This story is part two of a Black breastfeeding series that highlights real-life stories of Black mothers and lactation specialists navigating disparities and creating solutions in today’s maternal health climate.
Long before giving birth to her first child at home, Quonnetta Johnson knew she wanted to breastfeed. For the 23-year-old mom, the health and financial benefits made nursing her number one option.
“Since I found out I was pregnant, I just began to do a bunch of research and joined different Facebook groups, like Black breastfeeding groups…to learn more information about it,” says Johnson, a stay-at-home mom based in North Carolina.
During her research, she realized that breastfeeding meant she wouldn’t have to pay for infant formula — which can cost hundreds of dollars each month.
It can also become inaccessible during recalls, like the recent shortage that caused families to scramble for resources as 43% of the nation’s formula disappeared from store shelves.
The shortage was initially caused by a product recall in February at an Abbott Nutrition facility in Michigan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closed the facility temporarily after discovering that contaminated products may have contributed to the death of two infants.
Around that time, Johnson had already begun nursing her newborn son, who was 7-months-old when it happened.
She had a homebirth in Hawaii with the support of one Black midwife and two Black doulas.
“I knew that I wanted to do a home birth, but I also wanted to feel comfortable with the people I was doing it with. But the fact that I was able to find people that look like me to take care of me while giving birth, it was just an amazing feeling,” she says.
Black midwives have historically served as pillars in America’s birth work community but were pushed out of the profession in the mid-1900s as birth became medicalized and midwives were required to have a license.
Today, Black midwives account for 6.85% of certified nurse midwives nationwide; not including certified professional midwives.
Johnson’s all-Black birth team became a resource for her, motivating her to embrace her breastfeeding journey.
“Since I was pregnant, I explained to them that I wanted to breastfeed and they would help me out with different information and basically encouraging me to do it,” Johnson says.
She recalls the first latch after birthing her son as “amazing.”
“I finally got him out and immediately, like once he came out, they put him on my chest, and he naturally sniffed and looked for my boob and he just latched and I just started crying,” she says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding can lower a baby’s chances of developing asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant syndrome.
It also benefits the mother by lowering her risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and postpartum depression — illnesses that disproportionately impact Black women.
Johnson was attracted to breastfeeding because of its health prevention powers, but also the bond it creates between mother and child.
Research suggests that breastfeeding increases emotional activity between moms and babies. Data shows mothers who breastfeed tend to touch their infants more often, spend more time eye gazing with their babies during breastfeeding than bottle-feeding, and involve emotional brain activity more often.
“We have grown closer since starting,” Johnson says. “…It’s definitely an emotional feeling. Sometimes I can just feed him and I’m thinking about how he was just small and that he’s going to grow up and then I won’t be doing this anymore.”
Johnson has been nursing her son for 13 months and counting — and says she’s one of the first in her family to “do it and stick with it.”
“While I’m doing it, I like to think that this won’t last forever. So I’m cherishing all these moments.”