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.

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 13 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.

I’M 15 MONTHS INTO BREASTFEEDING… AND I DIDN’T THINK I WOULD MAKE IT 2 WEEKS

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.

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

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.

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)

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This story by Tomi Akitunde first appeared on mater mea.