Breastfeeding’s benefits for babies and moms are well-documented: Breast milk helps fight infections, reduces the likelihood of having allergies and other health concerns like diabetes and obesity, lowers the risk of life-threatening issues like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and bowel infections, and can reduce a woman’s risk for breast cancer. But Black women in America have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates, compared to women of other races. The CDC and World Health Organization recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life and then practicing extended breastfeeding by supplementing breast milk with solid foods for at least a year or more. We clock in at six weeks, meaning we also breastfeed for the shortest amount of time, according to the CDC.
Whatever your choice, know that you can do it. We nursed this nation. —Aketa Washington
Institutional barriers keep Black women from breastfeeding for six months, much less doing extended breastfeeding. There’s the fact that we are nine times more likely to be “encouraged” to use baby formula in the hospital than white women. (I put “encouraged” in quotations, because some of the stories women share about trying to breastfeed in the hospital are shocking in their casual cruelty.) We’re also more likely to have jobs that aren’t flexible about pumping at work.
Then there are the social barriers that keep us from breastfeeding, too. Namely, a lack of support from the community due to any number of confounding reasons (the oversexualization of Black bodies, breastfeeding being for “poor people,” claims of “spoiling” a child).
Seeing other women who look like you breastfeed past six weeks, past six months, and over a year can help shake off that stigma. You can find that by joining Black breastfeeding support groups and by reading these 12 women’s extended breastfeeding stories. I hope you feel better able to hit your breastfeeding goal, however long that may be, once you hear their stories.
Note: This article shows images of breastfeeding.
I’m 15 Months Into Breastfeeding… And I Didn’t Think I Would Make It 2 Weeks
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When I became pregnant with my second, I knew I wanted to breastfeed for a year or more. I didn’t get to nurse my first due to latching issues and exclusively pumped for 6 months.
I did a lot of research to prepare for my second breastfeeding journey. I felt confident. That confidence faded quickly once he arrived and [I] dealt with latching issues again due to my flat nipples. My first breastfeeding goal was 6 months and I felt like I wasn’t even going to make it two weeks! It was painful. I dealt with bruised nipples, milk blisters, and mastitis every other week! I cried. He cried. But we didn’t give up. I reached out to a lactation consultant and paid out of pocket for one session. That one session changed and helped our breastfeeding journey for the best.
…it is your body and your baby. You know what’s best; other’s opinions are irrelevant.
We are now 15 months in, and it feels so natural to the both of us. There are days when I want to stop because he can get very aggressive. And sometimes, I just want some space, which is a normal feeling. But I always keep in mind that he is already growing up so fast. He will stop when he is ready. Watching him smile and find complete comfort while he nurses brings me so much joy that those feelings go away quickly. There will be people that may have negative things to say about breastfeeding over a year.
“He is too old.”
“Breast milk doesn’t have any nutrition over a year.”
“You’re spoiling him!”
All [of] which are FALSE! The ones who have negative comments are the ones who are not educated about breastfeeding and the benefits it continues to give mom and baby after a year.
My advice to every mama who wants to breastfeed over a year is to just do it and ignore what people say. When you are both ready to stop, then you will. Educate those who don’t know enough about extended breastfeeding instead of arguing. Knowledge is power. At the end of the day, it is your body and your baby. You know what’s best; other’s opinions are irrelevant. Keep going!
—Ashley Justine (@ashjustine)
I Breastfed For 5 Years… And I Built A Support Team To Do It
I honestly struggled—by day 3 or 4, I was ready to quit. My nipples were raw and looked like an unraveled tire. I started pumping cuz I’d had enough.
But as much as it hurt, I didn’t want to quit, so I immediately called my breastfeeding coach and she literally talked me off the ledge. She included my husband and mother to support me in a way that allowed me to give it one last try. What she did worked because my daughter stayed breastfeeding for 5 WHOLE years.
Although she’s four months shy of turning 6, my breasts are stillll her go-to when she wants to be comforted or when she’s sleepy—she will literally pull them out and lay on them. Apparently they calm her and are a place of peace to her. After losing three babies before her, I am more than happy—most of the time—to oblige.
My breasts have served their entire purpose as a mother! I am grateful my supply has been consistent and abundant!
—Tori “Alamaze” Jones (@coach_tori_jones)
I Breastfed for 2+ Years… And It Gave Me So Much Cuddling Time
Coming from a family that values whole foods and health, I always knew I would breastfeed. The first time I learned about all the health benefits for the baby and momma was at a conference for prospective adoptive parents in a session on inducing lactation. Due to the age of our daughters when we first met them, I decided not to induce lactation. Nevertheless, I breastfed our biological son for over two years.
Originally my goal was to stop at 1 year in alignment with the CDC’s guidelines. However, I truly loved breastfeeding so I changed it to 2. I would often joke that I was high on the feel-good oxytocin as my moods benefited. I cherished the bonding and cuddling time it created since my nonstop toddler is normally running around exploring. Haircuts were easier because he’d sit still for longer. Also the longer you breastfeed the lower [your] risks [are] for ovarian cancer and breast cancer, and your toddler continues to get antibodies and immune boosts.
I would often joke that I was high on the feel-good oxytocin as my moods benefited.
This is not to say that breastfeeding is all roses. During the first year I experienced painful plugged ducts and milk blebs on my left breast. The stinging pain would wake me up in the middle of the night. After some on-and-off-again symptoms, I was able to ameliorate the situation using tips I found on Kelly Mom. In hindsight, I wish I sought out a lactation consultant since asking a doctor did not help.
Furthermore breastfeeding is time intensive—an estimated 1,800 hours throughout the first year. There were some days I wanted a break, but remembering my goal and the bonding motivated me. I also acknowledge the privilege working part-time afforded me. For those working outside the home full-time, I recommend creating a back-to-work pumping and feeding plan with the help of a local support group or lactation consultant and knowing your federal/state legal rights.
What helped me breastfeed for over two years: mastering the side-lying position so I could read on my bed or co-sleep; clothes with easy breast access; not caring where or who I breastfed in front of (I’ve breastfed at community meetings, while pushing a shopping cart, at a wedding, etc.); following breastfeeding Instagram accounts especially those who center Black people (#BlackWomenDoBreastfeed); teaching my son the sign language word for “milk,” which he could accurately use at 10 months; Badass Breastfeeding Podcast; and supportive family and friends.
—Kavisa Wood (@NourishingJustly)
I Breastfed for 2.5 Years… And I Treasure That Time Now That She’s Growing Up
My baby is growing up: Last night my baby slept in her own bed, in her own room. And although I set up the extra baby monitor just in case she called for me, I didn’t need it. I barely slept—waking up, peeking at her sound asleep more often than I wake [up] co-sleeping with our two month old.
Tonight as we shared a shower, she imitated my every move so precisely that had I given her the proper amount of soap, she would have completely and successfully washed herself.
Sometimes when I feel stuck in a particular moment—like racing home from my 9-5 because I barely was able to pump enough milk for her; or nursing her back to sleep for the fifth time, slowly pulling away fearful she’d clamp down on me; or breastfeeding a 2 year old when I just wanted my body back but couldn’t stand to ignore her when she called to me for comfort—sometimes I forget that even in those moments time is quickly passing.
Although we’ve left breastfeeding behind us, it was only the beginning of our beautiful journey together. Reflecting on those 2.5 years, good and bad, I’m extremely grateful for those moments that I held on to my baby and she held on to me and time seemed to move ever so slowly.
I Breastfed For 3.5 Years… And It Helped Me Connect With My Son When I Was Postpartum
Depression made it difficult for me to connect with my son in the beginning, but the breastfeeding helped me to feel like there was hope. If you’ve been depressed, you know that hope and purpose are its worst enemies, so in many ways, I feel as though breastfeeding helped me to push through the challenges of being a new mom. It gave me the opportunity to see that there could be connection and it also felt meaningful to me: I was nourishing my son. He was willingly receiving what I had to offer. We were connected.
I decided to continue breastfeeding because it was practical—at the time, I was a single mom and really couldn’t afford to buy formula. I also continued because I wanted to explore what our relationship might look like if I approached breastfeeding and parenting from a conscious, consensual place. To me, that meant allowing him to breastfeed as long as he needed to feel safe and nurtured, and as long as it felt good for me. it turned out that we were both ready to move on at the 3.5 year mark.
Breastfeeding was one of the least challenging aspects of early motherhood for me, which probably also contributed to me continuing for so long. The hardest part was arranging my schedule around his feeding times (this got easier as he got older and was eating solid foods in conjunction), but I don’t regret the effort. I believe it helped both of us get through a really tough time and is the foundation for our current relationship.
—Jennifer Sterling (@jennmsterling)
I Breastfed for 18 Months… And It took every ounce of my Patience
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In the beginning, I could feel my uterus contracting and eventually shrinking at every feeding. I soon recognized that not only was breastfeeding beneficial to my daughter, it was also helping me to heal. I learned so much about my natural instincts through how my body responded naturally to the needs of my offspring, which was empowering. I learned to communicate with my child nonverbally and strengthened my own intuitive capacity. Breastfeeding most definitely strengthened our connection and bond to one another, I believe, and for that I am eternally grateful.
I originally wanted to breastfeed for at least a year and I was blessed to be able to do so. My mother had passed away the same year I gave birth to my daughter, so I didn’t have guidance from the one person I wanted it from. I relied a lot on online resources for breastfeeding support, kept phone appointments with my hospital lactation consultant, and I also talked to my older sister who had also breastfed. My advice to someone wanting to extend breastfeeding past six months with little to no personal support, would be:
- Seek support through online resources.
- Reach out to women you trust, who have done it before.
- Consider exploring first foods to supplement breastfeeding efforts.
- Recognize that pumping /storing is breastfeeding as well.
- Keep in mind that your journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
- Keep your mental health in check.
- Do things you love to do, mentally prepare to bring your baby along , and carve out time for feeding. I always packed a small solid food meal / purée in a lunchbox with ice packs and also brought frozen breast milk, a baby carrier, and a cover I’d tie around my neck and drape over my baby so I could feed on the move.
- Remember that your journey is your own, and it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.
—Tenille Johnson (@Puremomblog)
I’ve Been Breastfeeding For 4 Years… And I Feel Strong
Two babies and nearly four years in—still going strong.
This experience of sustaining my babies with my body has been a meditation of sorts. I’ve taken the word “strong” off the shelf and held it in the palm of my hands—inspected it from all angles. I’ve found that it looks different in the light and in the dark. It feels different in the cold than it does when it’s warm out and you can sleep with a window open. If you throw it, it may bounce, but it can also shatter. When you press it against the word “Black” it becomes political, a weapon, a wound.
The word strong.
I’m letting it rest on my heart, for now. It helps me get through the days when babies are crying and clingy; when I have to get up and get to work even though my whole body aches and everything feels upside down. When the world curls its fiery fingertips around the threshold of my house and I have to keep sending my kids through the door.
I am cherishing the moments I can still hold my babies close. I’m seeing and feeling seen by all the other Black mamas who are doing the same.
—Carrie Wilkins (@carrieelysia)
I’ve Breastfed for 3 Years… And It Helped Me Learn How To Be A Mom
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One is 18 months out, while the other is 18 weeks in.
What a privilege to have this picture of me, in real time, providing nourishment for two of my babies, both in and outside of the womb.
Breastfeeding was and has been my saving grace.
When Wisdom was born, I nursed for two years and was shamed by most of my family because no one before me had chosen to breastfeed and it didn’t make sense to them. With Courage, I have nursed for the last 18 months and I have served as a milk donor, helping to provide supplements for my girls and three other babies. Although I love the benefits of feeding in this way, so much more has come from my experience.
Growing up in foster care, without the nurturing of a mom and being completely detached from what it meant to be a mother, it was a very slow and hard journey for me to connect. The utter reliance that a baby has on you when you’re nursing taught me to surrender my own longings for a mom and to step into the role of being one.
Breastfeeding was and has been my saving grace.
I struggled so much those first couple of months as a mother, learning, healing and growing, but nursing quickly became my most cherished time with my children. It taught me what mothering was all about, an unspoken lesson that I needed so badly that could only come by experience and it has been instrumental in helping me to bond with my babies. I can’t wait to meet #3 and to start this journey with them.
—Tash Haynes (@itstashhaynes)
I’m 27 Months Into Breastfeeding… And I Don’t Plan On Stopping Until She’s Ready
When I started breastfeeding, I was a graduate student working towards my PhD in maternal and child health, so I was well-aware of the importance of breastfeeding. My goal was to breastfeed exclusively for six months and then up to a year after.
But my breastfeeding journey was difficult at first for a variety of reasons. The first of which was that I now know that I was experiencing postpartum depression at the time. The second was that I am not a high-touch person. During those first few weeks of what felt like constant cluster feeding I wasn’t sure how long I could last. I was lucky to know several lactation consultants who made house visits to help me get the hang of it. They also provided solutions for painful latches, clogged ducts, and most importantly the emotional toll and burden I initially felt. They, along with my wife, listened to me and supported me, encouraged me, and congratulated me.
Breastfeeding is not easy. It’s this thing that you hear so much about and you know your body was made to do so it seems like it should come naturally. However, coming naturally is often mistaken for coming easily. It is such a journey and one that, for me at least, was emotional and hormonal as much as it was physical.
My daughter is now 27 months old and we are still breastfeeding every day, several times a day. I don’t know how long we will continue at that moment, but I don’t plan on stopping until she says she’s ready.
—Yanica Faustin (@thefaustinfam)
I’ve Breastfed for 2 Years… And I Feel So Empowered
I had such a traumatic and overall bad experience breastfeeding my first child. Since I knew I was going to have more children, I was determined to learn as much as possible about breastfeeding. I’m a firm believer that an informed mom makes for the best mom. I wanted to ensure that my future children and myself had the best opportunity possible to embark on our breastfeeding journey. During that process I learned so much about the benefits of breastfeeding beyond one year. Keeping their immune systems boosted and providing them with optimal nutrition as long as possible was more than enough reason to keep going.
In the end, it’s you, your body, and your baby. The joy is in the choice.
I can’t stress enough the importance of education and support. Lactation consultants provided to me my second and third time were critical in ensuring proper latches, checking for lip ties, and tips on positions while feeding.
My daughter was 6 lbs when she was born. My sons were 7 and almost 9 lbs respectively. Feeding her was a bit of a challenge so finding the right position for her was key in making sure we were both comfortable. Facebook Groups like Breastfeeding Support Group For Black Moms were a huge help. They have qualified professionals such as Certified Lactation Consultants on hand to educate and guide members in the right direction with common hiccups that pop up on this journey from start and beyond. Thrush, mastitis, cluster feeding, pumping effectively and properly, how and when to clean and replace pump parts, the list goes on. They truly are amazing.
I’m glad I went beyond one year of breastfeeding with my second and third children for two reasons. My sons were diagnosed with asthma pretty early on. I was able to mitigate symptoms from spiraling when my second son would catch a cold by breastfeeding on demand. He would kick a cold away within 2-3 days max. I now give both of my sons shots of breast milk in their smoothies or by spoon whenever they would catch a cold, which is still rare. I originally planned to stop breastfeeding my daughter around 15 months, but we were hit with the coronavirus pandemic. I decided to keep nursing her to ensure her immune system would remain intact during this time and the upcoming flu season.
I believe time, support, and education all played a role in affirming my choice to continue on this extended breastfeeding journey. As of now, I don’t have a set time I will stop. I’m just following my daughter’s lead and trusting the process. I would encourage other moms to do the same. Tune out the noise and opinions. There is so much ancestral trauma rooted in the beliefs of elders, family members, and friends who may not support your decision. It’s not for them to decide. In the end, it’s you, your body, and your baby. The joy is in the choice. Do you.
—Stephanie Bernard (@healthyhairtotoe)
I Breastfed for 3 Years… And IDGAF Who Saw Me Doing It
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I breastfed Luna until she was 3. Wherever I wanted without asking a single person for permission. Black women need to see more images of other Black women breastfeeding in order to normalize nursing in our community.
I realize as Black people, we often have trauma in places we don’t even know we have trauma in. I believe breastfeeding is one of those ancestral traumas. Hundreds of years of being forced to feed other people’s babies is a heavy burden to carry, and most importantly to heal from. Our babies die at twice the rate of our white counterparts and that number would be reduced greatly if we were encouraged to nurse our babies more.
I’ve heard comments from friends & family about the public places I’d whip my titty out or for how long I chose to breastfeed but, IDGAF. Breast milk is nature’s vaccinations and it is pure magic, even with all the advances in science, scientists still can not imitate or duplicate the nutrition and healing powers of a mother’s breast milk.
For anyone feeling questionable about feeding your child your milk in any public place, at any age, YOU are a Goddess. You are the portal of life, and you don’t owe anybody shit! Especially for doing what’s best for you and your offspring. Breastfeed loud & proud, you just may be inspiring another mama somewhere to do the same.
—Jamilah Mapp of Good Moms Bad Choices Podcast (@goodmoms_badchoices)
I Breastfed My Sons for Over A Year … And It Made Me More Present
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When I had my first son, I realized I had never seen a woman breastfeed. After an internet search I knew that this is what I wanted to do for my son if it were possible. When I presented it to my own mother and grandmother, they were not only confused by the why, but also weirded out by the choice. Almost every elder in my combined family was. Call it the rebel in me, but it motivated me even more.
After researching the WHY—why black women were less likely to breastfeed—I was more determined than ever! By my third son, I’ve become a full-blown advocate. I was blessed with each birth to not only have healthy boys, but to have easy transitions into breastfeeding. I trusted my body each time. I trusted the process. Even with the doubters that were in my ear, I pushed forward. Now, I’m lifting mamas up! KEEP GOING! YOU CAN DO IT! With so many negative voices in the atmosphere, I want these mamas to know YOU CAN.
In your perfection you were built with the tools to provide everything for your baby and MORE! My personal journey has taught me to value this body of mine that creates substance. Being able to produce forces me to take care of this vessel. Nursing my boys has granted me special moments to look at every wrinkle in their hands and to count every eyelash. The time has granted me the chance to say to myself, “Soak it all in. This won’t last forever,” whilst holding each of their tiny hands wrapped around my thumb.
These are the times I remember. I don’t remember the long nights and early nipple pain. Even now, right at this moment, as my 6 month old is cluster feeding and disrupting daily life every time he inhales my scent. When he is attached to me, I am forced to sit still. And soak it all in. And that is what I remember. I feel grateful to have taken control of my narrative as a Black mother and I am grateful to be intentional about being present in my bonding experience with my boys.
—Kenda Hill (@mawpeachesnatural)
I’ve Breastfed for 3 Years … And I’m So Glad I Listened To My Child Instead Of My Friends
Whew, chile. These boobs are long and these babies are full.
With my first child, my partner and friends pushed a year as the cut off. I cosigned. I only knew a couple of Black women who nursed past a year out of a handful who nursed at all. “If he’s walking and talking then he needs to get off the boob,” my friends would joke. Sounded right to me. [shrug emoji]
My second child is over 2 years and he has milkies in the evenings and when he’s seeking comfort. It’s helped him through illness and big family transitions. We’re in a place of “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” Milk continues to adapt as babies develop, giving them different and needed nutrients past the first year. It still supports their brain development and immune system.
I’m so glad that I trusted my body and child this time around.
I credit the Breastfeeding Support Group for Black Moms on FB with liberating me from the preconceived notions that I had about nursing past a year and sharing information to have a healthier journey than the first time. I credit my portable double electric pump and hand expressing (!) with getting me through pumping on the road. (I travel a lot for work.) And I credit myself prioritizing my voice over the opinions of others.
Whatever your choice, know that you can do it. We nursed this nation.
Mama, #fedisbest, nursed is next, move milk to make milk, and get some rest.
—Aketa Williams (@akitawilliams)
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