Victoria Washington sometimes sees raised eyebrows when she breastfeeds her two and a half year old daughter. It is not unusual for her get side comments like: “Oh, you’re still nursing?” or “When are you going to stop?” – but that doesn’t stop her from doing what is best for her child. Washington is a first generation breastfeeding mother in the Detroit area, and while her family supports her choice to breastfeed her child, she’s also had to educate them along the way.
“The adjustments have come from being that I have two brothers. I’m very close with them. One of them I live with. My younger brother, I nurse in front of him – and we’re just kind of used to that. With my dad, I did recently have to have a conversation because we don’t live with our parents. We live in our own homes, so when you come visit my house, you might see my chest. Thankfully he was respectful of that.”
Educating families about breastfeeding has become a passion for Washington. She serves on the board of directors for Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) as a Mommy Ambassador At-Large. BMBFA is a nonprofit in Detroit, Michigan, that supports Black families by reducing racial disparities in breastfeeding. As a Mommy Ambassador, Washington talks with other mothers about toddler breastfeeding, answering their questions and sharing her experiences.
BMBFA has been there for Washington since the beginning. “Early on I began to have a little bit of trouble feeding my daughter. I just am like, ‘I’m about to find a solution. Like, I NEED to find a solution.’ At that time, a very economical solution because I quit my job after she was eight months old.” She Googled “free breastfeeding help” and one of the search results was BMBFA’s Peer Counseling Program. Through the Peer Counseling Program, a young mother visited Washington’s home every week to check on her and answer any questions she had. Once that program ended, Washington attended BMBFA’s Breastfeeding Clubs, began volunteering and is now certified as a doula. A doula is a trained professional who provides education and support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help improve infant and maternal outcomes.
Washington is quick to point out that breastfeeding isn’t always easy. She wants mothers to know that if they are having trouble, it is not their fault, sometimes there are medical reasons.“ It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you, so don’t feel this pressure. You are still a great mom and doing great things for your child, but just be flexible with the process.”
When her daughter was 18-months old, Washington thought all her breastfeeding challenges were behind her. When she experienced a clogged milk duct, she rose to the challenge knowing she had the BMBFA community and her own breastfeeding experience. “That was a challenge I had to overcome and that’s one thing I can share with other women. It’s like pregnancy – this whole notion of morning sickness is at the beginning is a lie – you can have morning sickness til the day you give birth. And so getting that clogged milk duct challenged me to say: okay, let me be conscious of what’s going on in my body and make adjustments accordingly.”
When Washington isn’t educating others on the benefits of breastfeeding, she’s fiercely dedicated to improving her life, her daughter’s life and her community. As the co-founder and chief operating officer of Detroit Dough, a startup edible cookie dough company in Detroit, Washington is learning how to be an entrepreneur. “I was going to be mom. And then next thing you know, I’m a co-founder and I’m on a crazy journey as an entrepreneur. I’m using my skill set in the capacity of running a company rather than working in corporate America.”