90% Determination, 10% Milk Production: My Breastfeeding Journey
Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
Words - Felicia Parker-Cox
Illustration - Singha Hon
In 2002, I was pregnant with my first child and filled with excitement and anticipation of his impending arrival. I wanted to learn everything. My husband and I took all the Lamaze classes the practice had to offer. What I most looked forward to after delivering my baby was the bonding they told us would occur during breastfeeding. Our coach recited a quote that I’ll never forget. She told the class, “Breastfeeding is 90% determination and 10% milk production.” It was then that I made up my mind: my baby and I would have this special bonding time and he’d be healthier because of my determination to breastfeed.
After being a week overdue, being induced, and laboring for nearly 20 hours, our son had arrived! When we were settled into our room and he was nicely swathed, I asked the nurse if I could try to breastfeed. She helped me get into the correct position, holding him like a football and placing my nipple near his mouth for him to latch.
He didn’t latch. In fact, he screamed at me and flailed his hands and squirmed to get away!
In the months after, he never really latched. Something that was supposed to be a simple bond was a struggle for both of us. I got to a point where I gave up and bought a breast pump; he didn’t need to latch to benefit from my healthy milk, I thought. As I tried daily to pump milk for my new baby, I was faced with a new frustrating reality: I didn’t produce enough. I was sore, tender, tired, rejected, and felt like a huge failure. I was determined, but my milk production wasn’t.
I gradually got over my internal sense of failure. I knew I was making sure that my son was nourished so he could grow, and we were still bonding during cuddles and late-night feedings. What I was not prepared for was the judgement from family, friends, strangers and everyone with an opinion.
When our mothers and elders in our family found out we were using formula for our 2-month-old, they said I wasn’t trying hard enough. No matter how I tried to explain, no excuse was good enough for them.
And then there were the pediatrician visits! I had to listen about how breastmilk is so important for the baby.
I tried to explain to the doctors why I needed to explore formula as an alternative. Everyone focused on my perceived lack of determination and no one talked about my poor milk production, so I assumed that was my fault as well. My mind and my body were both failing me miserably.
I had my second child 5 years later and used formula almost immediately after her birth. I carried less shame with me the second time around.
Today, both of my children are healthy, and active, and smart.
What I know now is that every body is different. I applaud moms who can breastfeed for months, knowing that it can be really challenging for them as well. I also understand and relate to moms who must make the decision to use formula for their babies.
As a mom, I now understand that true determination is ensuring the needs of your baby are met at all costs.