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Ask Dr. Sears: "Mommy, Where Do Babies Come From?"

Q  I'm the mother of a 5-year-old girl and I'm pregnant with our second child. My daughter keeps asking me questions like "Where does the baby come out of you?" and "How did it get there?" I don't want to lie or misdirect her, but how do I give her the "birds and the bees" talk without revealing too much?

A. Welcome to the concept of "the talk": Every child needs to have it, and every parent needs to do it. For better or worse, with each generation, children are becoming more sexually aware at a younger age. This fact of modern life means that parents must be savvy and responsible about explaining conception and childbirth in age-appropriate terms. As the parents of eight children, my wife and I had to have this chat eight times, so you could say we're pretty experienced! Here's what we learned from those discussions:

Tell them, but not too much 

Answer the exact question your daughter asks—no more, no less. If she asks you what part of you the baby comes out of, explain this in the simplest terms possible. It's not the time to go into a detailed description of the act of procreation. Parents often give young children an earful when small bites of information are more appropriate. When a 5-year-old patient of mine asked her parents, "Where did I come from?" the flustered couple embarked on an in-depth account of baby-making—only to discover that all the girl wanted to know was where she was born: Cleveland!

Use picture books 

They're a surefire way to get your point across in terms appropriate to a preschooler. I suggest reading my book, Baby On the Way, for a description of the birth process at a 5-year-old's level.

Tell the truth 

Using our book or another that you like, play show and tell. Tell your daughter that her sibling-to-be is growing in your womb (not your "tummy") and that when the time is right, the baby will squeeze through the birth canal, called the vagina. It's extremely important to use accurate terms. Starting at this early age, you want your child to learn that she can depend on you to be a trustworthy and easily approachable source of information, especially on sensitive issues. You're laying the groundwork for the more in-depth and challenging sexuality talks that will come when she's a teen.

Use a conversational and matter-of-fact tone 

If you're feeling embarrassed, try not to show it, as even a 5-year-old can detect discomfort. You want your body language to be relaxed, therein conveying that sexuality is a healthy part of life and nothing to be ashamed of. Since your daughter trusts you enough to have asked her first question—"Where does the baby come out?"—she's likely to want more information, such as how the baby was created. Be prepared to answer her in a matter-of-fact way. It's best, however, not to go into more detail until she gives you clues that she wants it.

Let her participate in your pregnancy 

Encourage her to feel the baby kick, talk to him, and pick out clothes for him. Have her accompany you on your prenatal checkups so that she sees her sibling growing in the ultrasound pictures. This bit of prenatal bonding will help her appreciate not only the beautiful changes that are going on in your body, but also the baby who will soon join your family.

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