Many new parents are stressed and overwhelmed in the first year, and older siblings have their own challenges to overcome. There’s no escaping change when you bring a new baby into the family.
From accepting that they have a younger sibling who demands a lot of attention to adjusting to new household routines, siblings of all ages can easily feel a range of emotions from jealousy and sadness to confusion and frustration.
A lot of those emotions are likely to surface as an older sibling learns to handle breastfeeding. The act of breastfeeding allows a mother to snuggle closely with her new baby, developing a deep bond while providing nourishment and a lot of direct attention. That’s often difficult for an only sibling to handle because they’re used to receiving the same attention from their mother.
What can you do to help your older child understand and accept the time you spend breastfeeding their new sibling? We have some tips that will help you build a bond between your children, starting with this important challenge.
How to Explain Breastfeeding to a Child
If you spend some time discussing pregnancy, childbirth, and childhood in general, you should find some natural opportunities to talk about breastfeeding with your older baby. How much an older sibling understands about all of those topics depends on their age, maturity level, and other personal factors. Every parent will find unique opportunities to talk about sensitive topics at a time that they believe their child is open minded and ready to explore new topics.
For example, you may find that your child is naturally more talkative when you spend time doing things she loves. For example, your child may talk your ear off while helping you bake cookies, taking a walk around the block, or eating ice cream on the front porch. Allow your child to start talking, and then find ways to turn the conversation toward your pregnancy, the new baby coming soon, and eventually, breastfeeding.
What do you say when the golden opportunity arises? Start by listening to what your child has to say about the topic and answering any questions they may have. Simply explaining how new babies eat and why breastfeeding is important to their growth and development is a great way to start. Just make sure that the explanation is on your child’s level so that they understand.
Here are some great conversation starter ideas to get you thinking about creative ways to approach breastfeeding with your older child:
- Talk about your memories breastfeeding the older child. Talk about how you snuggled them close to keep them warm, stared down into their eyes, and nourished them with warm milk that filled their tummy. You can then discuss why babies eat breast milk rather than solid foods.
- Ask your child what his favorite foods are and if he wants to introduce his new baby brother or sister to those foods. Talking about your child’s favorite foods allows you to explain that all babies start out eating only milk from their mommies but introducing them to all of those favorites is something to look forward to in the future. Your child can get excited about showing their world to their new sibling.
- Go through pictures of your older child’s first year of life. Make sure to include pictures of him breastfeeding and pause to discuss what you were doing in those pictures and why. Seeing that they had their time breastfeeding will help most older children accept that it’s now time for a new baby to share those moments with their mother.
- Read books about a variety of topics related to pregnancy, including breastfeeding. You can mix the books in with your child’s favorites so that they don’t feel overwhelmed with the information. Make it subtle, and then allow your child to ask questions and express their thoughts when the topic is explored.
The most important thing is to give your child many opportunities to ask questions. Make sure the answers are on their level, giving more detail only if they seem to push for more information. Don’t shy away from telling your child that breasts were created for nourishing new babies and a mommy’s milk is different from the milk they have in the refrigerator.
Breastfeeding in Front of Older Siblings
Should you breastfeed in front of an older sibling? That’s just one of many questions that every parent must answer for themselves. You’re likely to answer it the same way you answer related questions like, “Should you breastfeed in front of close friends? What about in public?”.
If you’re comfortable breastfeeding in front of other people with proper coverage, you’re likely to feel the same about breastfeeding in the presence of an older child. While some mothers prefer to breastfeed in private if possible, others have no problem pulling out their nipple and nourishing their baby whenever and wherever needed. Some feel most comfortable with little coverage while others prefer complete coverage.
There are no right or wrong answers as long as you don’t feel that breastfeeding in front of your older child will somehow harm them. You’re giving them the opportunity to see nature at work. They can also see breastfeeding in practice, since you hopefully spent some time introducing them to the concept prior to bringing your baby home or shortly after.
Breastfeeding in front of your children will also send the message that it’s nothing mysterious, secretive, or exclusive. Some children may experience some jealousy or other emotions at first, but you can allow them to sit next to you or wrap their arms around the baby’s back for added support. Including them is likely to ease the emotions, and they will soon start paying no attention as it becomes a normal thing that mommy just does with the baby regularly.
Remember, you don’t have to expose your breast in front of your older child if it doesn’t feel natural. You should breastfeed in front of your child just as you might if a close friend or other relative were visiting. Of course, you may also feel more comfortable with your child than you do anyone else.
How to Occupy Older Siblings While Breastfeeding
Eventually, breastfeeding won’t even grab your older child’s attention. What you might find is they get bored or demand attention for themselves while you’re feeding the baby. That can start immediately or after they get over the interest in what you’re doing with the baby.
You may have your own unique ways of distracting the older child, but we have some ideas that may give you new ideas:
- Save a puzzle, basket of toys, or something else of interest for breastfeeding time. Your child will learn that they only get to play with those items when mommy is breastfeeding, and they will look forward to it. Change out some of the items over time so that they don’t get bored and always have something new to look forward to exploring. (Learn how to make busy boxes for your child for breastfeeding times….)
- Save movie time for select breastfeeding sessions. Children of all ages enjoy snuggling on the couch to watch their favorite show or a new movie, especially if mommy enjoys it with them. Movies and shows are great distractions and allow you to take a break and breastfeed your baby to satisfaction while giving the older sibling some snuggle time as well.
- Sing songs or make up stories for both of your children as you breastfeed. You may want to stare down at your little baby and soak up that cuddle time, but you can include the older sibling by turning it into story time. Either allow the older sibling to read stories to the new baby as he eats or make up stories, recite fairytales, and sing songs for both of their entertainment.
- Allow another family member to spend time with the older sibling. Sometimes getting some alone time with daddy or grandma is all a child needs to forget about what the new baby is doing with mommy.
- Time breastfeeding sessions to your older child’s schedule. For instance, breastfeed while your older child is cleaning up toys in the playroom or brushing their teeth before bed. They’re already distracted with their own routines, but you should make sure they can do those tasks independently before the baby comes into the home.
When Should You Start?
The best time to start educating an only child about breastfeeding is before the new baby enters the home. You can strike up conversations about what breastfeeding is and why babies need to breastfeed, so that the act of breastfeeding is expected rather than a surprise for your older child. Sharing stories about when the only child breastfed along with pictures can continue throughout the pregnancy, creating a sense of normalcy around the idea of breastfeeding.
If your baby is already born and your older baby is having a difficult time adjusting, it’s not too late to use many of the tips suggested above. You may need to modify some of the ideas to fit your child’s age, personality, and specific struggles.
The goal is to encourage sibling bonding rather than sibling rivalry. It may feel challenging at times, but consistent focus will pay off in the long run.
- How to Make Busy Boxes to Keep Toddlers Busy While Breastfeeding
- How to Prepare Older Children for a New Baby