (like male ob/gyns, as you noted ;)

    – Anthro Doula

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