This week is Black Breastfeeding Week. Black women have the lowest rate of breastfeeding initiation and duration. There are a variety reasons that contribute to this disparity. In honor of this week, we spoke to Imani L. Whyte-Anigboro, mother to one-year-old Oghenebrume “Brume” Naomi Anigboro, shares the highs and lows of breastfeeding for over a year.
What influenced your decision to breastfeed?
Well one, just being completely transparent. I was not then and I’m not now, in a good financial place and breastmilk is free. So yes, I was like this is the healthiest thing for my baby. But I was also like, ‘I don’t have money.’ Formula is super duper expensive. And I was like, ‘I don’t have it.’ So if my body allows me to do this, God willing, this is what I really want to do. And the more I learned about it—I have a lot of friends who have done it. So I had a lot of support from my friends and my husband was supportive. My mom did it for 3 months and 4-5 months with another one. But the first thing was money.
Did you ever consider not breastfeeding because of the way your breasts would change afterward?
No because— and I heard that too. One of the ladies in my nail salon said, ‘I didn’t breastfeed because I don’t even have a lot of breast but I didn’t want them to be saggy afterward.’ And I get that. My whole spiel has been and still is that my husband is somehow going to find the money to give me the Mommy Makeover of my dreams since I’m having all of his children. They can get fixed. They can get lifted up and put back into the place where they never were. Because I’ve never had perky boobs anyway. I’ve always been in the D cup range for the majority of my adult life. They ain’t never been to the sky anyway. It ain’t nothing but a bra, some tape or a doctor. Still, I don’t care. They’ll get fixed and I’m not worried about catching no man. I already got one.
Black women have the lowest breastfeeding rates. Why do you think so many Black women are resistance to the idea of breastfeeding?
I think it’s support. They don’t have the people. It’s definitely something you need support on because there were times in my journey where I was taking it day by day, feeding by feeding. It’s hard. I was blessed. My baby latched immediately. She did the chest crawl and in less than five minutes, she was on the tit, getting the milk out. But that didn’t make it any less painful. I have a heavy let down on one side of my breasts where every time she nurses, regardless of which side, I can feel the milk coming out. Naturally, it comes out of both sides regardless, so I can feel it coming out. And that’s uncomfortable for some people.
Also, the same hormone that’s released when you have an orgasm is the same one that’s released when you’re breastfeeding. It’s the same hormone but you’re not having an orgasm. You might get a little tingly downstairs and that’s not appealing. I don’t want to feel sexual while my child’s eating either but it doesn’t affect me in a large way. But if you’ve been sexually assaulted or you don’t know that that can happen, it could be a deterrent. If no one told you that could happen, and then it happens, you might think that something is wrong with you. You don’t have anyone to talk to about it, you’re embarrassed, lack of knowledge.
I also just think Black women don’t do it because we work a lot. I don’t know what my breastfeeding journey would be like if I worked a 9-5. You have to be at work pumping three times a day. I hear stories daily in my support groups about supervisors not being supportive, companies that are not supportive. Having to go to HR because it is the law but who wants to be fighting their boss? No one wants animosity at work. So sometimes you just deal with the b*llsh*t. But when it comes to feeding a child, how much are you willing to deal with?
Also, there was a woman in one of my mommy groups and someone was talking about breastfeeding and she likened breastmilk to semen. She said it’s a bodily fluid like semen. I was like, ‘What. sis?!’ These are the things we’re up against in our own communities where you think breastmilk and semen are the same thing. So you will drink from the cow that you don’t know but you don’t want breastmilk in the refrigerator? People don’t know. There’s an ignorance about it.
My family, I love them to death but my aunt was like—when Brume was 10 or 11 months— ‘You still breastfeeding that baby? You need to give her some formula!’ And it’s like why do I need to give her formula? Can you tell me why? They’ll say things like, ‘’You’re sacrificing your time.’’That baby need to sleep and that breastmilk won’t make her sleep because it’s too thin.’
When you’re doing something people have not done, you’re going to get pushback from it. And a lot of people aren’t going to tell their mother and grandmother what do to. Because they’ve [raised children.] You did it 30 years ago. You don’t know what I know now. But it’s hard to tell your mother, ‘I know what I’m talking about and you don’t.’ Regardless if you’re an adult or not.
Breastfeeding is looked upon as poor and I don’t know why.
Also, women are sexualized.
And no one more than Black women.
Black women are straight fetishized. We are more than sexualized, we are fetishized. That’s also what aids in that.
But as you were talking, it made me think about slavery and how so many Black women were denied the opportunity to feed their babies or they had to use their milk to feed White babies so it’s looked at as poor or a position of subservience as opposed to I’m doing what my body was made to do to take care of my child.
For years, up until now there are Black women who are raising White babies now. And they’re not with their children. If it’s money involved or it’s a job, then it’s okay but if it’s to take care of your child, for some reason, it’s not. So I think that’s a lot of the reason why it.
And breastfeeding can have an affect on your mood. For a lot of women, it’s depressing for them. Because your hormones. You know how they say, it takes a year after you have a baby for your body to get back to normal? Well, when you’re breastfeeding, it’s a year after when you stop breastfeeding. Your hormones are still fluctuating. They’re all over the place.
How has breastfeeding affected your sexuality?
I think that breasts look nice but I’ve never been big on sexual stimulation through my breasts in my sexual experiences. So when I tell him I don’t want him touching there right now because I’m feeding our child from there, I’m not losing out sexually on anything. He might be but he’ll be aight.
It took a long time for my sex drive to come back. Maybe like 7-ish months. I just wasn’t feeling very sexual. I just didn’t care about it. I was focused on taking care of my child. For me—this does not happen for every woman—but for me, I don’t have a period now that I’m breastfeeding. But I’m still ovulating and I can still technically get pregnant. The chances are lower but you can. But you don’t know when you’re ovulating if you don’t have a period. Before, when I had a period, I knew when it was coming because I turned into a tiger. I would be like jumping my husband’s bones. I would be extra horny. But now, I don’t know.
I look at my breasts as a feeding vessel, not a sexual vessel. Do I want to look good in my clothes? Yes but I’m like nope Brume uses that for food.
I think my sexuality has been stagnant from my body changing as a whole. My stomach is different. My gut is just different. So I’m having sex with a sheet across my stomach even though my husband could care less.
Because the same hormone is released when you breastfeed and when you orgasm, soemtiems milk leaks out of your breast. Some women and men are aroused by that and be letting it slide down and their man licks it up. I’m not a part of that group so I wear a shirt or a bra. Because if I see milk, I can’t do it. Nope. Libido gone. I can’t even see my baby when I’m having sex. I can’t be facing her. For some people that doesn’t affect them. I think motherhood has affected my sexuality. You just look at your body because you’ve seen it in a different light. But it doesn’t make me want to stop breastfeeding because feeding her is more important than sex.