Breastfeeding While Hair Braiding: An Undocumented Cultural Practice?
Black Breastfeeding Week has officially commenced, and as a Black mama who breastfeeds, I've been reflecting on my own personal breastfeeding journey with my now 15-month old daughter. Specifically, I have wondered the following: do other breastfeeding mothers use a nursing session as an opportunity to fit in some much needed hair care? I know I do. My daughter will hide from me when I so much as make eye contact with her while holding a comb, brush, bottle of castor oil, a hair bow, a head wrap or anything else that she believes has the potential to make contact with her hair. As a result, I've taken to using her nursing sessions as prime opportunities to oil her scalp, braid, or twist her tresses. This is the only way she'll sit still for this.
While I perform this ritual of sorts, I think about other mamas, Black ones, in particular who I'm about 90% certain are engaging in the same or a similar practice to meet the very specific hair care needs of our Black children. A daily brushing doesn't exactly suffice for our babies' thicker kinks, coils, and curls. We've got to apply natural butters and oils, while hooking them up with beautiful cornrows, twists, locs, and bantu knots (how I'm styling baby Z's hair in the photo above) to both lock in moisture and for style.
My sense is that if Black women are not still partaking in this dual breastfeeding/hair care practice, then somewhere down the line they may very well have been. It just wasn't talked about. At least that's my hypothesis. I say this because historically, breastfeeding among Black women in places all around the globe went from being one of the most instinctive and natural practices between a mother and her baby to one associated with poverty and even a lack of education once formula was introduced. As a result, the practice of breastfeeding became something that more and more Black women and their families either tried to conceal or discourage altogether.
The oral historian in me urges Black and Brown mamas to reclaim our breastfeeding herstories. So, tell me: Is there a link between breastfeeding and caring for your Black baby's hair? Know of any stories passed down to you from older relatives where the link between breastfeeding and haircare was clear? Please either share them in the Comments box or send me an email with your story to email@example.com.
Happy Black Breastfeeding Week, Y'all!
Love + Light,
Nicole is a Bronx-based mother of two. She is a newly certified 200-hour Yoga Instructor, a birth and postpartum doula, an oral historian, and educator. She currently consults for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.