Healthy Navajo K'é

Breastfeeding/Indigenous Milk Experience

October 19, 2021 Diné College and Northern Arizona University Season 1 Episode 2
Healthy Navajo K'é
Breastfeeding/Indigenous Milk Experience
Show Notes Transcript

In order to promote and support the wellbeing of lactating and breastfeeding mothers across the Navajo Nation, hosts Amber-Rose, Chassity, and Shermaine discuss these experiences along with special guest Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk. Jasha is the founder of Indigenous Milk Medicine Week and Co-founder of Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective. In this episode, we discuss the challenges, benefits, and resources that support the Indigenous milk experience. 

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This podcast was sponsored by the Arizona Department of Health Services through federal funding from the Health Resources & Services Administration, with support from the Navajo Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) Partnership between Diné College and Northern Arizona University through federal funding from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, award number S06GM142121. The views expressed are the sole responsibility of the program staff and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arizona Department of Health Services or the United States Government.

Amber-Rose | Yes, a welcome to the Maternal and Child Health Podcast, where we discuss maternal and child health topics and provide strategies for improving the health of Navajo families.  

Amber-Rose | Thank you for joining us today to learn more about maternal and child health on the Navajo Nation. Today I, along with my guest co-host Chastity Begay, will be discussing the topic of breastfeeding chastity. Would you like to introduce yourself?  

Chassity | Of course. Shi ei Chassity Begay yinishye. Ma’ii Deeshgiizhnii nishli. Totsohnii bashichiin. Kinyaa’aanii dashichei. Todich’ii’nii dashinali.  I’m originally from Whipple Well, AZ, but was raised in Farmington, NM. And I currently reside in Flagstaff, AZ. I am a second year Master of Public Health student in the Indigenous Health Track program at Northern Arizona University. I am glad to be a guest co-host today. So, Amber-Rose, if you don’t mind, could you share with us why you decided to breastfeed?

Amber-Rose | Sure. I think it was all the benefits of breast milk that got me, and fortunately I was able to nurse both of my children with my first baby I went into it not thinking it would be too challenging, but it was. I'm thankful I received a lot of health education from the lactation nurse at Northern Navajo Medical Center here in Shiprock. Once my baby was born. I learned about how to hold my baby to feed, such as in the cradle and football positions, which are my favorite and what a good latch is and how to use a manual pump if needed to empty the breast.  

Chassity | That's great that lactation nurses are available to you at the hospitals. I can imagine how important it is to get that support once baby comes. Can you list any benefits about breastfeeding that helped you to decide to breastfeed?  

Amber-Rose | Yeah. So what really got me was all the nutrients and the immunity support my baby would get from breast milk. Not only that, I was a young mom, so I was on a budget and breastfeeding wouldn't cost us as much money as formula. Another benefit was I really like that it would help me lose postpartum weight and could help to prevent cervical cancer. Breastfeeding was so convenient. You don't have to get up and mix formula and clean bottles. I also really like that breast milk is made to meet the specific needs of babies and it changes as the baby grows to offer the best combinations of nutrients that make it easy for baby to digest and use. It was definitely the right decision for me.  

Chassity | There seems to be an array of challenges. How was your first week of breastfeeding? I know it's been a while, but I think mothers can remember labor, birth and that first week like it was yesterday.  

Amber-Rose | Yes, I do remember those first few days like it was yesterday. I remember doing skin-to-skin right after having my baby. And skin to skin is when you hold baby to your chest or abdomen right after delivery. This initiates the bonding experience between mom and baby and helps release hormones prolactin oxytocin, both of which help with milk production. Having this background knowledge about skin to skin allowed me to communicate this to the midwife. Luckily, they were already on board with this. I also remember learning a lot about the importance of a good latch and positions for breastfeeding. A good latch is necessary for effective breastfeeding and the transfer of milk. A deep latch will prevent pain and damage. And then if you run your tongue on the top of the roof of your mouth, you'll notice that there's a hard surface at the front of the mouth. But the further you go towards the back, there's a softer surface that is actually how far back the nipple should be when baby nurses, a good latch allows baby to fully empty the breast, which helps establish a strong milk supply and avoid clogs or mastitis. I actually experienced mastitis with my first daughter. It was very painful. I had a fever, and both of my breasts were engorged. So that was very painful. It took a day for doctors to diagnose me because I didn't disclose, I was breastfeeding, and I wasn't even aware of what mastitis was. However, I was able to get the treatment I needed with antibiotics and more education on the importance of emptying the breast during feeding.  

Chassity | Well, I'm glad you were able to get help and continue breastfeeding. I'm sure there are a lot of women that need more support and resources when they have adverse experiences. In these cases, I would recommend women seek help from their midwives and ask for a lactation consultant. Also, if they are with clients, they can seek help there as well. So again, I urge women to ask for help from their midwives and lactation consultants while they are still at the hospital. How was your experience with your second child and how long did you nurse?  

Amber-Rose | So I was a little more prepared. I had my breast pads, breastfeeding bras, and lanolin to help with cracking, that usually occurs when you begin to breastfeed. I brought my boppy pillow to help prop up my baby while she was feeding. I did have a lactation nurse come and visit me to help refresh my memory on the different feeding positions. Overall, I was set and ready to breastfeed for at least a year, but I believe I breastfed for two years. I wasn't in a rush to stop since my schedule included me being able to visit my daughter at her daycare and nurse during her feeding times.  

Chassity | That's awesome, Amber-rose. I think that any length that women decide to breastfeed is good, even if that's one day. What's really important is offering the baby the first milk or colostrum because it is packed with liquid gold, because the colostrum is easy to digest and helps line the gut with a protective layer that safeguards against future infections and diseases. It also encourages the growth of good bacteria.  

Amber-Rose | Exactly. I love all the perks of breastfeeding. Again, I want to encourage women to seek help from their hospital, WIC staff or other organizations, either before or after delivery. It makes a huge difference in making breastfeeding a wonderful experience. Please stay tuned for our interview with Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk with the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective.  

Amber-Rose | Thank you for joining us today to learn more about maternal and child health on the Navajo Nation. Today, I, along with my guest co-host Charmaine Nelson, will be discussing the topic of breastfeeding and interviewing a special guest. Charmaine, would you like to introduce yourself?  

Charmaine | Yes. Thank you. Amber-Rose. *Navajo introduction* Hello, everyone. My name is Charmaine Nelson. I am currently a senior at Northern Arizona University, majoring in public health. And I'm glad to be helping with this MCH podcast, and I am also excited to hear from our guest.  

Amber-Rose | Let's welcome Miss Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, the founder of Native Breastfeeding Week and co-founder of the Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective. Thank you for joining us today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?  

Jasha | Thank you for having me. Hello, relatives. My name is Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk. I am an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, as well as a descendant of the Pawnee Creek and Omaha tribes. I am a self-described intertribal lovesong from Jay and Marcia. And so that's how you get a Jasha. I am also two-Spirit and a parent of four children. We have a blended family. I have two older teenagers as well as two, like early elementary-age kids. I was able to nurse three of those children. I'm also a birth worker and a student midwife, as well as a grad student at the University of Oklahoma's College of Law, the Master of Legal Studies and Indigenous People's Law. And as you noted, I am a co-founder of Indigenous Medicine Collective, as well as a founder of Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, formerly called Native Breastfeeding Week.  

Amber-Rose | Great. Thank you. It's nice to meet you and have you part of our series on maternal and child health. Could you share with our audience a little more about Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective?  

Jasha | Yes. So, we're a grassroots organization of Native women, two-spirit, and fem lactation providers and supporters. We work to increase support and resources for native first-food experiences. We work to promote healing and wellness and the push for access, opportunity, visibility, and equity in Indigenous experiences. We sponsor Indigenous Milk Medicine Week, which has been held annually since 2019 and it occurs on the second Sunday in August during national breastfeeding or lactation month. We also have goals to put a face to the scarce research conducted on native lactation to call attention to the context of injustice for native and Indigenous families, as well as take control of the contemporary narrative that are the contributions of importance and celebration of native breast and chestfeeding families.  

Charmaine | Can you also talk about the historical context of breastfeeding for indigenous people?  

Jasha | Yeah, so much like what's happened to many of our native and tribal communities, just the world all over. We have been so disrupted by colonization, by patriarchy, by misogyny, by bigotry. There were active policies against many of our medicine keepers, some people call them medicine men, and some people call them spiritual or religious leaders. There were active policies to restructure native families and traditional kinship practices. And so, in terms of the historical context of the work that we're doing within Indigenous Milk collective by way of Indigenous Medicine Week. We have to acknowledge why there is disproportionate rates of breast and chest-feeding people in native or Indigenous communities. And even acknowledge that the way that they're tracking our indigenous milk experiences doesn't speak to the complexity of the history of our experiences, nor does it offer insight into our success as we describe or determine the success for our communities.  

Amber-Rose | How does your organization uplift Indigenous women to breastfeed?  

Jasha | So we work mostly by way of Indigenous Milk Medicine Week. Through this work, we serve to advance Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and collective healing through first food sovereignty. We've been able to lift up the dialog of our traditional kinship practices and medicine spaces and feeding, parenting and ceremony. This has led to our indigenous relatives to celebrate their journeys through milk medicine by sharing their stories, but also demonstrating the abundance of Indigenous brilliance and resilience to a larger audience of decision-makers and policy leaders via social media. We also, as a collective, are part of different organizations or boards in these respective spaces of lactation and or birth, maybe better described as perinatal health. As a birth worker myself, like a very political act to be in this space, to reclaim this space, and to push these conversations that many of these Western-educated or settler-educated curriculum doesn't quite stress is the history and the context in terms of health disparities amongst native and indigenous populations. And then beyond that, sometimes we're looked at as a deficit like our communities are so in need, but really we just need the investments and we need the support in our nations building with respect to these ceremonial practices such as indigenous milk. And so we've been able to work within our own respective communities, within the collective, because, again, we're grassroots. We're right there in the heart of our communities. Some of us are here in our rural jurisdictions or territories and some of us are in the urban settings, in the urban spaces. Many of the folks have been in this particular field for years, decades, even, promoting health equity. And so we respond accordingly to the community by way of what the community wants. If it's policy, if it's legislation or resolution we're in the spaces. If it's more imagery, more narrative, contemporary narrative, where they're pushing the images and the conversation via social media has been a great vehicle for us to reach more folks whose voices have largely been historically excluded.  

Charmaine | That's great that you mentioned how these types of services are needed in communities and in rural areas. But with that also follows a lack of transportation and access to lactation consultants. This can be a barrier for native mothers. What recommendations do you have for women that are struggling with breastfeeding, especially in those rural areas?  

Jasha | I think that's a really hard question to capture, given, again, some of us ended up in these rural areas or in these areas that are greatly underserved. You know, I currently live in a community that doesn't have a hospital and definitely not, you know, in Navajo Nation rural, but I'm not super close to a hospital. It's about 30 plus miles to the closest one. And my family has had an emergency where we had to go to the hospital by ambulance, which is a very expensive bill, right? To get our child to the hospital for emergency care. So, we're definitely not abundant in resources here to support other needs, such as consultation. Thankfully, I end though in a I just jurisdiction, so we do have a clinic here that is for and federally enrolled native people. So, there is access to some medical care by way of the clinic. And there are people that do happen to be working on patient efforts in the community health nurses. But I understand that that's not always the case, depending on what rural area that you live in as a tribal member within a collective. We have two of maybe 20 Indigenous IBCLC I'm not sure if you've talked about this before in your information here, but I believe you'll see stands for Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and there are about 18,000 IBCLC places in the world and only now about 20 of them that are indigenous. Not even a percent within that international organization. That's appalling. And also we know that we don't necessarily need board-certified lactation consultants to justify the work that many of our people still have in terms of the medicine they carry with being able to help folks on the ground with breast and chest getting support. However, that is not to say we couldn't have more with that. I do work with two of them within Indigenous Medicine Collective and they have created their own programing that certifies is largely known as breastfeeding. Peer counselors work is called Indigenous breastfeeding counselor training, and they've been able to go to different tribal communities where the training is free for any person of that tribal community, whether that's urban or specific. I believe they've come y'all's way in Navajo Nation community. I know they were in quite a patchy area just a few weeks ago. I know they've trained several folks up in the Great Lakes area and I believe even in North Dakota and Standing Rock area and I'm due to head to one of them, I have not been able to take a training. Since the pandemic has definitely set my goal of becoming one of these indigenous breastfeeding counselors. And yet that's some of the work that we are doing are the people that we have within our collective that we're trying to, again, find ways to get more of our people knowledgeable on this topic. And we know that it's not just nuts and bolts breast or tested mechanics, you know, like what makes the milk? Where does not come from? What hormones are producing the milk? It's more than physical acts of nourishing your child. It is a spiritual and cultural component for us as native people. So, we do try to be mindful of how we are communicating this work and who we are working with within these different native communities outside of that, I would suggest reaching out to us, especially because we do have two of the few Indigenous IBCLCs. We have other breastfeeding peer counselors within our group as well as first workers to people who have themselvelactatingng for their children or are current lactating individuals who speak to a variety of experience. While it's not the whole entirety of indigenous medicine experiences. But yeah, that would be my suggestion or my offering.  

Amber-Rose | Wow. So much great information that you have, Jasha. You know, I'm so delighted that we invited you today. So, do you have any advice for women that are still undecided about breastfeeding?  

Jasha | I don't know if I'd call this advice, but I would want somebody who is considering having a child and just recognizing what goes into carrying that life forward. Right. Like, it's a hard thing to do. It's so many unknowns and so I'm sure there's a lot of worry, concern and fear. And sometimes we operate out of fear. Sometimes fear can motivate us, and that's okay. But I would want that parent to be to recognize that there are some things that are not explained to us in these systems. Right? Like, a lot of us are so disrupted from our traditional teachings or our home communities, our tribal communities. And so, we are without mentors or elders to be able to be important to us in the ways that our bodies need our minds and hearts and spirits need. With our work with Indigenous Medicine Collective is something that we're hoping that we are able to do for others, as others have done that for us. I've been in the same position, as you mentioned earlier, Amber Rose, a young parent without information. So, my first experience as a breast and chest feeding person did not go as I had thought it would. I honestly did not have the information nor did I have the resources or the support system around me. And I think what's really important is even if you don't have those indigenous elders or mentors. I'm hopeful that there is a support system around some of these native folks. We're always down to offer via virtual support. That's what we want is to ensure the future of our nations. With this one act of food sovereignty; it's an act of resistance and persistence and the love of your ancestors that has poured into your existence as you approached this journey. And not every journey is the same, right? You can be a parent more than one time or it's always different. Your first-time parent, and then you're a second-time parent. You might be a third-time parent, you might be, you know, but however you achieve that kind of family, there's always something new to learn and encounter. And so I think it's just that thought of that knowing that what you're preparing to do, what you're carrying forward is like, I don't know it to me, it just seems like a growing and continuous and communal love that has just been poured in from who you descend from and carried forward. And if you're able to, I would strongly urge that you try. At the minimum, just to try and offer the sacred first food to the baby. And then seek out resources as you can, if that's through IHS. I've been reading and visiting with the folks about how much better it is to support lactating parents or folks who choose to provide milk to their babies. Also, you know, we know the barriers are real. We know that there's a lot of trauma that can be involved with folks who are parents-to-be or pregnant folks. There's also not a lot of contemporary information that appeals to all of us, all generations. So that's a real thing to acknowledge. Now, I don't mean to talk with like so much romanticization of what this looks like, but it's a lot better people go through today, as parents today and parents to be. And support systems are necessary. But what I can stress is to find your support system. And if your support system is not immediate to you, you know, in proximity, certainly reach out to our organization. We know a lot of folks. We're connected across the various areas of what is called the United States. We're willing to send a name your way; whether it's a lactation provider on the ground that may be native and they might not be, you know, we do have a lot of colleagues or allies in this work because many of us have been so harmed by genocidal policies or have been historically traumatized by systematic acts to disrupt our way of living. And so that's, I guess, what I would say is because it does takes a community to support our folks. And that's something because of the attempts at restructuring our traditional kinship ways is what we're trying to call back with indigenous milk medicine, is recognizing that one baby that's born or the multiple births, those babies that are born aren't just the property or the belonging to the individual parent there. It's our responsibility to ensure that the future and the life of that baby and that family is quality. And maybe that is ideal, but I think it's possible. I've seen it happen in this work. I have seen a transformation in my lifetime. So yeah, I offer our collective always to try and help any of these tribal communities or families.  

Amber-Rose | I feel very appreciative of you offering your support. And in this journey, I've learned in our Navajo way how important it is when you decide to have a child or when you bring a child into this world. All the planning and the prayer, and the preparations that take place even before the child is born. It's so important. And it's I think a lot of times some of us kind of just lose focus on that and focus more on the physical things rather than the spiritual and just the mental processes that we go through to provide for the child or to just prepare for a child. And when I was a young mother, I had my first child in high school, and it was really hard to really understand at that point in time in my life what I was going to do, what either I was going to breastfeed, that meant that I had to change schools. Either I was going to formula feed that I could stay at my regular high school, and I was a very, very high academic achiever. I wanted to stay with my high school and be able to continue the classes that I was taking, and be able to be a part of the clubs, but I thought I'd rather do what's best for my child and be there with her when she needs me. And that's when I decided to breastfeed. That was another factor that went into my decision, and I think with my second child, I was a bit more prepared. I was a bit more expecting the different challenges that I did with my first. But I just had a little bit more support this time, a little bit more education ahead of time. And so I was able to go back to school. I remember I had my daughter a week before my college classes started. I was able to the daycare where we had placed her in, I was able to breastfeed so I could go back during her scheduled feedings. And really it was a great experience. I was really happy about that. So with my first child, I only breastfed up to one year. With my second, I was like, I want to take my time. I don't want to have to end it. I think I did stop breastfeeding because with my first child, I was going into my junior year of high school. For my second child, however, I was taking college classes. My schedule is flexible, so I was able to breastfeed whenever, whenever, wherever, whenever. But for other moms, can you provide some information for working moms or moms that are in school? I guess what should they or could expect when returning to work or school while still breastfeeding?  

Jasha | Appreciate you and applaud your efforts and your advocacy. That's tremendous. Especially as a teen parent. You say only one year. That's huge. That is great. But that's no easy feat. I mean, I can imagine, you know, as a teen to have that frame of mind. Right? Like, I know what I was like. I had a niece and nephew that I could take care of and drop off, but I wasn't up with them, you know, night and day, feeding around the clock, providing on demand. And so, yeah. Like big, big thanks, Meadow to you for doing that was a birth worker. I really want to support our folks who do not have the resources who do not have that information, such as teen folks. We need to support everybody without stigma in terms of their birthing experiences and even in their lactation experiences. So I was a lactating parent and working in an office. Gosh, how long? Maybe six years ago. So this is with my second child. I got to nurse and the environment there, while it was a tribal nation, was not supportive or super celebratory of me as a working lactating parent, I can't complain that I didn't have my own office, that I could close the door and put my sign up. I didn't even have to say I was doing, but I was pumping, having a pumping session. And then I did have a refrigerator down in the communal work kitchen that I could put my milk in. And I usually always put it in its own little bag. So it just looked like a lunch bag in the fridge. And then that times my partner who worked remotely would bring baby to the office for me to nurse if I didn't feel like pumping our food just a day where I just wanted to be with my baby. Other times, I didn't work too far from the childcare facility where my baby would be because my baby wasn't always there every day that I worked. But when they were, I would go there and I would take one of my breaks and go nurse my baby. So I did have I guess in some ways that's a luxury, right? Because the reality is we have plenty of working parents who are lactating, who do not have that position, where they have the secured space or the safe space or hygienic space, for that matter, to be able to take the breaks that they need and unfortunately, in my workspace, my relationship ended very quickly after I was sexually harassed for my milk. A coworker was insensitive, to say the least and when I wanted to bring it to the attention of the powers that be, they weren't having it. So, I had to file a grievance and essentially got that grievance recognized. But it didn't change the culture. And in fact, I was othered or outcast, blackballed in the workplace. And it became more hostile, more toxic for me, definitely not conducive to somebody who needs to lactate or pump milk. So I quit that job. But before I did and this is kind of what inspired indigenous medicine or at the time native breastfeeding, which was my research into advocating for myself at the work level with H.R., with the team that had to read my grievance. I was going through policies and going through like, how do we support Native parents? We're a tribe. Like I work in health education. What's up with that? What are we doing to support lactating people? I supposed to clock out for my breaks? Have I been doing that? And that's how I found some of my colleagues that I now collaborate with through an Indigenous milk medicine collective is I found some actual tribal policy resolutions that supported parents, new parents in the workplace, as well as parents who wish to breast or chestfeed in the workplace. Most of them are located in the Great Lakes area. Sherry who is amazing and O.G. of all this is somebody who has written policy, gotten tribal resolution, gotten tribes organized to support people like us in the workspace whether that be in tribal administration where a lot of them are, you know, office jobs and some of them are not them are like maintenance jobs, casino jobs. Those end up being service jobs. Right. So making sure that there are people being able to take time to break, to pump or nurse their child having a space that is not a bathroom space that's hygienic. It has a fridge where they can store their milk. And that's not easy to do, Right.  That's very simply said. But it's not an easy feat. Takes honestly, helping your people decolonize their frame of thinking.  And working past some of these cut and paste H.R. or corporate culture kind of thinking, which is not our way as tribal people for a lot of us, it's never been our frame of mind. And I know that the reality is not all our people that are out there are living and working on their tribal reservations or tribal jurisdictions. Some of us have had to work in non-native spaces and places, but there are laws and policies that do support people that need to go to school, need to go to work and who are lactating. I am not sure university policies look like our college policies look like, but I also was a lactating parent. When I quit that job, I went back to school to get my undergrad and got pregnant in that final two semesters of my undergrad. And so one semester I was carrying the baby and the next semester I had the baby. And most of the time I had my baby with me during classes. But when I had to stay late to those last senior assignments and I'd be at the library and there was spaces that my university provided where I could go sit and pump and have to keep the freezer bag on me to put my milk away. They didn't provide the pumps themselves and then a lot of times they would be a large bathroom, but they were able to build like a separate wall you had to go into that was just for people like us. They were all over the campus. There was more than one right where I needed them to be. So there's that. But yeah, again, it's tough. Like so many of us just have to advocate for ourselves sometimes because we're the first ones coming through and maybe challenging the way that it's been unusually a lot of times it's not super supportive for the schedules of people who need to nurse when they need the nurse or children that need to eat when they want to eat. Through Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective, we have folks who have worked on policy or resolutions to support lactating folks in the workspaces, mostly in tribal workspaces. But nonetheless, we need to get our tribes on board. Like, why don't our tibeshave these policies? Why don't the tribes have active resolutions to state how they're supporting the next generation going forward? Right? Or the generation to come. I just spoke with somebody up in Yakama territory. I don't exactly remember, actually, I don't think she named where she worked. They sound like they're casino, so we've connected her to some of the folks that have worked on tribal policy and resolution to see what can grow there, what bridge can be built there to connect those divisions and that disruption of supporting their people in that workspace. So as somebody who might be going back to school or going back to work know that we're here for you through Indigenous Milk Medicine Collective. And if you don't have the capacity or the network to ensure your rights, we can provide that information to you as well.  

Charmaine | Thank you for sharing your insights and your experience. You also mentioned your partner bringing your baby to work to feed. What more can a mother's partner do to support her in breastfeeding?  

Jasha | You know, that's also a lot that's like a loaded question, right? I think we hope that when we're able. To start families. That we have a plan and not a lot of us do sometimes. But there is anybody who can. Contribute or help. Contribute. To the fostering of your children that you're having. Then build that relationship as much as you can, because we all need it. We all deserve it. By human nature, we're relational. And especially as native people. Most of us believe.  In this communal concept of kinship ways or practices you know, not everybody's partner is going to understand. But that's something, too, that we have helped to celebrate and advocate is how much partners, family members. Maybe it's somebody who is your birth worker or maybe it's like your best friend that can help support you. It's good to spread the information. Just because you're the lactating person doesn't mean nobody else needs to know what to do. Maybe they bring you food, maybe they bring you water. You always need to drink fluids while you're lactating and definitely meeting nutrition to make sure that you're being able to produce. But yeah, I would just encourage these folks in your life to take hold of the information that you're learning as well so that they can help try to support. And they won't always know. They won't always understand. Because I totally get it as somebody who is, you know, again, up around the clock with these babies who are just hungry, right, or they just need you; Cluster feeding, stuff like that. It can get tiring. But if you can definitely lean on some kind of support system, it will definitely help you. And in that time and that time can be really short when you think it can be just like a drop in the bucket, right? Because they're not always going to need to nurse or need indigenous milk. Some of them will need it for as long as they want to have it. I had a child who went to they were four and a half and then the other child only went to they were three and a half and then another child was only. Well, this is because of complications, but we only went a month. So just celebrate the success as you can and recognize your limitations and hopefully your folks who are surrounding you are able to provide that space for you to support you, to encourage you and to be there if you feel like you just can’t do it. You know, it's not a failure, like in a bad way, you know, if you're able to provide as much milk as you possibly could for as long as you could, still a good start.  

Amber-Rose | So you've discussed some of your breastfeeding journey already. If you'd like to talk a little bit more about that, please do. But also, what other personal tips can you share that helped you in your breastfeeding journey?  

Jasha | Oh, I don't know if my tips are the best tips. So I can talk to you something that was unique for me in my journey. I know this is what you're calling it, a breastfeeding podcast, but I want to offer a little bit on language. Like for us, we evolved from native breastfeeding to indigenous medicine because we wanted to focus on the medicine itself, right? It's not just about how our native babies are getting it. For us, in our our initial planning committee back in 2019.  There was a two-spirit relative who is non-binary and did not body feed, just we breastfeed the baby. They adopted this baby and they were in a position to get donor milk, which is incredibly hard to come by through milk banks because of a number of barriers, insurance money,  who they're supplying the milk to. It's an equitable right now and yet this person was able to get milk for the indigenous baby via donor milk. And so it's always been for us to recognize that how we communicate this work that we're doing might not be the what we're calling it now, the language that we had at the time. So we evolved to being more inclusive and mindful of recognizing all the people that provide the milk, indigneous milk and recognizing that some of what’s called breastfeeding, some of us call it breastfeeding, some of it’s called body feeding and again Indigenous milk experiences is what we could describe as the best capture for some of this work and myself, you know, I’ve gone to work whether I call it breastfeeding or body feeding, because I go by “she/they.” But yeah, to go on to my own experience, I'm a runner. I've been a runner for on and off for a few years. I used to say, or sometimes I still say I'm a part time marathoner because I have participated in marathons and sometimes will piece together one because the relay teams that I coordinate and somebody will drop out and I'll have to complete that part of the relay. All that is to say, though, that I think I became a better runner because I was nursing my baby. When I ran my first marathon I was just about nine months postpartum and that wasn't intentional. I had the opportunity through my tribe to get registration paid for a run. It was a what do they call that? A 15K? I think its like nine miles. Which I don't mean to say that, like, anybody can just run nine miles because at the time I certainly couldn’t and i hadn’t even really ran beyond three miles when i would go running. So i had the opportunity though, to do a training program at my own pace. They just gave me the calendar, you know, what days to run, how many miles, and so i did that when i was able to, postpartum, i think it was about 6-8 weeks, and i think i had about 6-8 weeks to train and so when I went out, I leaked like crazy. That baby just I think I overproduced anyway. But it was just so much that i was making so I would either have to time my runs to, you know, in between feeds, like i would have to nurse baby right before i ran, hurry up and then come back and nurse baby, or I’d just be lekped all over, you know, my shirt and stuff. And at some point I kind of got used to it. But I try to be as environmentally conscious as possible with that, too. And i would use, like organic cotton. What did they call them now? Like breast pads, I think is what they're called, in case you like leak. Yeah. And because I also sweat when I run, it was like useless because they're ether wet from sweat or i would leak and it was over. So at some point, i decided, what if i use these pads for feminine hygiene in my bar. And so what i would do is, I would fold a pad, stick it in my sports bra and that’s how I train as i got further along because i started off with this 15k, i completed it and i was like i could do a half marathon and if i ran nine, i can go 13 miles. So in like another month, i trained and did that and even at that race, I forgot my pump milk for my mom who was watching my baby at the time. I was like Oh my God. I cant believe it. I forgot the milk. She was like, it’s going to be fine, its going to be fine. She said you know what? Ill have the baby. It’ll be fine and i was so worried about this; baby just screaming and crying and being so hungry and me not being back in time between feedings because at that time that baby was older so I could go about 2 hours. My half marathon time was not less than 2 hours yet, So I was really going have to kill a lot of time to make sure that I was back before my baby needed to eat again. So my mom said she only gave the baby just a little bit of water before I got back, but my two hour feeding time by 15 minutes, I think I ran in like an hour and 45 or 40 minutes. Yeah, I was fast. I couldn't believe how fast I ran just to get back to feed this baby. Right. So then hitting that half marathon, I thought I could go, you know the full marathon, which was like several months later. Going from like fall winter to spring time. And so I did. And when I ran that marathon again, it was timing my runs on my baby's feeding schedule. I was so hungry all the time because I'm nursing and then my metabolism went through the roof. I couldn't eat enough. I was always hungry. And so I started trying to research other people who are lactating and training and I could only find like.  Oh gosh, because I wasn't trying to be like the fastest person at all. I was just doing what I could do and going for this goal. And when I run, it's more spiritual or I'm in prayer and I was running from my relatives and so all the literature out there at that time did not support people like me who are just running to run, not to compete. And a lot of it was almost like dissuading lactating people from training because lactic acid buildup was what I kept reading over and over again. And it could build up in my milk and then my baby wouldn't want it. But my baby never carried it, no matter how sweaty, how sour I smelled, none of that. That baby was ready every time. And so, yeah, once I ran that marathon, again, I had the mindset to because my baby could go at that time the reading table food. So they could, i was not stressful, but it still was like a little lowkey stress. And there's a baby right at the starting point and then when I came in, my marathon was like about four and a half hours. I was trying to hit between four and four and a half. I think, was being aspirational, going for four, but I didn't quite get that. My baby wasn't super starving, but he was ready to have me at the end. So yeah, so I've always had that in mind. The medicine that I ran with, right? Like, and I’ll choke up a little bit because sometimes I’ll run with tobacco, especially if I’m not in my home community and I’ll lay it down in places what i think called to. For me that’s a very powerful thing to do, a very spiritual, individual kind of thing for me to do. It's what my people have always done. And I ran with tobacco and milk medicine and leaked on that tobacco with milk medicine, because sometimes I would stuff it in my bra when I would run. And so I thought that was just a really powerful thing to do. And I know other people do that. We find their way, right? So I don't know, I guess just that's personal and just know, l’ike, you’re carrying medicine, you’re a medicine carrier when you participate in first food sovereignty of promoting traditional kinship, you're promoting our future, our ceremony. And that's tremendous, that’s huge any time you can, I would try and just celebrate yourself.  


Amber-Rose | That's an awesome story. And that brings up again my experience with trying to go back to school. Everyone was like, “Are you sure you just had a baby? And what about breastfeeding? Are you going to formula feed?” And I just was like, I got to make it work. I want just having my second child being where I was at in life. I felt I just had to get it done. I knew things were going to work out. I knew my schedule. I knew I could be flexible. I had family support, although they were unsure, it did work out and I was able to breastfeed and it was just the most exciting experience to have. The second time around, again, like I said, I was just a little bit more prepared, a little bit more ready, and, you know, if I could have done it in high school, I'm like, I can do it in life, in college. Nothing's going to hold me back from providing that food for my child. So go ahead, Charmaine. Sorry.  

Charmaine | You already mentioned some challenges as far as policies in the workplace. Were there any other challenges during your breastfeeding experience to you and your family?  

Jasha |I'm pretty, if you haven't picked up on this by now, I‘m really like headstrong about kind of what i do. I definitely do feel like a warrior at times and just kind of have to take the lead. I don’t know if that’s always the best thing to do. I am very adamant about trying to promote healing and wellness within myself and my family and these things that we do. What I've done, I think, is really palatable or how to see this like concrete enough that my family understands why I do what I do. So, I brought back home birth to our family. My second child, well, all my children, I was helped by midwives. The first one, though, was, I think, a certified nurse midwife that practiced in hospitals and was not ideal. That was a very disempowering experience for me. So, when I decided I wanted to have children again with my spouse, now, we decided we wanted to build our family, and I told him that then I will have my baby at home, which really threw him off like, wait, what, because many of us are conditioned to delivering in hospitals, and I wanted to jump in and know what I needed to do to call back that ceremony and prepare my body and my family for that. So, I am somebody who is not shy about helping educators, and share education with folks, especially if I know that it's going to help my family. And so I feel like in terms of family support and community support, I don't know, I must live in a vacuum or a first filter bubble or something because I didn't really base too much outside of the work experience, even in the public setting. I think I didn't really see too much folks look at me and discuss if I just pulled my shirt up to feed my kids. I know there was a couple of comments that were made when I had my tandem nurse, so I was still nursing when I was pregnant with my last child that I've had. And I had a comment by a family member where they were like, when are you going to stop nursing this kid? You know, this kid's to. And I was like, when they want to stop. And they were telling me like, well, you're going to run out of milk. And I know in pregnancy, sometimes you're don't make as much milk. But this two-year-old, this toddler, needed to nurse. They wanted to nurse and kept doing so. And in fact, it helped me when my milk came in and not came in sooner for the last baby. And the last baby was almost a month premature, which is very helpful. They got some of the colostrum, but they then they were able to have that hearty milk come in when they needed it, especially to help pass jaundice, and help kick up their immune system because they were a preemie. But we didn’t have complications from that. So, you know, I didn’t really face too many barriers, but I recognize the privilege and the accessibility that I had and the opportunity that I had. And that's something that I want for all our people, you know, it's not fair that I'm just like an individual here. I want to see that in my community, and I've been able to show folks I've been able to help, educate in ways; I think that, yeah, it's really had an impact in my physical community, as well. I see a lot more nursing folks around here, people tell me, or they'll tag me in breast or chest feeding post some of us call it breast-fies -breastfeeding selfies. I haven't heard of Chel-sies yet, chestfeeding selfies, and I was known to do that too, you know, like, hey, I'm at a wedding, quick nursing with a kid. So just, yeah, just whatever outreach is possible without self-righteously, you know, like really thrown in people's faces, like forcing it in people's faces. But at the same time, it's that process of that communal healing that we need, that decolonizing, that unlearning and reclaiming that needs to happen in many, if not all, of our communities, right because we’ve been so impacted by colonization. 

Amber-Rose | So we have our last question. One thing we want to incorporate with these podcasts are highlighting other programs, and I think you've mentioned several, such as the IBCLC and then the programs that happen from there and across tribal communities. But are there any other programs that you'd like to highlight on this podcast or like give a shout out to?  

 Jasha |If you’re going to visit with Amanda Singer with Navajo Nation Breastfeeding. All these indigenous folks, though, like there's the Inter-tribal Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon, I think, that's what they're called. The Indigenous Breastfeeding Coalition in Colorado. They've got native breastfeeding coalition of Wisconsin. There's one in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, I think, is where they're based, but they're perinatal lactation support circles. They are a group that they usually do their work on the ground, but they also have the virtual support circles every month. Yeah, I am super down to talk about any group that's working on re-materition initiatives because, like when you're talking about perinatal health, essentially, that's what we're talking about is re-materition. Changing Women Initiative, Three Sisters Collective, Tribal  Women United Say-lo Mothering Project, which is East Coast Eastern band, Cherokee Indians and Alaska native birth workers, IBCLC, and the Remediation Woodland’s project, I think is what it's called. The person who helped to found that work  they were one of the ones who did not body feed but was able to provide donor milk to their native baby. So any of those orgs I love and support.  

Amber-Rose | Awesome. Ahéhee’. Thank you for joining us today, and we really appreciate your time and all of this valuable information you provided. Really appreciate you putting yourself out there to provide support for our indigenous mothers who are breastfeeding, who are thinking about breastfeeding, and who just need that additional support. The word that I loved today was when you mentioned virtual support because now that we've gone through this pandemic, a lot of our support has been virtual through social media. That's how we know we're able to connect with our relatives over Zoom that we weren't able to see in person. And just hearing that it to me, it uplifts my spirit and how you're able to still provide that connection and that support to mothers if they may not have it at home or at school or at work.

 Ahéhee’, Thanks for listening to the MCH podcast. For more information about the Navajo MCH project, please visit us on Facebook at the Navajo Maternal and Child Health Project at Diné College.