When my second baby came into the world and latched permanently to my breast, I figured my oldest would have questions. But her being only 2 years and a month, she didn’t have questions—more like jealousy. It’s not like she could remember her own breastfeeding days so it wasn’t that. She just realized how many times it looked like mommy was cuddling the baby and not her (completely forgetting how she would spend almost every other second on my lap when the baby wasn’t eating). And when she found out the baby was getting milk all the time? Whoa tantrum. Milk is her favorite drink!
So, if you’re expecting your second child and you’d like some tips on how to prepare them and explaining breastfeeding to a child, here are my suggestions:
Read books about breastfeeding to your child: How to explain breastfeeding to a 3 year old? You should be reading to your kid(s) every day anyways, so why not throw in a book specifically about nursing while you’re at it? Especially as the months get closer to you having the baby (and the months following the delivery), repetitive readings of a children’s book about breastfeeding can really help your little one understand better what exactly you will be doing to feed baby brother or sister. Even if your first child is much older, it’s still a good idea to do this. It takes any awkwardness out of the situation, which is important because it seems that society wants to make breastfeeding a taboo subject and it shouldn’t be. Some suggestions for books are: Mama’s Milk by Michael Elsohn Ross, Mommy Breastfeeds my Baby Brother by Mark Repkin, and The Wonders of Mother’s Milk by Mishawn Purnell-O’Neal (which is a good one for older kids).
Involve your oldest as much as you can: You’ll be feeding your newborn multiple times a day and your oldest might get jealous of all that special “cuddle” time his baby sister is getting. So while you nurse the baby, try to focus your attention on the oldest so he doesn’t feel left out. Sing songs with him, ask him to get you a burp rag or a snack, read him a book—anything that shows him you may be latched to the baby, but you’re attentive to him and want to keep playing, too.
Play up how awesome it is to drink milk from a sippy cup: My oldest once got jealous that her baby brother could drink milk from me but she couldn’t. She didn’t understand why not. So we really stressed how cool drinking milk from her cup was. We even told her she could have chocolate or strawberry milk and the baby was stuck drinking plain old boring milk. That really helped!
Take this chance to emphasize good habits (again) to your oldest: Never miss an opportunity to teach and reinforce lessons to your kids! Use breastfeeding to explain why it’s important for mom to eat healthy so you can produce more milk. When you have a snack (which I recommend having on hand while breastfeeding because it makes you ravenous), make it a healthy snack that you share with your oldest. Then, teach again about how baby only drinks milk right now and can’t chew the yummy food older brother gets to have. Other lessons you can talk about while you nurse to reinforce what you’ve already been trying to teach are sleep habits (less sleep makes mommy upset easily and lose milk supply), being gentle and quiet, and importance of being a helper.
It’s not the end of the world to let your older child try nursing (or try your breast milk): If your oldest is really curious and won’t be distracted from his jealousy, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to let him try. It’s totally up to you if you’ll allow this and if it would make you uncomfortable, you certainly don’t have to. But if your older child keeps asking to try mommy’s milk, you might consider letting him latch or pumping some milk to let him try it from his sippy cup. Not all children will be this curious, but if yours is, go for it!
Even if your older child could care less about what you’re doing to feed the baby, it’s still important to normalize breastfeeding to him or her. Reading an age appropriate book about mammals nursing is still beneficial. Keeping the cover off to nurse while the oldest is around is an obvious and easy way to normalize the process and teach a little. Whatever you choose to do, good luck!