Amanda wrote this essay when Ezra was 2 ½ years old. Seven months later, Ezra still nurses, but infrequently - for a few minutes every two or three days. We have also moved on from the coop daycare, and Ezra attends a preschool class with children 3-5 years old.
At two and a half years old, Ezra nurses two or three times a day, usually in the morning and evening. He also often nurses when I pick him up from daycare. It’s the first thing he wants to do when he sees I’ve arrived. “Mommy, I want to nurse!” and he will point me toward a rocking chair. We’ve been at a multi-age coop daycare since Ezra was 6 months old. Our coop has a very friendly attitude towards breastfeeding. It’s common for a breastfeeding mother to stop by and nurse her infant during a break in her schedule and to find a couple mothers nursing and chatting in the playroom at the end of the day.
The other day while Ezra was nursing, his friend Lucy, who is four years old, asked me, “What’s Ezra doing?” Lucy has asked me some variation of this question almost everyday for the past two years. She never seems to tire of breastfeeding conversations; indeed, in the two and a half years I’ve known her, Lucy has demonstrated an unwavering obsession with pregnancy, babies and anything having to do with childcare. Ezra was the only infant when we joined our coop and while he attracted a lot of attention from the other toddlers and preschoolers, Lucy was his most avid fan. Her first word (at least to my recollection) was “baby” which she repeated over and over while sitting right next to him and this behavior helped coin Ezra’s nickname, “Baby Ezra,” which was quickly adopted by all the children at our coop. As Lucy’s language took off, one of the first sentences she said to me was an instruction: “Baby nipple milk.”
I told Lucy he was nursing, and she asked why. This is a very rehearsed routine between the two of us with nearly the same questions and answers every day. I told her Ezra was thirsty and having some milk, at which point Ezra stopped nursing, interrupting our routine, and said, “I not having milk, I nursing!” I laughed aloud and Lucy lost interest.
Ezra’s outburst was a subtle reminder of the shift in nursing from infancy to toddlerhood. Whether or not he recognizes that breastfeeding now isn’t really about milk, I’ve known for some time that it has little to do with nutrition. Even though I have no clue how much milk he takes in with only two or three nursing sessions a day – such a change from when I was counting every ounce I pumped! – it certainly isn’t much. While he might not be getting a substantial number of calories or other nutritional inputs from my breast milk, there are other, clear emotional and developmental benefits he still receives from nursing: comfort, security, and routine.
He nurses less and less with every month, with breastfeeding sessions growing shorter and shorter over the last few weeks. In fact, a few consecutive evenings passed when he didn’t ask to nurse before going to sleep. I was surprised the first night. I was a little sad too, which was mystifying because I had felt, for a period of several weeks, increasingly frustrated with breastfeeding. That first night convinced me to have a little more patience with his need for nursing and was a gentle reminder he will not nurse forever.
Oddly, as Ezra’s nursing is on the decline, his interest in verbalizing breastfeeding is on the rise. Lately he has been fond of telling me “I nurse a lot” and the other day he told me, “I love nursing.” Well if I had been feeling Grinch-y about nursing, my heart grew three sizes that day.