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As I travel the country as a breastfeeding advocate, I am rarely shocked by the comments I receive or the misconceptions people share. Except for the time a Black woman asked me to stop talking about that “slavery sh*t.”

The “slavery sh*t” she was referring to was likely the sad fact that many African Americans still negatively associate breastfeeding with our historical role as ‘wet nurses’ during slavery. It is true that slave owners used and purchased Black women as wet nurses for their children, often forcing these mothers to stop nursing their own infants to care for others.

It is also true that because of this historical fact, Black women had a stunted and complex mothering experience.

“On the one hand, wet nursing claimed the benefits of breastfeeding for the offspring of white masters while denying or limiting those health advantages to slave infants. On the other hand, wet nursing required slave mothers to transfer to white offspring the nurturing and affection they should have been able to allocate to their own children,” writes historian Wilma A. Dunaway, in the book The African American Family in Slavery and Emancipation, published by Cambridge University Press. And since breastfeeding reduces fertility, slave owners forced Black women to stop breastfeeding early so that they could continue breeding, often to health detriment of their infants, Dunaway writes.

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