I knew it would come up. In the middle of questions about how long my youngest son was sleeping at night and what kinds of vegetables he would agree to eat, I knew my pediatrician was going to ask about the baby bottle at his 24-month well visit. It had been discussed at the 18-month well visit and deferred until our next appointment. "Work on transitioning away from it," she had said.
So as I walked into the pediatrician’s office three days after his second birthday, I knew my son’s thorough and conscientious physician would ask—again—if he was still drinking most of his recommended amount of calcium per day out of a baby bottle.
And I'd have to tell her he was.
"Because we like it that way," is what I wanted to say, but in reality, I was much more diplomatic, shifting my weight atop the crinkly paper on the examination table and carefully reciting my planned response: "It's just for comfort. Only before naps and bed. It's our bonding time."
She asked if we brushed his teeth afterwards, and I said yes. She asked if he ever took the bottle to bed with him, and I said no. She asked what else he drinks during the day, and I told her only water. I told her he drinks easily from straw cups and sippy cups and even cups without any lids at all. "It's just for comfort," I repeated.
Thankfully, she didn’t ask whose comfort I was referring to.
I’m not sure I would have been able to answer that question as honestly as the others. I’m certain, if given a few days to adjust, my son could learn to fall asleep at naptime and bedtime without six ounces of warm milk delivered to him through the nipple of a baby bottle. But I’m not ready to give up this little ritual yet—it’s his last vestige of babyhood, and he isn’t showing any signs of wanting to let it go. So I don’t want to let it go, either.
We had staked our claims on one another—I belonged to him, and he belonged to me.
I have three sons and didn’t have much luck breastfeeding the first two beyond the first few months. This baby lasted the longest, sticking with it until nearly 10 months. After dealing with colic, reflux and milk intolerance issues with both of my other sons, the breastfeeding experience with this baby was dreamy, like something out of a parenting book.
When the time came, the weaning process was bittersweet. But once we had moved over to formula and, later, whole milk, we maintained our close-knit routine around feedings. We snuggled together in his darkened bedroom several times a day, the white noise machine lulling us both into a state of deep relaxation. I tucked him into my lap and cradled him in the crook of my left arm. Just like when he used to nurse, he tugged gently on the ends of my hair and grasped for my fingers, squeezing them to let me know he was still awake.
It wasn’t exactly the same as breastfeeding, but that didn’t seem to matter to either one of us. We had staked our claims on one another—I belonged to him, and he belonged to me.
As he dropped feedings and began eating table foods, I clung to this routine. As he went from walking to running in a matter of weeks, I clung to this routine. As he started talking and throwing tantrums and falling down on purpose to make his brothers laugh, I clung even harder.
Every day, he was doing what all young children do—and what all mothers observe with co-mingling senses of relief and regret—he was moving further away from being my baby and closer to being a child I didn’t really know all that well yet. A strange, new person inhabiting an ever-changing body.
Still my baby, but also not.
So we just never stopped. We kept on snuggling in the dark over a baby bottle of warm milk and, somehow, we ended up here: at his two-year well visit, admitting that fact with no small amount of embarrassment. My son’s pediatrician smiled sympathetically. "As long as it's just for comfort," she said.
"He'll grow out of it eventually," I replied, more to remind myself than to reassure her. It’s the truth—he will grow out of this routine eventually, and I won’t try to cling to it anymore when he does.
But right now, I don’t want to be rushed out of his infancy into the wild unknown of toddlerhood. I want to hold him on my lap while he’s still small enough to fit. I want to hear his fast, hungry gulps from the bottle turn into long and slow ones as he starts to fall asleep. I want to feel his hands in my hair and his fingers around mine.
I want to pretend that he’s still my baby for as long as he’ll let me.