While there are some universal truths regarding breastfeeding, it's a relatively different experience for each and every woman. A mom's ethnicity and background can play a part in those differences, too, and understanding those variations is a key part of giving all women the nursing support they need. Latinas come from a wide variety of countries. We don’t all speak Spanish, we’re not all indigenous, or white, or black, but likely a mix. in other words, we're all unique. Still, there are some things you should know about Latinas who breastfeed.
As a Latina mom myself, I can say that my own experience with breastfeeding was a bit tumultuous. I knew, long before my son was born, that I wanted to breastfeed. Still, that want didn't keep my nursing journey from being nothing short of challenging. I had some support from my mother, and the lactation consultants that would drop by while I was with my son in the NICU, but that was it. My OB-GYN was anything but helpful. And for some reason, my mom friends didn’t really chat with me about breastfeeding.
As the result of a limited support system, I wound up weaning my son after just four months of breastfeeding, after the stress of pumping or feeding every two hours, and barely producing any milk, was slowly driving me batty. And it turns out, my experience is fairly typical to that of many other Latina moms. So with that in mind, and because every woman deserves to be supported while she feeds another human being with her body, here's what us Latina moms want everyone else to know about nursing:
We're Early Breastfeeding Rockstars
For real! Studies have shown that Latina moms have some of the highest rates of breastfeeding among anyone else. Science Daily reports that we often have a “strong family history” of breastfeeding in our families. This makes sense, since many of our own mothers and grandmothers hail from other countries, where breastfeeding supersedes formula and breastfeeding for longer than a year isn't uncommon.
We Don't Always Breastfeed In Public Without A Cover
I've spent my entire life surrounded by my Latinx community, and I have only seen one other person breastfeed in public without a cover. This isn’t to say my experience is the norm, though. Perhaps, in other areas and among other circles, there are tons of Latina moms who pull out a boob for their baby; no blushing, no problem, and no need to worry about the thoughts of others. All my friends who breastfeed always use a cover around me, though.
Maybe there’s something to be said about the idea that Latina mothers need to be "modest" when breastfeeding? I can’t be sure. But I know many older Latina mothers and grandmothers who shame younger women (usually white women) for being “disrespectful” when they feed publicly sans cover. Maybe that gets ingrained in us, too, though I know many of us are trying to push away from that line of thinking. A woman shouldn't be shamed for feeding her baby.
We Often Wean Our Babies Sooner
According to Latino Best Start, while we are always quick to start breastfeeding, Latina moms breastfeeding rates drop after three, and then six, months. Among the reasons why is a reported lack of support from medical providers and the easy availability of formula. I imagine there are even more reasons at play, though.
For example, Latinx women earn less money than other women, meaning perhaps we are all more apt to return to work sooner (and breastfeeding while on the job can be incredibly difficult for many women, especially those part of the working class). If you’re a care provider, make sure Latinx moms feel supported. If you’re an employer, please pay us what we’re actually worth.
We’re More Likely To Listen To Breastfeeding Advice From Our Moms Or Abuelas
According to the Journal of the North Carolina Sociological Association, Hispanic moms tend to rely more on advice from our own families regarding breastfeeding, than anyone else. What does this mean, exactly? Well, if you’re an abuela (grandmother) and want to help your daughter breastfeed successfully, you need to do your part to help her out. She’s more likely to listen to you.
Latinas On The East Coast Breastfeed More Than Those On The West Coast
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Latinas on the east side of the country breastfeed at higher rates than their western counterparts. The reason? Latinx individuals living on the West Coast have assimilated more and, as a result, are more open to using formula. Hospital practices or state laws regarding breastfeeding at work are also to blame for one side of the country being more "breastfeeding friendly" than the other.
Our Nationalities Can Impact Our Breastfeeding Rates
Latinxs are an incredibly diverse group of people. We encompass people who come from countries across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. We hail from countries where people speak Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese. There are white Latinxs, Black Latinxs, mixed Latinxs.
So it’s not surprising that even our nationalities come into play when it comes to figuring out how much we breastfeed. Latino Best Start found that Latinas from South America initiate breastfeeding the most (at 90 percent), while Puerto Rican moms only do so at a rate of 71 percent. And while Mexican American moms exclusively breastfeed to six months the longest (at a rate of 17.6 percent), Caribbean Latinas wean the fastest (with only 14 percent still exclusively breastfeeding at six months).
Breastfeeding Can Help Us Live Longer
As Latinas, we (and our kiddos) have a higher probability of developing Type 2 diabetes and end-stage renal disease later in life. However, Latino Best Start says that breastfeeding can help reduce these odds. So basically, breastfeeding can help many of us live longer, healthier lives. Statistically speaking.
We’re Just Doing Our Best, Like Anyone Else
Latina moms aren’t all that different from other moms. In fact, it’s difficult to claim we're all similar to one another because, again, we come from such a wide variety of places. So it shouldn't be surprising, but we're just as diverse and unique as any other human being. Many of us love breastfeeding. Many of us find it challenging. Many of us don't like it at all. At the end of the day, we’re all looking to do our best, which really just falls into what we all know: no matter how you do it, fed is best.
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