How to explain breastfeeding to children of all ages

Every once in a while, pretty much every time breastfeeding in public comes up on The Leaky Boob Facebook page or in a group setting, someone expresses in frustration why they feel women should cover or go somewhere private to breastfeed asking “what do I say to my child as to what she is doing?”  Inevitably I think they are joking for some reason and for a moment I’ll be amused.  But then I realize they are completely serious and they find this to be a very valid reason as to why women should not breastfeed in public.  So I, very seriously and with compassion for their situation, offer suggestions, believing that knowing how to talk to children about nutrition, life, and normal infant feeding is important and I don’t want to leave them hanging.  How DO you talk about it?

If you’re very busy, and you probably are, I’ll go ahead and save you time and you can get on with your day:

Tell them she is feeding her baby.

This explanation is the most straightforward and appropriate response no matter what the age of the person asking.  It has the added bonus of being neither awkward or an untruth.  From 12 months to 120 years old, anyone can understand that a breastfeeding woman is feeding her baby.  It is simple, it is clear, it is true.

Eplaining breastfeeding to a child

Now, it is possible that some may find this confusing and want to argue that it is somehow gross, indecent, or too intimate to be done in public.  This argument is made possible by beer commercials, the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies, and our own overblown ideas fixating on only the sexual nature of the female breasts.  However, those that would raise such objections are not likely to be children but rather adults that have bought into the messages of society that the female body, in particular the female breasts, exist solely for the sexual gratification of men.  Children do not naturally have such bias so it is doubtful that, if your child is asking what a woman is doing while breastfeeding, they are equating the act with sex.  The anxiety you feel about their question is coming from your own inner insecurities and not that of the child.  Have no fear though, it is a simple fix: take a deep breath, own your issues, and answer honestly.  Hopefully by doing so you can avoid handing down the same issues you have internalized in objectifying women.

Need more help in handling this situation?  As a mom of 6 children and a teacher of many more, I’ve had lots of practice.  Check out these 6 simple ways of answering the question “what’s that lady doing?” when your child sees a breastfeeding woman:

18 months – 2.5 years old: “You see the mommy feeding her baby?  Isn’t that sweet?  Let’s leave them alone so that baby can finish their snack, would you like a snack too?”

Or, for the toddler that breastfeeds as well…

“Yes, that baby gets to eat just like you.  Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

2.5 years old – 4 years old:  “Oh, that mommy’s just feeding her baby.  All mammal mommies have breasts to feed their babies and even the daddies have nipples but really only mommies have nipples that work for feeding babies.  Where are your nipples?”

Or, for the preschooler that breastfeeds as well…

“Yes, that baby gets to eat just like you.  Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

To help them understand how normal this is and that all mammal mommies feed their babies this way, watch one or all of these sweet clips from Sesame Street:

Mom and baby mammals

Buffy nurses Cody

Maria Breastfeeds

You’re My Baby music video

4 years old – 8 years old:  “She’s feeding her baby.  That’s what breasts are for, feeding babies.  That’s where the term ‘mammal’ comes from, all creatures that feed their babies with their teat or breast are called mammals.  What animals can you think of that feed their young this way?”

Or, for the child that breastfeeds as well, all that plus: “Would you like to have some mommy milk now too?”

8 years old – 11 years old: “Thanks for pointing out the mom feeding her baby, I love seeing moms feeding their babies, don’t you?  Can you think of other ways babies are sometimes fed?  Do you know what kind of creatures feed their babies this way?  What other animals feed their young with their mammary glands?  Do you know how I fed you as a baby?  You were breast/bottle fed and I’m so grateful for the time I had getting to feed you, it was so special.”

11 years old – 13 years old: “It is so nice to see a mom feeding her baby.  What do you think of seeing this?  It isn’t always easy for moms to breastfeed in public, our society hasn’t always been very supportive of moms.  It is the normal way for babies to eat though, we should smile at her to encourage her as she takes care of her baby.”

13 years old – 18 years old: “She’s feeding her baby, isn’t that cool?  Does it bother you?  I wonder why a mom feeding her baby would make you uncomfortable?  Did you know that the primary function of the female breast is to feed babies?  Breastfeeding is the normal way for human babies, actually, all baby mammals, to eat.  You and I don’t have to hide when we’re eating, why should that baby have to hide?  And did you know that bottles are designed inspired by the breast?  I’m really glad we got to see this mom feeding her baby, I hope it helps us remember that this is normal and good.  Too often the only capacity in which we see the female breast is with an over emphasis on the sexual nature that ends up objectifying women.  Let’s smile at her to show our support and in thanks for the reminder that women aren’t sex objects.”

For an adult that acts like a child when they see a woman breastfeeding, refer to the explanation for the younger two categories, that should be simple enough for them to understand.

If you would, however, rather not inform children about breastfeeding and would prefer to hand down issues, simply act like breastfeeding is shameful.  With a reaction like that you can continue to be a part of a society that pressures women to breastfed yet sends confusing messages that doing so is somehow shameful and perverted.  Such a reaction will go a long way in helping absolutely nobody.

Because it really is as simple as breastfeeding is a mother feeding her baby.

 

The Measure of Indecency

This post was originally posted here.


Hello! Up here! My eyes. You’ve been so busy staring elsewhere that you probably haven’t even noticed I have eyes let alone looked in them long enough to tell me what color they are. I admit, the color of my eyes can be hard to nail down, it really depends on what I’m wearing or the color of the frames on my glasses provided I’m wearing any. Glasses! I always wear socks with sneakers, I was talking about glasses. Ugh, why must you only see me for that? As though that’s all I’m good for. It’s not like they are new, they’ve been around as long as humans have and most everyone has them.

Excuse me, it bothers you when I walk? You do realize that the primary function of my ankles is to help me walk on my feet, don’t you? I see, seeing them used in a different way is gross. Uh-huh. Would you rather I just sit around with my feet up, my ankles hidden discretely beneath my pants or skirt until they are to be viewed and touched for pleasure? Hmmmm, this could complicate things, like my life. And caring for my children. So it makes other people uncomfortable to see a woman’s ankles when she’s chasing her children around, keeping them safe, providing them with the best opportunities and using her ankles as, oh, I don’t know, how they are intended to be used? I should be worried about offending other people? Interesting. I’m really far more concerned about doing the best I can for my children. Research shows that mothers that are able to should let their children run and be active and for that to happen best a mother needs her ankles to chase after them. Saving them only for her partner’s pleasure would get in the way of her children’s health! Oh, I can use them, you just want me to cover them up. With a blanket. Or one of those fashionable things made just for that.

Wow. That really makes it difficult not to mention, uncomfortable and likely dangerous. What exactly would be adequate coverage? Adequate and safe? When I’m using them to care for my children, how much can you actually see anyway? I know socks that reveal more and ankles are plastered all over magazines, billboards, TV, and movies to sell everything from sports drinks to cars to furniture. Honestly. I’m not showing any more than what you’d see watching a sitcom. Probably less, actually. And if you think that’s shocking, what about flip-flops and open toe shoes that reveal ankles AND toe cleavage? Nobody is insisting those be covered up. But a mother running around caring for her children, now that is disgusting. Please tell me, what is the measure of indecency we hold as standard? But another man seeing my ankles while I run after kids could be a turn on? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. A woman doing the best she can caring for her children, using her body as it is intended is going to be an indecent turn on? Now who is disgusting? But there could be a slip and they might SEE something! Gasp! Oh dear, what will we do! Mothers around the world are seducing men left and right using their ankles as they take care of their children! What is the world coming to?!

Now you’re saying that it is ok to use them but not only do you not want to see them used “that way” but it should stop once the child is one? How exactly does that make sense? Excuse me, but my child still needs me and it is encouraged by the experts that mothers continue to chase after their children as long as it is mutually beneficial and both parties are comfortable with it. Seriously, I don’t see how there is a magic switch that is flipped when a child turns one that she would no longer need me to walk after her. She may not even be ready to walk herself yet at that point! No, there is nothing inappropriate about me continuing to care for my child that way and I’m offended that you would say there is. It doesn’t excite me sexually, I’m not that one-dimensional, thanks. I may run around and use my ankles in a fashion only appropriate with my husband in our private times along but trust me, I couldn’t even begin to compare caring for my children to making love with my husband! I am not abusing my child by continuing to trot after them. My ankles have more than one purpose and I can differentiate between their functions, it isn’t that difficult actually and I already do it with other areas of my body so why should this be any different?


Honestly, I am sorry it makes you uncomfortable but I really can’t help but wonder if that reflects more on your issues than my ankles and my mothering. Your issues don’t have much weight in my caring for my children, sorry. If other women feel uncomfortable with their ankles so exposed while they care for their children, fine. It doesn’t bother me and if they can figure out how to gallop around after kids while hiding under a blanket then more power to them. In fact, I’m impressed, I just can’t get it to work. So I’m going to continue doing what is best for my children and while I’m not going to parade around with my ankles just hanging out there all the time for the world to see, I’m not going to hide me or my children just to make you feel better. There is nothing wrong with what I’m doing, I’m not ashamed of my ankles or using them to race around after my children. Not every woman can, I’m blessed to be able to. And no, I’m not going to cover to protect your sensibilities. Maybe your sensibilities aren’t that sensible. It is, after all, only natural for a mother to hasten to protect and give her children her best. This is my best. If you don’t like it then put a blanket over your head!


Once upon a time in a bygone era, ankles were considered a sexually indecent part of the body for a woman to show, a flamboyant display of indecency if they were revealed. Other era’s featured fashion that regularly revealed the breast mostly bare including the nipples showing while covering most every other part of the body with clothing. What we consider indecent now was at one time the height of fashion and accepted by the majority of society. Likewise, what has been considered inappropriate and immodest exposure in the past are now considered commonplace even in most of the extremely conservative circles. This post was inspired by some some online conversations I read  and by this article. It is intended as satire regarding breastfeeding in public and “extended breastfeeding.” Not that I need to explain but for the record my husband completely supports me breastfeeding our children. Also, no ankle or foot fetish here. But aren’t these shoes amazing? I love them. Well, love to look at them. Wearing them, not so much. Seriously, what could be more sexy that a woman scurrying after her children in a pair of smokin’ hot, deadly heels?