Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Magical Milk Pic-o-the-Week




"Reading about dismal African American breastfeeding rates made me wonder how these traditions and choices were passed down from mother to mother. I stumbled across an image of a slave wet nurse from early America. She is pictured nursing a white child. In my imaginings I could see a woman experiencing this might build a resentment and reject the act of nursing altogether, in order to reject her captors once she was free. I imagined those attitudes being passed down from generation to generation."

(photo by Rachel Valley)

6 comments:

tikesbestfriend said...

I had a professor in seminary that was a missionary in Africa for years. His family practically grew up there. Anyway, his wife tells of some of the difficulties they had after childbirth in the hospital.

Please understand, this family is anti-business on almost every front, but I think there is truth to their words regardless of bias...

The nurses wouldn't wake her to breastfeed her baby at night. They were convinced (by the baby formula companies, so she said) that giving the baby formula was better than breastfeeding. When the nurses refused to wake her, she got her husband to bring in an alarm clock so that she could wake herself up and feed her child.

Tim

(fyi- we've nothing against breastfeeding or formula feeding. We've formula fed both of our babies.)

The Hills said...

That's a fascinating idea I've never thought of before. I'm a Lactation Consultant who spent a lot of years working for WIC. While I came across women of all races and backgrounds who were resistant to nursing, it did seem common (in my area) to have a young African American girl in my office who wanted to give breastfeeding a try while her mother or grandmother was sitting next to her saying, "absolutely not". I'm going to have to mull this over and rethink my way of approaching these women. It seems quite possible this resistance goes back a lot further than I thought.

the wrath of khandrea said...

i find the dischotomy in this history literally overwhelming here. during times of slavery, blacks weren't even considered full people. they were rejected on every level. and yet whites took something as life-sustaining and intimate as breastfeeding, and charged it to their black slaves?

an interesting perspective in this post. nursing happens or doesn't happen due HUGELY in part to cultural expectations. i'm curious to know if those expectations are as deeply rooted as this theory implies.

Ranger said...

I'm the descendant of a black woman who became part of a white family in rural England about five or six generations back. We know very little about her except that she was loved, my mother remembers as a little girl hearing elderly members of the family talking about her and being shown a picture of her. Her six children are in photographs with the children from her husband's first marriage who she seems to have stepped in and raised. The traces of her inheritance are still present in the newest generations of our family. We've searched the archives to look for her name, so far without success. We would love to know who she was, and what her family history was, she must have been one tough lady.

Sorry, irrelevant I know, but the post made me think of her.

hilthethrill said...

I recently have read articles about African Americans and breastfeeding rates. I wonder if a contributing factor is that so few women of color have the opportunity to stay home with their children. Going to work and using childcare makes nursing happen in the lady's room with a breastpump, and doesn't give the same "warm fuzzy" feeling.

M said...

As much as I think it has to do with rejecting the horrors of wet nursing, I do think it has a more to do with African American women not being able to be present with their newborns- in slavery they would have had to pass them off to younger girls or older women, or have them sold. Mixtures of whatever food sources were probably made to sustain the infant or wet nurses were used for them as well. As history progressed black women have had to been in the workforce much more then women of of other races, so pumping would be the nearest possibility and that would be only if a pump was affordable. Also, even middle class working black women may be reluctant to breast feed since being competitive in the workforce is doubly important. If company polices are not conducive to long maternity leaves, or other parental leave they may not want to rock the boat by demanding leave due to the racism and sexism they already are experiencing.