Food connects people, and can significantly impact the physical, social and emotional development of young children, families,  and carers.

Dropping off a meal of nourishing food that gets the juices flowing is a time-honoured tradition of postpartum community care across the world. My queer, BIPOC community here in Toronto created a meal train for our household for the weeks after our son was born. This community care was invaluable for keeping me well-nourished and rested as I adjusted to the demands of breastfeeding a newborn and recovered. However, this seems to have become less and less common in a society that is individualist and concerned with keeping up appearances. In postpartum, birthers experience major changes in their lives; they are forced to deal with new internal and external demands for attention and care for themselves and the baby, leaving them less likely to feed themselves nourishing foods. A nursing parent generally needs more calories to meet their nutritional needs while feeding. An additional 330 to 400 kilocalories (kcal) per day is recommended for well-nourished lactating parents.

We also need to talk about how hard it is for families to stay fed right now. As we head into Black Lactation Week it is important to acknowledge that Black families are more likely to live in food deserts and face economic disparities that make poor nutrition more likely. We are all dealing with jaw-dropping prices at the grocery store.

With the pressures of significant life changes and the demands of lactation, we need to make things easier for new parents.

At postpartum visits, I often find myself advising clients to watch their babies, not the clock. I have seen more than one baby in danger of being underfed because tired, overwhelmed new parents have been told that newborns need to eat every two to three hours. Sadly, sometimes this mathematical advice mixes with our cultural obsession with thinness and leaves some parents concerned that listening to their baby’s hunger cues will lead to obesity.

I explain that babies do not know how we keep track of time, nor what books and doctors have said about them. But they are tiny experts about what they need to survive. By responding to the needs they convey we support secure attachment and healthy eating habits. We spend some time watching the baby together as I explain what the baby is telling us with their looks, faces, and body language.

In addition to accurate, constructive information, parents need choices and resources to make long-term human milk feeding possible. I encourage expectant parents to make a postpartum plan in addition to their birth plan. During postpartum planning, we talk about how the baby AND the parents are going to stay fed.

In addition to accurate, constructive information, parents need choices and resources to make long-term human milk feeding possible. I encourage expectant parents to make a postpartum plan in addition to their birth plan. During postpartum planning, we talk about how the baby AND the parents are going to stay fed.

It is also far too hard and stigmatized to access donated human milk when parents are not able to meet their child’s human milk needs on their own. Last year, a social media influencer went viral for nursing a friend’s baby. She had a baby around the same age and while caring for both kids, naturally put her close friend’s baby to the breast. The comment section exploded with people who found this caring act shocking and disgusting.

We have truly gotten quite confused about priorities in communities when feeding a hungry human baby human milk is seen as abnormal. Communities of women and birthers have always raised children collectively, including sharing food and the work of feeding. Colonialism and its legacy have distorted this practice by creating a reality for several centuries wherein affluent white people had the power to force Black people to feed their babies because they were above doing it themselves. By normalizing sharing our milk by choice we take an important step toward healing this intergenerational trauma.

We have created two downloadable resources to support sharing the care work of feeding in our communities. 

  • We offer the Lactation Recipe Box with a selection of six, nutritious recipes including ingredients that gently promote milk production
  • We also offer this infographic on milk sharing which provides an overview of the benefits and risks of milk sharing, with tips on how to do it safely.

We hope these resources are of benefit to birthers and babies in your communities!

Keira Grant (she/her) brings a wealth of experience to her EDI Co-Lead role. She is a Queer, Black woman with a twenty-year track record in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) education, projects, and community-building initiatives. As a mom and partner, she uses her lived experience to provide support and reflection for her clients and her work. Keira is the owner of Awakened Changes Perinatal Doula Services.

Showing 2 comments
  • Neomi Gruntman

    Wonderful post Keira, thank you. Regarding the cultural obsession with thinness, my babies grew very chubby on my milk, and some uninformed relatives expressed worries that I might turn them into obese kids if I’ll keep feeding on demand. Fortunately, my pediatrician told me that it is impossible to overfeed a baby on human milk.
    The reactions to the women who nursed her friend’s baby are very unfortunate, people can be really narrow minded. In many countries the situation is even worse, as you’ll face very negative reactions for nursing your baby in public. Just one example, I was called out when breatfeeding my 6 month old on a trans Atlantic flight, discreetly in my seat. The flight attendant claimed that it might offend the sensitivities of other passengers, as they might find it disgusting or immodest to see a nursing infant. Never used that airline again.

    • Keira Grant

      Thanks Neomi! Appalling behaviour on that flight. We are very fortunate here in Canada that we have a legal right to feed our babies in public. However, many people do not know this and there were definitely times when I was asked to go somewhere “more discreet” for “my own comfort”. Fortunately, I knew my rights and was able to advocate for myself. It should never be an issue though. Feeding a baby is the most natural thing in the world.

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