At Doula Canada we celebrate August as Human Lactation Month. A month of honouring and celebrating the many lactation weeks that happen throughout August. Including but not limited to World Breastfeeding Week 2023 is from Tuesday 1st August – Monday 7th August 2023. Indigenous Milk Medicine Week is held annually August 8-14. Black Breastfeeding Week runs August 25th – 31st. As we honour Human Milk pay attention to our blog and social media for more information and takeaways throughout the month.
Why We Need More Human Milk
I had a conversation with a new colleague with expertise in lactation support that blew my understanding of late-stage capitalist discourse on breast/chestfeeding wide open. She said that when we talk about the benefits of breastfeeding we construct formula as the baseline and feeding infants human milk as an added bonus. The construct should be to perceive human milk as a baseline and formula as an intervention that has risks and benefits and is to be used when feeding human milk is not an option.
Most of the clients I work with prenatally have a strong goal of feeding their baby their own milk exclusively for at least the first 6 months of life, and continue nursing after food introduction. Some have a goal of nursing for, up to two years. My clients understand that this goal tracks with evidence-based infant feeding recommendations. (The Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the World Health Organization) What they are often blindsided by is just how many obstacles exist to achieving that goal.
Talking about the joys and the barriers to feeding our babies our milk is vital during Human Lactation Month (commonly known as Breastfeeding Awareness Month). Many of the specific obstacles to meeting feeding goals that I have seen are rooted in silence that starts long before the pregnancy.
Many of us have never held a baby or seen someone nurse before we’re attempting to feed our firstborns for the first time. That’s not normal. It used to be that our efforts to initiate chest/breastfeeding came after a lifetime of watching other milk-producing members of our community do this important job. As a result, we have a lot of catching up to do while we are overwhelmed with getting to know our new babes.
There is also silence about our bodies. We encounter people who have never touched their breasts and are uncomfortable with learning hand expressions. There are those who have never heard of colostrum and are therefore susceptible to well-meaning advice from family or professionals that their supply is not enough and that they need to supplement with formula on day one or two.
And there is silence about the impact of intergenerational and individual trauma. There are Black folks who unexpectedly feel the humiliation of slave wet nurses rising inside them across time when they put their own newborns to the breast. There are Indigenous folks whose mothers have repeated to them what they heard from doctors in hospitals, away from their communities “formula is better than your breastmilk”.
The current evidence continues to be irrefutable that our milk is best for our babies. The probiotics in each person’s milk are custom designed for their baby, resulting in optimized digestive, immune, and cognitive functioning, and many other health indicators.
If milk from the biological parent is not an option, human milk from a donor is the next best thing. Of course, there are many obstacles to human milk sharing as well, with attempts to walk this road often leading right back to formula.
Over the course of this month we’ll be sharing some fun, interactive content in support and celebration of human milk. Stay tuned for a lactation recipe box, an infographic on milk sharing, and some fun facts and tips about getting those juices flowing. Wishing you a productive August!
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 expereince to provide support and reflection for her clients and her work. Keira is the owner of Awakened Changes Perinatal Doula Services.