I’m not a mom, so I’ve never had to deal with a barrage of parenting advice. And because I know next to nothing about babies or children, I’ve never offered any myself. So I had no clue this was an annoying issue — until the moms in the comments section confirmed that yes, they could do without those well-meaning “you know, what you should do…" remarks from other mothers. If they need your help, these women said, they have no problem asking you.
Newly sensitive to all this, I had some trepidation writing about today’s topic. Gossip mag US Weekly recently claimed that Beyonce nursed her 7-week-old daughter while she was out for a casual lunch with her husband, Jay-Z, in New York City. Much like Beyonce’s pregnancy, which was treated like the Eighth Wonder of the World, “Beyonce Breastfeeds!!” has become a national news story, as if she’s doing something different than most of the billions of women since the beginning of time have done.
I’m not exaggerating: In a USA Today story, Beyonce was referred to as “a breastfeeding role model” and a “black lactivist’s dream” by Elita Kalma, a certified lactation consultant and blogger who promotes breastfeeding among black moms.
I was all prepared to write (another) column dissecting the way Beyonce gets alternately treated like the Second Coming and the Downfall of Civilization (depending on which way the wind blows), until I looked up the stats: Just 54 percent of African-American moms initiate breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control, compared with 73 percent of American moms in general. Of the American moms who do breastfeed, 70 percent don’t for the minimum six-month period recommended by APA. And this is despite doctors (and Michelle Obama too) singing the praises of breastfeeding, which reduces the risk that a child will develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and obesity later in life (and more).
The excuses women give for not breastfeeding vary — it can be painful, it’s a sacrifice (sagging boobs), it's nasty, or their partner is not supportive. Women also find challenges when they return to work, as many offices aren't accommodating for the private time in a comfortable space for women to pump. And breastfeeding isn't always convenient or socially sanctioned. Even stores that should be mom-friendly, like Target, have been protested with "nurse-ins," after a Houston-area woman was allegedly harassed at one of the chain's stores for breastfeeding her infant son there.
No one’s saying breastfeeding will be easy. But considering all its true benefits — and yes, at the risk of being one of those "annoying" advice-givers mentioned above — here's my take. If your baby is important, then it’s important that you, if you're able, offer her or him a running start in life by giving what’s best right from the start: your breast.
Did/do you breastfeed your son or daughter? Will you?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk