Lessons About Nursing

by Jessica Williams

Lessons About Nursing

You’re pregnant, and your toddler’s delighted. As she helps you stock up on baby supplies, you come across shelves of feeding gear.

“Bottles for the baby!” she exclaims. But you’ll be breastfeeding. How do you explain it to her?

“The concept of nursing may be hard for a toddler to grasp, unless she was breastfed and not weaned until she was at least 2,” says Andrea McCoy, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. Some age-appropriate ways to talk about it:

Before the Baby Comes

  • Wait until your third trimester to bring up the topic. Any sooner, and the idea will be too abstract for her.

  • Be honest, but not too technical. Explain that your breasts will begin to make milk after the baby is born. To describe how the baby will get the milk out, use other mammals as examples: Show a picture of a cow and her calf, or visit neighborhood puppies or kittens that are nursing.

  • To help your child make the leap to how people nurse, take her to watch another baby breastfeed if you have a family member or close friend who has a newborn. Before her twins were born, Elisa Ast All, of Evanston, IL, showed her 2 1/2-year-old son, C.J., photos of himself being breastfed.

After the Baby’s Born

  • Let your toddler help. She can bring you a spitup cloth or a nursing pillow.

  • Encourage your toddler to ask questions. What does it feel like? Is the baby biting you? Keep your answers short and simple.

  • If you’re uncomfortable nursing in front of her, do it privately — but don’t make a big deal about hiding. This may cause her to resent the newborn.

  • Just as your toddler may like to diaper a doll or help you bathe the baby, she may pretend to “nurse” a doll or stuffed animal. Let her: It’s a perfectly healthy way to express her curiosity about her new sibling.

  • To placate a jealous child, include her: After your infant is in position, read a story, sing songs, or supervise a craft project.