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Mama, looking after you IS looking after baby

Updated: Aug 30, 2021


The theme for Black Breastfeeding Week 2021 is The Big Pause: Collective Rest for Collective Power.

Not many would argue against the fact that all mothers need more rest than they’re probably getting, so why highlight this need for Black breastfeeding mamas?

You only have to have scanned through any news channel, picked up any newspaper or scrolled through any form of social media to be aware of the Black Lives Matter movement.

However you feel about it, it is difficult to deny that seeing and hearing of the mass slaughter of innocent people because of the colour of their skin - skin that is the same colour as yours, your son’s, your husband’s and your family’s must take its toll.

I am not particularly active in the BLM movement - but the weight of knowing that the people I love could be murdered in cold blood by the very people who are supposed to protect us makes my stomach lurch.

The headlines of 2020 had me wondering whether the sleepy town where we live is in fact the best place to raise my then tiny babe. Right now my son gets comments about how cute his Afro is - but will our neighbours comments still be as seemingly harmless when he is 17 & dating their grandchild?

This is not a concern that any mother should have, but it is one that as a black mother, I do.

It’s not just the political landscape that has been draining over the past year. We’ve all been hit by a devastating pandemic, disproportionately so in BME communities. I personally know of at least 10 black friends or family members who have lost their lives.

I would not wish that amount of loss on anyone, but the statistics suggest that the same loss has not been felt by all communities in the UK. It’s been intense. Amidst the unique situations which the past 12 months has presented, much has been said about our collective mental health.

Do you know what is often missed, though?

How, come what may, black women feel the added burden of being ‘Strong Black Women’ who can bear any cross with relative ease, because they have to.

This relic of slavery is bullshit and yet it is enduring.

You see it in the media, in the films that we watch and to some extent, we even perpetuate it ourselves. Not out of malice, but out of the desire to see one another survive.

My grandmother came to the UK from Jamaica in the sixties and listening to her recollections of the time, it’s no wonder that she still insists that we should all ‘be strong’ no matter what life throws at us.

The generational ghosts of past trauma live on through me today.

They’re a massive part of the reason why I find it so difficult to relax and not work constantly and why I feel the need to present myself immaculately whenever I am in public. Sixty years ago, my nan and grandad were shunned by landlords and later mortgage providers because of misconceptions about their hair or clothes or shoes. They had to go above and beyond simply to be perceived as anything close to decent human beings. Is it any wonder that I still feel the need to be well-presented at all times?

Even after a sleepless night of nursing a colicky newborn or a teething toddler, as a black breastfeeding mother, I carry this belief borne of trauma - presentation matters.

Black mothers must spend energy dealing with a system that at every level puts their health and well-being at risk.

Since hearing the statistic that black mothers in the UK are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, I have often wondered if my experience would have been any different if I had been white.

I laboured with my son for 78 hours, developing sepsis before I was offered an emergency C-Section.

I clearly remember the feeling my pain was being underestimated despite what I was articulating. After about eight hours of labour. I had a contraction and the midwife felt my stomach, and only then agreed "Oh yes, they are quite strong, aren’t they?”

We already know that black pain is not taken seriously - studies have found that medical students and professionals believe that people of colour have a higher pain threshold.

Even our babies must endure the challenges of medical bias or miseducation around skin colour.

At his 6 week check up, the GP at our local practice (in rural Oxfordshire), referred us to a specialist because the ‘red reflex’ at the back of my son’s eyes was not very bright. After spending a torturous day at the hospital where my son had burning eyes drops out into his eyes and was poked and prodded by a number of specialists, we were told that there were no issues at all with his ‘red reflex’, and that it was typically less bright in babies with darker coloured skin.

Whilst I appreciate the sentiment behind our GP being cautious, I was equally livid that my boy had been subjected to a host of completely unnecessary, invasive checks all because of the ignorance of our local doctor. I’ll never forget his screams as he was pinned down and had his eye lids held open by what looked like a device of medieval torture…all completely unnecessarily.

All due to the colour of his skin.

These battles are fought on top of the challenges motherhood already presents. It is exhausting.

There is no doubt then that the theme of Black Breastfeeding Week 2021 is an apt one


How can nursing mothers practically participate in this collective rest? Here are a few ideas to help you to pause & regain your power this week:

YOU TIME: Arrange for childcare at a time when you can do something, anything that is just for you. Perhaps you will get outdoors somewhere green or spend some time pampering yourself - whatever you do, let it be as indulgent as possible. Do not use this time to do housework!

BREATHE: If you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed try 478 breathing. This simply technique activates your parasympathetic nervous system, signaling to your brain that it’s time to relax. To practice it, inhale for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7 & exhale for the count of 8. Allow your whole body to soften as you breathe out.

GIRL, PUT YOUR RECORDS ON!: When was the last time that you listened to your favourite album instead of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?”. Listening to music that you love is clinically proven to have a wide range of benefits including reducing blood pressure and boosting sleep quality, mood & alertness - all essential for nursing mamas! So put your headphones in or get the radio on and enjoy losing yourself in the music.

However you recharge this week, let it be the start of a new and wonderful habit whereby you make time for yourself as a matter of course in the knowledge that you are worth every minute.

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