Talking to your kids about breastfeeding
I hope you have been following Glenis’s induced lactation story with us this month! If you missed the introduction to this series, follow this link to catch up.
Glenis is the mother of an elementary and a middle school aged kiddo, a boy aged 10 and a girl aged 12. Her partner is currently pregnant and the whole family is preparing for the changes ahead. Glenis has been actively working to induce lactation herself to prepare for co-nursing of their new child. As you can imagine, some aspects of this process have been emotionally and physically challenging for her and her family.
When she decided to induce lactation she had an open conversation with her children about what she was doing and why.
“In the beginning, they asked questions like, ‘is that even possible?’ …We talked about getting the breasts ready for milk production before pumping even started. I talked to them as much as I could, understanding takes different modalities.”
Glenis used accurate names for breasts, nipples, ducts, milk production, lactation, inducing lactation, etc. Her children are old enough to understand what is happening and have been curious about the underlying biology. Not only did they have conversations about what was going on, and the herbs/medications she was taking, but they also discussed how society views breasts and breastfeeding.
Glenis is proud that she also took this opportunity to challenge the sexualized perspective of breasts in her own home.
“We have changed the standards on what breasts are. Before, it was more sexualized, ‘my private parts that I can’t let anyone see.’ It took awhile for the children to understand the concept of ‘sexualizing breasts.’ He [her son] was uncomfortable seeing me naked initially. Pumping all the time – I cannot always be covered up… I explained that breasts are also for feeding and nourishing children. It wasn’t easy but I am very proud that the standard has changed within the household.”
Glenis provided an open line of communication with her children and says it has strengthened their ability to talk about breastfeeding with their peers. She even noted that it has increased the kids’ confidence in their family dynamic. This open and comfortable environment provides her children with safety and security as they move into this next chapter of their lives.
Another perspective…the silent conversation
Kate is a mother of an eleven, nine, and three and a half year old kid. When her baby daughter was born Kate suffered from postpartum depression and severe separation anxiety. Breastfeeding helped her feel connected. Her older children felt very comfortable with her breastfeeding. She doesn’t recall any specific conversation about it but many little ones strung together over time.
Kate used analogies like, “all animals feed their babies milk, like kitties and puppies,” and
“when you guys were babies you did this too, you just don’t remember.”
At seven months her baby girl was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. This trauma sparked many conversations, at the hospital and in the home, about the sister’s treatment, recovery, and care. One of these conversations was about the importance of breastfeeding, not only for nutritional content but as a comfort measure for the baby as she was going through various cancer treatment regimens.
Kate’s older children recognized the importance of mom spending a lot of time cuddling and breastfeeding with the baby. They knew this was helping their sister heal. Kate continued to pump and freeze her breast milk through this time. There were many benefits to this, most importantly it allowed the whole family to participate in special healing feeding time.
Tips for talking with your kids about breastfeeding
Use the correct language– Children are smart sponges! I once nannied for a child who could say all the dinosaurs’ complete scientific names at 3 years old (with the cutest baby voice)…because his mother only used those words when talking to him. She read him books about dinosaurs with the scientific names written in it. She gave him accurate information and that just became his normal. Children mimic your actions as we lay a foundation for their brain development. The more trust you have in them to be small people (not merely children) the more power, intellect, and confidence they will exhibit. This is true in all aspects of knowledge, especially when you are talking about anatomy. The more accurate you can be when you talk to them about bodies the better able they will be to articulate themselves, now and in the future. If you don’t know the correct words use a video or book to help! You can even ask your older children to find a YouTube video about breastfeeding to share with you. If you are informed you can help them to critically think about the video you are watching and correct misconceptions the may come up.
Use analogies and make connections – children (all people, really) learn best by connecting new experiences with similar ones.
- Use the example of cows feeding their calves.
- Compare bottle feeding and breastfeeding.
- Use images and your body to point out anatomy.
- Show them how a breast pump works.
- Use photosynthesis as a way to compare/contrast making sugar (glucose) for plants and making sugar (lactose) for baby.
- If you have a high school aged kid have them help explain how proteins are made.
Connect this biological process to the things your children are already learning. Make sure to us evidence-based resources as an opportunity for discussion and as a time to answer questions, problem solve, and to think critically. These are the most valuable skills you can teach your children. You may even learn something from your kids!
Make it a family conversation – sit together as a whole family and talk about what is happening to your body and your emotions. The postpartum period is a wild ride for all families, and being able to share those experiences with your children – especially older siblings – makes them feel included while building compassion and empathy. It also allows for conversations about additional responsibilities around the house which can provide ownership, accountability, and structure for everyone.
Start while your pregnant – don’t wait for the kids to ask you what you are doing. You need their support right from the beginning! Prepare them for the changes in the house as you prepare yourself. It is a life changing event when a new baby comes home. By preparing children for those changes you can prevent feelings of neglect and jealousy, diminish regressive behavior, and add responsibility to create ownership of family tasks for your kiddos. Shoot, you might even be able to get them to buy into washing all the pump parts! Wouldn’t that be amazing 😉
How did you talk to your kids about breastfeeding?
Are you preparing for these conversations right now? What are your questions? Maybe we can help!