Black women who use infant formula seem to get a lot of heat from many different directions these days — outside and inside of our community. I’ve even found myself wondering why, if someone is fully capable and the benefits of breastfeeding have been proven, would breastfeeding not be the only option. But the more I think about it the more I realize what shapes our decisions is not always so cut and dry, and is not always about capability or desire, but it comes from our culture, our influences, and our lived and learned experiences — those that we have been exposed to and what we daily put into practice.
I have been exposed to breastfeeding for as long as I can remember. Every woman in my family who has kids has breastfed, as have my friends at some point or another, and I know that there are many others who have been exposed to this same legacy. But looking at this idea and understanding that everyone has been exposed to a different culture really forces me to try and understand those who have been exposed to a different legacy and upbringing — one where infant formula is considered the natural feeding method.
The way some understand breastfeeding is the same way others understand infant formula, and this is the framework, shaping the way we choose to nurture our children. Other ways that shape us are media representations and (mis)representation, and the way we are portrayed as Black women, as Black mothers, as Black people. The lack of Black women breastfeeding in images plays a large role, they way our bodies are portrayed contributes, and we can’t overlook the fact that infant formula is entirely too easy to come by. We also live in a society that does not place a large value on breastfeeding, and this is clearly evident by the way we frame work and breastfeeding in public — and even how we view breasts as nothing more than sexualized objects. The list is long. Breastfeeding is also a learned skill, and just because it is something we can do naturally, does not mean it comes naturally, and there are women everywhere who become frustrated and overwhelmed, which contributes to the decline.
I know that making a positive impact on our community is necessary in order to show all the benefits breastfeeding has to offer. But I think it is also important to find ways to fully understand the reasons many do not breastfeed, and look below the surface in order to find ways to arrive at the outcomes we need in order to have a healthier community. I have found that it’s really easy to throw our beliefs onto other people, telling them why we believe a certain way and why they should also. But much more difficult to try to truly understand where someone is coming from in order to see infant feeding the way they see it. I challenge you to get to know the breastfeeding culture of someone around you, regardless of their gender or whether they do or do not have children.