As I prepared to write this post, I had to look back on my personal blog to truly remember my nursing days. My last day to nurse a baby was July 31, 2012. It blows my mind to think that was 3.5 years ago! I nursed both of my babies for the exact same amount of time... 11 months. I had a great support system, I worked part-time, and both babies nursed well and quickly. While it wasn't all roses and sunshine, I loved those months of bonding and feeding.
First, nursing is a commitment. While it may be "natural," it is not easy. Starting out, you are the only one that can feed the baby. The lack of consistent sleep is so hard. I exclusively nursed both babies for the 1st month before introducing a bottle. I wanted to establish my milk supply and ensure we had the whole nursing routine down. However, both of mine had a pacifier from day 1, and it was used religiously. I followed a fairly strict feeding and pumping routine that worked for me. However, each baby and experience was different, and I had to adapt my routine to make things work.
With my first baby, I stayed home for 6 months and was able to stockpile an enormous amount of milk in the freezer. Jack was a super efficient nurser, took a bottle easily, and transitioned easily from breast milk to formula. Over the course of 11 months, I slowly dropped pumping and nursing sessions, introduced formula, and followed his cues. The first 10 months Jack only got breast milk -- either from nursing or from a bottle. When he turned 9 months old, I dropped a nursing session. I nursed him 3 times a day and then he took a bottle of breast milk at school. I worked half-days at the time, and this plan was great.
As Jack began to eat more food, he was less interested in nursing. At 10 months, I dropped another nursing session. He nursed morning and night and took 2 bottles of breast milk. We continued this routine until New Year's Eve (Jack was 11 months old). Jack nursed that night, but when he woke up the next morning, he was done! From that point on, I used the remainder of my "liquid gold" and had to supplement with formula. While ending this bond with Jack was bittersweet, I found out I was pregnant again just a few days later.
When Julianne was born, she latched on easily, and my 2nd nursing experience began. Julianne nursed just like Jack: quickly and efficiently. I was so thankful for that, since I was also chasing around a 19 month old! We introduced a bottle of breastmilk around the same time expecting the same result. WRONG! This girl did not want anything to do with a bottle. I stayed home for 4 months with Julianne, and as my maternity leave ended, I was so worried because she would only nurse. This left me feeling very trapped. Even though I was pumping and had milk stored up, I couldn't use it! Finally, around 7.5 months, something clicked, and she took a bottle. It was amazing. Since she came with me to school, I was able slip out to nurse her during the day. While I loved this luxury, I think this routine and ability increased her refusal of the bottle!
My work schedule was different when I was nursing Julianne. I worked 2 full days, instead of half days. While I nursed her for 11 months, I started supplementing much earlier. I didn't have as much time to pump the second time around, so my frozen stash wasn't as big. While I did experience mommy guilty of not nursing her exclusively for as long as I was able to with Jack, her lack of bottle use for so long diminished that guilt quickly. At 8 months, I dropped a nursing session and started sending a bottle of breastmilk/formula to school. At 9 months, I nursed her 3 times a day and she took a bottle of formula. At 10 months, I dropped another nursing session. I nursed her morning and night, and she took 2 bottles of formula during the day. We continued this routine until she weaned herself at 11 months.
Once Julianne was done nursing, it was an emotional moment. I knew we were done having babies and our family was complete. It still amazes me that my body was either growing a baby or nursing a baby for almost 3 consecutive years!
Everyone's nursing journey is different, and each experience is unique. There are so many variables that affect nursing: milk production, milk supply, time, rest, other children, work, infections, etc... What worked for me may not work for you or anyone else. However, as a mom, my role is to support and encourage other mamas. Whether you nurse exclusively for an entire year or for a week or not at all, the choice you make for your baby is best.
*If you would like a copy of my nursing/feeding schedule, leave me a comment, and I will e-mail it to you. It was my lifeline/guidebook/bible that first year!