by Nichelle Clark, IBCLC, CBS, Founder, Black Breastfeeding 365
The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to 1915, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month, calling on all Americans “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” For the Black Lactivist, Black History Month presents a unique conundrum. If you scour the internet, you’ll find articles and books on mainly one topic: Wet nursing. While it is an important part of our history, it’s an extremely painful one. It’s why we can’t get the full support and buy in on breastfeeding from our partners and village. It’s why our self efficacy wavers. It’s our generational curse. But it is not the entirety of our history. Our history did not start with slavery. Ancient Egyptians recognized the importance of breast milk as the first food, with wet nursing as an option for parents who could not produce an adequate milk supply. However, historical text defines these Renenutets as nourishers, food suppliers, and prosperity goddesses. A stark contrast from what has historically been the role of the wet nurse in the United States.
History, you see, is always being written. History is our yesterday, our last week, our last year. In African cultures, breastfeeding has been the norm since the dawn of time. But, for the Black American, there is a disconnect and discord with that history. Our American history begins with the stark reality that Black breast milk fed the nation. A nation that enslaved our ancestors. A nation that ripped families apart and now has the audacity to mock our adapted family structures. A nation that continues to see bias run rampant in our healthcare system.
The above mentioned bias really upsets me and all my homegirls. In recent years, Black IBCLCs and Lactation Professionals have sought to change the narrative. Motivators like Lactation Career Consultants, Nikki Killings MPH, IBCLC and Nikki Greenaway NP, IBCLC of Nikki & Nikki Lactation Career Consultants, Holistic Birth & Postpartum Specialist, Mystique Hargrove MS, CFSD, CBE, CLE of The Black Birth Healer, founder of Future IBCLCs of Color, Jada Metcalf CBS, co-founder of the Southeast Michigan IBCLC’s of Color and IBLCE Board of Directors Member Jennifer Day IBCLC, CLE, CLS, RLC, BD, Ryan Karim RN, IBCLC of the Conscious Sedation Podcast, creators of The B. L. A. C. K. Course Ngozi D. Walker-Tibbs, MPH, IBCLC, LCCE, Lydia O. Boyd, IBCLC, TaNefer Camara, MS-HCA, IBCLC, and Felisha Brooks-Floyd, BS, CLC, IBCLC, and many others have constructed spaces and platforms where Black Birthing Persons can exist free of microaggressions and racism.
USLCA has utilized the term “Amplify” as their mantra for the past two years. So, what better way to honor Black History Month (and every other day of the year) than to “Amplify Black Voices”. Black Lactation Professionals and Parents don’t need someone to speak for them; they already have a voice. It is up to those of the dominant culture to move out of the way and listen. To not place or be a barrier while we frame a new history. A history filled with respect. And choice. And love. A trauma free history. Sometimes, this looks like declining a microphone and recommending the moderator actively seek a Black Voice in your place. This can look like utilizing your platform to center Black Lactation Professionals & Parents. This can look like taking a hard look at your conferences and dissecting the topics and behaviors you allow within the space and taking a stand.
This looks like paying Black Lactation Professionals for their time, intellectual property, and emotional labor.
This does not look like White Saviorism. This doesn’t look like imposing your will or thoughts or ideas on the Black Community where you live.
For Black breastfeeding/chestfeeding professionals & parents, it’s important that the story of mothering, of parenting, of chestfeeding, of breastfeeding, of personhood, of womanhood doesn’t end with what you read in a history book (or what you don’t). It’s important that the story is told by those living it. It is important that the experiences of Black Women not be marginalized and our traumas not simply paraded out for Black History or Black Breastfeeding Week soundbites.
It is important that you believe Black Women. It is important that you trust Black Women.
But for Black Women, it’s MOST important that we believe, believe in, and trust OURSELVES.
We are not subject to Black History. We ARE Black History.
Nichelle’s Lactation Story:
Nichelle Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (CBS), and owner of SonShine & Rainbows Lactation Services in Chesapeake, Virginia. Nichelle got in to lactation after deciding to exclusively pump and finding minimal information and help on the topic. She went on to breastfeed for 2 years, including relactating at the onset of COVID-19. When she’s not spending time with her husband son, she’s spreading the good news, that pumping IS breastfeeding, far and wide. Nichelle is also an advocate & champion for all parents to breastfeed/chestfeed their way.
The content of this post does not imply endorsement and may not reflect the position of USLCA.