Black Breastfeeding in Philadelphia, a Q&A

In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week, breastfeeding advocate Faith Peterson asks Rudina Jackson, a certified lactation consultant and doula, to share her own experience with breastfeeding.

FP: What has been your experience with breastfeeding? 

RJ: My experience with breastfeeding has been an adventure. I have overcome a lot of nursing difficulties. I have three children, a 4-year-old and 1-year-old twins, all boys. I am breastfeeding all three children.

I practice natural child weaning. When my children are ready to wean, they will. The 4-year-old goes days without wanting to nurse but is still not ready to completely stop, and that is okay. I enjoy breastfeeding, but it is not always enjoyable. But in times of aversion, I remind myself they will only need milk for a short while, and one day they won’t need it at all.

FP: Why was it important for you to breastfeed?

RJ: It is important to me to breastfeed because this is natural and what is healthiest for my children. Breastmilk saves lives and the infant mortality rate in our community is at an all-time high. It is important to me because I want to raise sons who support women and encourage them to breastfeed their own children and to show them there is nothing shameful or nasty about breastfeeding.

FP: What are some of the structural and interpersonal supports that you have in place that make you feel supported?

RJ: My sisters both breastfed until 3.5 years old. They made that decision to breastfeed even though they were never really exposed to breastfeeding. I have always had the support of my sisters and my mother. (I was the only child of my siblings who she breastfed).

My partner has always supported breastfeeding our children, and that’s important to have your spouse support your breastfeeding journey and defend you to those who have never breastfed or are uneducated on breastfeeding . Also, when my oldest was 10 months, a friend added me to an online breastfeeding group, Breastfeeding Support Group for Black Moms. Through this group, I learn so much about breastfeeding and pumping. The group had about 3,000 members at the time, and now it’s over 52,000 members of black women supporting one another in their nursing journey. Also, through this journey, I have become a Lactation Consultant (CLC) and Community Birth Doula and have met many women like Jabina Coleman and Ileana Berrios who are IBCLCs in Philadelphia serving to support and encourage Black and Latina women in breastfeeding.

I want to raise sons who support women and encourage them to breastfeed ... and to show them there is nothing shameful or nasty about breastfeeding. ~ Rudina Jackson #BBW18 Click To Tweet

FP: What are the situations, structures, and resources that make you NOT feel supported?

RJ: Honestly, nothing can make me not feel supported. I had some doubts nursing my oldest in public but those quickly vanished when I realized I would rather argue with a stranger than starve my baby. I went into nursing my twins with the idea that breastfeeding is the only way. Although I struggled in the beginning with latching and not pumping, I was encouraged by my Doula Mia that things would get better and they did.

FP: Were there any times you felt that your current community does not have what you need or needed to make breastfeeding a better experience?

RJ: I do believe that my community lacks education on breastfeeding. This is why I strive to educate women in my community with facts and wisdom on breast milk, so they do not unintentionally hinder their own or another woman’s breastfeeding relationship with incorrect information. Being a mother of twins, I did have a hard time finding other women of color in my direct community that strictly breastfed twins.

FP: Is there anything else you would like to say to encourage a mom who is struggling with breastfeeding?

RJ: You are enough. It’s okay to get frustrated. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but never quit on your worst day.

You are enough. It’s okay to get frustrated. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, but never quit on your worst day. ~ Rudina Jackson, CLC, Doula and Breastfeeding Mom #BBW18 Click To Tweet

Faith Peterson, M.D. is the founder of the Philadelphia Birth Equity Project and a leader in HealthConnect One’s Birth Equity Leadership Academy (BELA).