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Thursday’s Q&A: Breastfeeding in Front of My Son

Breastfeeding is Normal!

Alice asks: 

I have a question and I KNOW you are the girl to ask! My son’s father’s girlfriend is breastfeeding. I love the idea of breastfeeding, but I unfortunately was not able to because of meds I take.  Because I have had to bottle feed, I’m not so sure if I’m justified in being bothered by something. She was feeding her baby in front of my son (eight years old), and no one explained to him what was going on. He was confused by the fact that he was shown her nipple. He’s never even seen my nipples (lol). I am wondering if they could have taken some better measures to prepare my son? Please don’t take my ignorance offensively I just have mixed feelings on how they went about things, and I feel like a boundary may have been crossed, not physically of course, but emotionally. Any input? Anything that I can do on my end to explain to him that it’s ok to see hers but nobody else’s, or is that just not my place? If he is uncomfortable should he leave the room?

Dear Alice,

That is a difficult situation, and I’m sure it doesn’t help that she is doing something that you were unable to do.  You, however, ALWAYS have the “right” to your feelings.  Yes, I think they should have taken a minute to explain what was happening to your son, but at least now you have the opportunity to explain it in a way that makes it normal, you know?

In situations where I had to explain breastfeeding to kids who hadn’t seen it before I always go for simple.  I say “breasts are for making milk, and some moms choose to feed their babies their own milk. For moms that can’t make milk, there is formula.”  The kid usually looks confused for a minute and then answers “Oh! Like a cow (or cat or dog, etc). And then they either scamper off to play or sit down and chat with me while I finish feeding my baby.

In my opinion, it’s a GREAT thing for boys/young men to see breasts being used for their intended purpose. I think it helps them learn not to objectify women, to see women’s breasts have a function beyond filling out a shirt.


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8 Responses to Thursday’s Q&A: Breastfeeding in Front of My Son

  1. It’s totally ok to be upset because clearly your son was put into a situation that made him uncomfortable/confused and no one bothered to notice or help him understand. I don’t think they meant to; perhaps she comes from a family like mine where all the littles have been exposed to a lot of breastfeeding growing up so it didn’t occur to her but surely his father has a better handle on his son’s experiences.

    The quick explanation that Joni gives is probably enough for an eight year old boy with perhaps the addition of a comment about how if he still feels uncomfortable he doesn’t have to stay in the room while the GF is nursing. I’m assuming this baby is his half-sibling and I imagine that his dad having a new baby is probably emotionally hard on him so whatever he needs should come first.

  2. In this particular situation, it’s understandable that your son was confused and that could be a bit upset. Your son’s father should have been more pro-active in preparing the child for what would happen when the new baby came home.

    I want to mention that your son may see other breastfeeding women during his childhood. It’s not illegal to breastfeed in public. So to tell him that it’s okay to see his sibling’s food source and no other might be taken too literally by him.

  3. At first I found myself having a very different response than the previous commentors…more along the lines of: How did you know that he was confused? What did he ask about the situation? Was he staring, acting uncomfortable? I think we (as adults & parents) sometimes project our own discomfort onto our children and it’s important to check in with our kids. It’s possible that he may have been surprised, then let it go. Or (perhaps most likely) not even really noticed. I would be reluctant to encourage him to leave the room while the baby is being fed…Of course if he asks to do this – sure! But I think it’s in his best interest to develop a sense of normalcy & comfort with being around his sibling (i’m assuming the baby shares a father with the your son) while he/she is being fed. If you do want to initiate a conversation about seeing the baby nurse, you might want to approach it in a very neutral way…”Hey did you notice the baby nursing, how about that?” (OK that was lame, but you get the idea), and check in with how he feels.

    In writing the above, though, I realized how much my response is influenced by a whole series of assumptions about how an eight year old boy (the age of my oldest son) would react to seeing a baby nurse. However, my boys are being raised in a community that is steeped in the “normalness” of breastfeeding & have seen plenty of nipples (my own & other mama family & friends). Sigh. I don’t want to seem unsupportive of a situation that is clearly uncomfortable.

  4. I was in a similar situation to the GF last week – I was over a friend’s house with my baby and had to nurse her. Her almost-8-year-old son was in and out of the room and was definitely watching me. I continued on like it was normal (cuz it was). When she was done, he played peek-a-boo and other little games with the baby and was generally awesome with her. I heard later that he told my friend that NOW he knew why girls had boobs!
    Kids are pretty smart – they figure stuff out like that. But if your particular kidlet is uncomfortable, I would recommend that you do your best to normalize it (“That baby is nursing. That’s how she gets milk, just like other babies get milk from a bottle.”) and respect his wish to be in another area if the discomfort continues.

  5. This reminded me of my son’s reaction to seeing me nursing his baby sister in the days after she was born. I told him she was drinking milk from my breast and he giggled like it was a joke. He continued to believe it was a joke until he saw me pumping milk out of my breast and into a bottle. Then he had questions, but also finally understood. It was pretty funny.

  6. Great advice! I’d add to maybe try to work in a book or video that shows breastfeeding. A good one would be Ponyo. It has one small little bit where Ponyo offers a baby a sandwich. The mother explains that the baby can’t eat sandwiches, she has to have mother’s milk.

  7. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the breastfeeding Momma on this one. you could just as easily blame the mother of the 8 year old for not having explained the situation earlier. If she is truly okay with breastfeeding, then all this does is expose him to what she values anyhow….isn’t that what we are doing with our kids? Sharing our values with them?

  8. Great answer! In my opinion, there’s no need to get into, “It’s okay to see her nipples but no one else’s.” You don’t want your son to feel guilty if he happens to glimpse another nursing mom somewhere. Instead, you could say, “Breasts are usually private, but sometimes when a mother is feeding her baby people might be able to see a little bit, and that’s all right. If you want to be sure you don’t see, just look away.” And I agree that if he really feels uncomfortable and is able to leave the room, that’s a fine thing to do.

    It seems most likely that his father and father’s girlfriend assumed he already knew about breastfeeding so they didn’t need to explain. If you are comfortable talking with them, I think it’s worth mentioning that he was kind of freaked out so some explaining and/or efforts to be discreet in his presence would be helpful.

    P.S. I love the fancy comment box!

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