a cross-generational exploration of breastfeeding
BY CRYSTA BLOOM, “THE KIND COCOA MAMA”
When I became pregnant with my daughter I fantasized about breastfeeding her. I imagined myself in a sun-drenched, mossy field wearing a flower crown with a perfectly latched baby at my breast. I was resistant to buying bottles or a breast pump because I knew I wouldn’t need them. Other moms might need to pump and bottle feed, but not me. I had heard the stories about the difficulties of breastfeeding but that wasn’t going to be my experience. I had read every book that Ina May had written and I was ready for my magical, effortless breastfeeding experience.
Lo and behold, my daughter had an exceedingly difficult time latching. I was frustrated and panicked to find my baby pulling away and crying every time I put her to my breast. When I took her to the pediatrician I learned that she had lost a concerning amount of weight and it was recommended that I begin giving her formula.
I was at a loss for what to do so I called my mother for guidance and reassurance. To my surprise and disappointment, she didn’t relate to my yearning to breastfeed my baby. Her sentiment seemed to be that I was making motherhood unnecessarily more labor-intensive. She didn’t share the sense of loss that I felt to not be able to feed my daughter the milk from my body. As I continued to search for support from the women in my family I found more of the same. This quest through my lineage of foremothers left me with a surprising conclusion: My choice to breastfeed my baby was revolutionary. But why?
As I dug deeper, what I found was enlightening. Many of our mothers were the first to live middle class, which gave them the opportunity to provide greater safety and opportunity for their children. In this transition, our mothers were told that they were now of a generation that was privileged and progressive enough to buy formula for their babies. They were fed the assertion that women who had the means to do so should feed their babies formula, while only hippies and poor people had to breastfeed. This capitalistic oppression of women created a ripple effect that skewed their perception of nursing. Whether you breastfed your baby became a matter of status, and abiding by the social rules of their class was crucial to securing the future of their children. Our mothers were doing what they felt was best for their kin.
When I couldn’t find answers from my familial circle, I called boober. My Lactation Consultant noticed my child’s difficulties with latching right away. I later learned that my daughter had a weak nerve on one side of her face that made nursing incredibly difficult for her. My Lactation Consultant shared resources like nipple shields and hospital grade breast pumps with me. Breastfeeding support, such as boober, is radical because it allows us to take our power back. This ancient wisdom of feeding our young from our bodies has lain dormant. Awakening this motherly acumen is an act of rebellion. I went on to exclusively feed my daughter breastmilk for nearly a year with a combination of nursing and pumping. I am the first woman in my family to feed my child breastmilk. I am a trailblazer.#boobertruths: I am the first woman in my family to feed my child breastmilk. I am a trailblazer.
One day if my daughter chooses to have children and she calls me with tears in her eyes and a hungry, frustrated baby at her breast, I will offer her support. I will pass along the wisdom that I have acquired. And in that sacred moment, we will shift the direction of breastfeeding for the generations to follow.
Crysta Bloom, aka The Kind Cocoa Mama, is a mother and child expert with nearly a decade of experience in classrooms and nonprofit sectors working in early childhood development. Crysta unpacks the ways in which identity affects our mothering approach. She practices gentle, conscious parenting philosophies and explores their intersection with the generational wisdom and trauma of black women. Crysta is the founder of The Bloom Sisterhood Society, an interdisciplinary artist collective comprised of women of color providing art and healing to girls of color age 13-18yrs.