In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31), MomsFirst is proud to introduce you to a participant that has gone above and beyond for her daughter.
Rayleenah Saleem is an extraordinary mom. With a glowing smile, Rayleenah tells the story of how the birth of her daughter changed her life. As a sophomore in high school, Rayleenah found herself pregnant. Faced with the decision keeping her baby, she decided to follow through with the pregnancy even with fear creeping inside her. “It was worth it even though my life would have been easier without her. I was doing a lot of things I wasn’t supposed to do. She changed me for the better. It is a blessing in disguise.” she said.
Not only is Rayleenah a mom, but she also managed to earn her GED, she works from home and has been breastfeeding her 22 month old daughter Noureyah since she was born. After being referred to MomsFirst by a friend, Rayleenah found the benefits of the program to exceed her expectations. Getting one on one support from her Community Health Worker, Jennifer Reuter from MomsFirst's Adolescent Component at the May Dugan Center, has proven to be a wonderful experience. “I felt very proud of how strong she was and adamant she was when it came to giving her child only breastmilk,” said Reuter.
The relationship that Community Health Workers like Jennifer build with women make it easier for them to open up and feel empowered to take charge of their health. “I tell her things that I feel like she has more experience in. I am definitely trusting of her, I love her.” said Rayleenah.
For many moms, getting the support they need from people they can trust is difficult. The MomsFirst team works hard to build trusting relationships to provide this support. For breastfeeding mothers like Rayleenah this support makes the choice to breastfeed much easier. “I had no other option. I’ve seen my mother and sisters breastfeed. It came naturally. I was breastfed by my mother for two years.” said Rayleenah. Even though Rayleenah was educated by hospital staff about breastfeeding, she still had strong support from her mother. “There is nothing that they could tell me that I didn’t already know. My mother told me everything. She was really my backbone.” she stated.
Breastfeeding is a rewarding experience but it does not come without challenges. Jennifer is proud of Rayleenah for her dedication. “Breastfeeding is a hard challenge for anyone but especially for a teenager trying to balance everything in life with breastfeeding”, said Reuter. Some challenges moms may encounter include breastfeeding in public, balancing breastfeeding while working, deciding when the time is right to discontinue breastfeeding and practicing self-care.
A lack of acceptance often makes breastfeeding in public uncomfortable. Despite some progress, breastfeeding in public is still not completely normalized. “People are going to give you dirty looks. One time a man looked at me like he was disgusted and another time a lady told me there is a place where you can do that, but if my child is hungry, I am feeding her.” said Rayleenah.
Keeping the best interest of Noureyah in mind has helped Rayleenah persevere. She also encourages moms to have a conversation with their baby and set a goal. “You have to tell them. She knows what I am saying when I tell her it’s not going to be too much longer. My goal is to stop breastfeeding by the time she is two”, she stated. Having a strong support system helps make these goals more attainable. When Noureyah was 10 months old, Rayleenah started balancing work and home life. Rayleenah says although she works from home she still needs a babysitter. She is grateful to have her nephew help out.
While Rayleenah emphasizes that breastfeeding is not for everyone, she believes if the good outweighs the bad, you should go for it. “I definitely know it is the best thing for her. She is a genius. She knows her ABCs, she can count, and she knows all of her body parts. At one point she had really bad eczema. Nothing worked until I put breastmilk on her skin.” she stated. Rayleenah believes more women would choose breastfeeding if they knew more about it and knew it was best for their baby. She said, “Breast milk is a universal medicine”.
These are just some of the benefits that have made breastfeeding a rewarding experience for Rayleenah and Noureyah. Now that Rayleenah has developed a routine, she is making sure to remember that her needs matter too. As a working mom, Rayleenah understands all too well how easy it can be to forget about yourself. “Setting goals for yourself is the key to happiness. Even if it’s just waking up ten minutes earlier so that you can eat, you feel good about yourself when you do it.” said Rayleenah.
Rayleenah wants all moms to remember that their dreams can still come true. In light of this, she has high hopes for her future. Even though motherhood has taken up much of her time, she still has a vision for her life and a positive perspective. Rayleenah says, “In the future, I will still be able to do the things that I want to do. I could go to college and live on campus. I thought about teaching and I love science. Isaac Newton is my idol so I think about majoring in higher education science.”