Explaining Breastfeeding to Children

As we continue with Breastfeeding Awareness Month posts, it made sense to write about children and breastfeeding on our family blog.  Pictured above is an image from the Alpha Parent’s blog listing children’s book that show and/or talk about breastfeeding.  I think that picture pretty much sums up how older siblings feel about new babies and nursing!

So, continuing on with yesterday’s Thoughtful Thursday topic,  “Normalize Breastfeeding” over at Sweet Pea Births, how do you explain breastfeeding to children?  Here are the things that worked for us.

If you breastfed your older child(ren), it is helpful to share pictures of you breastfeeding them.  It is natural for children to feel jealous of all the time the new baby will be spending with Mommy.  Showing them how they were fed and close to you until they became more independent may help.

Side note:  My friend Rachel Davis made a photo book for her children showing their progression through pregnancy, labor, birth and their first year.  Depending on how old they are, it may help the older sibling understand that the newborn phase is not forever and that soon, they will not feel like all your time is consumed by the baby.  She does caution to be mindful of which pictures you put in there…your child will be proud of this book and show it to anyone and everyone that will read it with them.

We have also taken the time to point out all the things we will still be able to do with them while nursing the younger sibling(s):

      • we can snuggle together and read a book
      • we can sit on the floor and do a puzzle
      • we can sit next to each other and play quietly or color
      • they can let the baby fall asleep so we can get our own together time without the baby

We have found that including them in the nursing sessions helps them feel like they are still part of the “inner circle”.  We try to be mindful that although they may have weaned, they still crave our time and our touch.

I also take the time to show them the mechanics of nursing.  How does the baby latch?  How can we tell if the baby is actually feeding for nutrition, or might they be comfort nursing?  Does it hurt?  I want them to not just accept it, but to learn about how to nurse.  If they have more questions, we talk about them.

Talking to children outside your family:
I have nursed our children wherever and whenever they have been hungry.  Sometimes that is at a family gathering, at a playdate, at a park.  When I nursed with a nursing cover, children would be curious and want to know what was going on under the cover.  I would ask the parents permission first, and if it was okay with them, I’d let them look under the cover to see the baby nurse.  If parents were not okay with it, they would simply tell their children that it was not okay and to leave us alone.

Either way, I would take a second to tell the children that I was feeding our baby my milk. I made sure to say it was one of the ways to feed children, being mindful that maybe they were fed differently.  Again, if they had more questions, I would answer them.  Some questions I got:

  • How long did the baby eat?
  • When would they start eating food?
  • Did I ever give them a bottle?

Now that I nurse with a loose blouse instead of a cover, the nursing is not under or hidden.  Curiously, I get less questions about breastfeeding – isn’t that interesting?  Nothing to hide, nothing to explain.

Have you talked to children within or outside your immediate family about breastfeeding?  What did you share with them?

Want to read more about normalizing breastfeeding with the younger generation?  Try THIS piece about breastfeeding on a children’s program, published January 2012.