Umkhonto we Sizwe! (Spear of the Nation)
Independent Afrikan centered parenting and education

“Massah are we sick?”

Can someone tell “me” why am i taking care of my enemies children, when my children are home ALONE? Why am i nestling my enemies children when i have not provided protection and security for my OWN children who live in my OWN home? Can someone please tell me WHY??!! “Massah are we sick?”…Again?

Yaya Kentake.

When it comes to breastfeeding, black mothers have somehow lost their way. For over 30 years, Afrikan women in America have had the lowest breastfeeding rates, and though the numbers have greatly increased in recent years, black moms still have the lowest rates of all other women. And when it comes to the gold standard of infant nutrition — six months of exclusive breastfeeding — among Afrikan women in America, the rate is only 20% compared to 40% among whites. At a time when black infant mortality rates continue to climb to woefully high levels, momlogic and take a deeper look at why more black mothers aren’t breastfeeding, and urge moms to give their infants the healthiest start.

Slave Owners Purchased Us As Wet Nurses

To get to the bottom of this breastfeeding business, it’s important to go back. Waaay back. A long time ago, black women were notorious for nursing. In fact, slave owners used and purchased black women as wet nurses for their own children, often forcing these mothers to stop nursing their own infants to care for others. “On the one hand, wet nursing claimed the benefits of breastfeeding for the offspring of white masters while denying or limiting those health advantages to slave infants. On the other hand, wet nursing required slave mothers to transfer to white offspring the nurturing and affection they should have been able to allocate to their own children,” writes historian Wilma A. Dunaway, in the book The African-american Family in Slavery and Emancipation, published by Cambridge University Press. And since breastfeeding reduces fertility, slave owners forced black women to stop breastfeeding early so that they could continue breeding, often to the health detriment of their infants, Dunaway writes.

wet nursing and slavery

Breastfeeding is for Poor People

But there’s more to our story than breastfeeding interrupted at the hands of slave owners hundreds of years ago — though many may argue that some vestiges of slavery still exist in the mindset of the black community. Aggressive marketing by the formula companies in the 1930s and 40s made formula-feeding the choice of the elite — “the substance for sophisticates” — white or black. And who doesn’t want to be like the rich and famous? That marketing continues to this day, down to the formula company-sponsored bag of goodies you probably received on the way out of the hospital. Then there’s something I call the National Geographic factor — that is, most of the images we see of black women breastfeeding are semi-naked women in Africa whose lives seem so far away from the African-American lifestyle and experience.

“‘Breastfeeding is for poor people,’ my mom once said to me,” explains Nicole, a 37-year-old mom from New Jersey, who breastfed two children for a year. “My mom is a very progressive woman, but this was the thinking of her generation. I couldn’t believe it.”

Breastfeeding Hurts and Takes Too Long

As children of that generation, many modern mothers don’t have that breastfeeding legacy or support from their mothers, mothers-in-law, or extended family members. And due to the oversexualization of the breasts, some women have forgotten or are even uncomfortable with using the breast for its actual intended purpose. Go figure! Others worry that their man will complain (please tell him baby comes first). Myths such as “breastfeeding hurts” (truth: only if the baby is not latched properly) or “breastfeeding is too time-consuming” (truth: whipping out a breast is a lot quicker than sterilizing bottles, mixing, measuring, or heating up formula) still linger among black mothers.

Throw in the economic pressures that put many black women back at work soon after delivery, and there’s a “why bother” mentality that makes breastfeeding seem more like a challenge and a chore. The results speak for themselves. According to national data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 45% of African-American women breastfed their babies during the early postpartum period, compared to 66% of Hispanic mothers and 68% of white mothers who breastfed during that same period. Of African women in America who do choose to breastfeed, the duration is short, with many discontinuing in the first days after birth, their data shows.

“Before I nursed my son and daughter, none of the women in my family had ever breastfed before,” says Kathi Barber, founder of the African-American Breastfeeding Alliance and author of The Black Woman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. “But I decided change would start with me when I learned breastfeeding has health benefits for mothers and babies alike.”

We Owe It To Ourselves and Our Babies

And while modern white mothers have reclaimed breastfeeding as hip and trendy, with help from outspoken and high-profile celebrity moms like Angelina Jolie, black celebrity mothers are still mostly mum on the topic. As a new generation of confident, empowered black mothers, we owe it to ourselves and our babies to give them breast milk — the very best. According to the CDC, black babies are twice as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday. A 2001 study in Pediatrics concluded that an increase in Afrikan american breastfeeding rates alone could reduce this disparity. To do so, every black mother needs to become our own celebrity spokesperson (hey, we’re beautiful with full lips!) to speak out and speak up to encourage and support breastfeeding in our own sister circles. It begins with YOU, My Sista.

For more information, support and resources on breastfeeding for Afrikan women in the diaspora please visit You can also find them on facebook as well.

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2 Responses to ““Massah are we sick?””

  1. I agree that breastfeeding is the best choice a mother can make for her child God made us equiped with everything that we need to nuture a nation of Afrikan Gods and Goddess. I breast fed all four of my children until they where 14 months old. The importance of a proper diet has to be maintained during this very important stage of life. We have to reconnect ourselves with the creator and do what comes to us naturally and not ignore the natural innate voice inside us all, that voice is the voice of our ancestors leading to true divinity. We can not sit back and let the invaders continue to take our power. One love, Peace

    • Asante sana for your contribution, sista Robyn. Breastfeeding is a blessing and a joy for an Afrikan woman to experience. I also breastfed my only child, for approx. 30 months. This divine gift is a blessing from Onyame (the Creator), but our enemies have done their very best to rob us of our birthright. We have been disconnected from the understanding of our true purpose here as the First Mothers of this world. It is so important for Afrikan women to create their own breastfeeding support groups (that should exclude ALL women who are non-Afrikans) that will address the specific psychological and mental trauma that we have inherited from our foremothers who were robbed of the right to BE the Afrikan women they were meant to BE.

      The reasoning behind why an Afrikan mother would refuse to breastfeed her child is directly connected to our Maafa experience. Our children suffer because of our reluctance to heal ourselves. I feel that the only way to address this issue is to address the source of the problem; which is the psychological, spiritual and physical torture of the Afrikan womans’ mind, body and spirit by our enemies. There is a great power in taking back from our enemies what they took from us and reclaiming our right to BE the Afrikan women healers that we have ALWAYS been. Yenge ye zola (Peace & Love), my sista.


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