breastfeeding history, commentary

Finally Found the Slave Breastfeeding Poem

After much searching and re-reading, I finally found this poignant poem about breastfeeding and slave women I mentioned yesterday. It was written by William Wells Brown, an American writer who is considered to be the first African-American to publish a novel. He was also the first to have a play and a travel book published (

The morn was chill — I spoke no word,
–But feared my babe might die,
And heard all day, or thought I heard,
— My little baby cry.

At noon, oh, how I ran and took
–My baby to my breast!
I lingered — and the long lash broke
–My sleeping infant’s rest.

Excerpted from Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz (page 224).

There has been much debate over whether black women can afford to breastfeed in social terms, and whether or not it’s an important issue for black women throughout this country period. I contend, however, that breastfeeding is indeed an issue that all black mothers should at least mull over. In my opinion, despite the plight black women have to face in this country, there’s no reason that we should allow our history to continue to keep us from nursing our infants, especially when our foremothers wanted so desperately to do so.

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