Mommy Chronicles: Explaining Breastfeeding to Older Children

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When my husband returned from an eight month long deployment to Afghanistan, I immediately became pregnant with our second son. I pretty much got pregnant the night he returned. There is a running joke between military families that a “baby boom” occurs nine months after the return of a big group of returning service members. Our family fell right into that stereotype.

My oldest son, Reeve, was 18 months old, and still nursing, when I became pregnant with Kitt. He slowly self-weaned throughout my pregnancy, which was helpful to me because I experienced extreme fatigue while pregnant with Kitt. Reeve completely weaned when he was twenty-six months old. At that point, I had less than two months left in my pregnancy, and I knew that I needed to prepare Reeve for the changes to come.

I remembered when my eight-year-old niece saw Reeve breastfeeding for the first time. She looked at him, then at me, and with wide eyes, said, “WHAT IS HE DOING?!” I laughed and yelled to my sister in the other room, “Shan, you better explain to your daughter how Reeve is fed!” We found it humorous at the time, but it is unfortunate that breastfeeding is somewhat of a social faux pas and a lot of people, even adults, have never seen or experienced breastfeeding.

I wanted to create a simple way of explaining breastfeeding to Reeve so that it wasn’t a huge shock for him like it was for my niece when she saw it for the first time. I also wasn’t sure if Reeve would want to start nursing again when he saw his new baby brother doing it. This is common for some families. If their weaned toddlers decide he or she would like to start breastfeeding again, a lot of parents chose to allow them to do so. I recognized the benefit of this, and I even occasionally missed nursing Reeve from time to time, but allowing Reeve to nurse again was not something we wanted to encourage because we were happy with the structure of our lives without it.

Fortunately for me, explaining breastfeeding to Reeve happened in a natural way. We are a pretty immodest family around the house. We run around in our underwear a lot, and we use the bathroom with the door open. Sometimes, the hustle and bustle of raising small children can overpower the desire for privacy. During my pregnancy, I found it much easier to bathe with Reeve, rather than give him a bath, and then keep him entertained while I bathed. I was so exhausted, too, so sometimes, bath time was my time to sit and relax while Reeve played in a confined area. Mamas are pros at killing a bunch of birds with a bunch of stones!

The lack of modesty allowed for Reeve to see my body and ask questions. Some people may think that is weird or wrong, but I don’t want Reeve to learn about the differences in our bodies from anyone other than my husband and me. I also want to encourage him to be inquisitive and gain knowledge in a safe, healthy way. I want him to feel comfortable asking me questions and learning about anatomy. While I never deliberately “showed” my son my body, I didn’t hide it from him, either. Today, he is still too young to know the real differences between girls and boys, but he is gaining trust in us and doesn’t feel afraid to ask questions. Hopefully, this will keep an open communication system between us.

While in the tub, Reeve noticed my breasts, and I took that opportunity to tell him that “those are for Baby Kitt when he gets here.” Reeve still recalled nursing for a while because he often pointed to my breasts and said, “milk? That’s milk.” I always replied, “Yes, you’re right. That milk is for Baby Kitt. He will need it when he is born.” So, after many conversations like this, Reeve began to tell me that the “milk is for Baby Kitt.”

When Kitt was born, there was one memorable instance when Reeve really examined Kitt while he nursed. He stood really close to Kitt’s face and looked on while his brother ate. Finally, Reeve smiled, looked up at me and said, “Baby Kitt likes his milk. Good job, Mama.” It was a sweet moment. Reeve hopped off to play, and I’m sure he immediately forgot what he had just told me, but it made me feel really good, especially remembering the struggles I had faced when Reeve was beginning to breastfeed.

At two years old, Reeve understands that his baby brother needs Mama when he eats. Sometimes, it is hard for him, especially when Kitt starts to cry and needs to be nursed right in the middle of a serious game of baseball. But, Reeve goes with the flow and we make it work with a balance of quality time between both boys.

I believe that teaching our children about anatomy at a young age is really beneficial, especially for a breastfeeding mother. A simple, straightforward approach worked for our family, but it may not be best for everyone. Perhaps, checking the local library or breastfeeding support group for age-appropriate books and literature works better for some families. Spending time with a breastfeeding family, maybe at a playgroup, could help a small child understand nursing a little better.

Until breastfeeding is normalized, there will always be someone who views it with negativity or, sadly, disgust, but I hope to raise children who view breastfeeding as natural and beautiful. I hope my boys grow up to be men who support the women in their lives and offer positivity if they choose to breastfeed. My husband offers this type of support for me, and it is invaluable.

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