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The Breastfeeding Issue I Want to Talk About

Erin Zammett Ruddy

At a play date the other day, Alex saw my friend nursing her son. No big deal at all. Except he had some follow-up questions later and I’m not sure I answered them correctly. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Alex—who gives no one any personal space, ever—saw that my friend was doing something interesting with her baby on the other side of the pool deck so he immediately went over to check it out. She didn’t care (she has two older boys) and I certainly didn’t mind (like I said, it was a non-issue for me--my friends and I are all pretty open with each other and even though I was not a huge breastfeeder, I have great respect for moms who are), but after a quick look-see, he came over to me and whispered in my ear that he had a question but that it was a weird question and could I get up and talk to him in private. He wrapped his arms around my head and asked me in my ear why babies eat from their moms’ boobs. I told him that when babies are born their moms’ bodies make milk and it’s called breast milk and that’s what babies eat before they eat food. I told him that when he was a baby, I fed him that way, too. Then, of course, sweet innocent inquisitive Alex turned into crazy-four-year-old Alex and he grabbed for my boob, yanking on my shirt, and asked me—giggling—if I had milk in there and if he could try it. “Just once mom, please please puh-lease!!!!” Oy vey.

I know there are women who might nurse their almost five-year-olds, but I am definitely not mom enough for that. Not to mention, that well’s been dry for years (Alex got about four weeks of breast milk and Nora got 36 hours—this was in part because I had to go back on my cancer meds and in part because of these reasons). Fortunately, I think he realized how silly his request was so when I gave him my usual, “What do you think the answer is, Al ?” he dove back into the pool and that was the end of it. Although he did ask about nursing again later that night and I think I said something along the lines of “Look kids, a deer!” Fortunately he’s still easily distracted. He saw my sister breastfeed my niece and he’s been around other breastfeeding moms so it’s not like he’s clueless that this is what happens. But it isn’t something he’s used to seeing every day and he’s a curious kid. I love that about him. And I want to give him good answers to his endless inquiries. Which I think I did….

How have you handled these questions with younger siblings or friends with babies? I’m thinking I did the right thing by answering his question directly and quickly and without editorializing—i.e. saying that it was the more natural, healthier, better way to feed your baby. Both of my kids got guilt-free formula and if I ever had a third, Alex would likely see that baby chugging Enfamil, too. And, of course, I believe it was also within my mom rights to deny his request for a quick hit. But I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Have your kids asked about your nursing or other moms’ nursing? What have you said? I’m assuming if they’re more used to seeing it, they don’t even notice, right? Also, I know that this is a heated topic for so many so please, please, please, if you find fault with anything I’ve said here or I’ve somehow offended you, explain it in a nice way without calling me some kind of name. Thank you!