How to Tell Children Where Babies Come From

5 Tips for Describing Pregnancy and Birth to Children

Mother and daughter (4-5) lying on bed, laughing and looking at each other.
Inti St. Clair/Digital Vision/Getty Images

“Mommy, where do babies come from?”

It is a question that can strike fear even in the most progressive parent. Oftentimes, the question will come out of the blue, and the parent will feel blindsided, uncertain what to say or even how much to say.

The question may be spurred by the fact that you’re pregnant or someone you know has just had a baby. It is natural for a child to be curious when faced with these things.

While your first instinct may be to turn to fairy tales—cabbage patches, storks, and the like—do you really want to go there?

Start by reminding yourself this: your discomfort is not your child’s. By and large, children don’t have the same knee-jerk reactions to sex or body parts that adults do. They don't feel shame or embarrassment unless that shame or embarrassment is directly or indirectly communicated to them.

If you have been caught off guard, take a few minutes to compose yourself. Make a cup of tea and find a place where you and your child can sit comfortably without making it a big deal. Once settled, there are five things you can do to help guide you in your explanation:

1. Answer the question the child asking.

The key to answering any question of this sort is to listen carefully and identify exactly what the child is asking. Sometimes, as parents, we will jump the gun and rush off entirely in the wrong direction.

For example, while a three-year-old and six-year-old may ask the same question, the context will often be different. The three-year-old may simply want to know how the baby got out of your stomach, while a six-year-old may be asking how a baby is actually made.

Listen closely, and you will have your first clue as to how to answer the question in an age-appropriate manner.

2. Figure out what the child knows.

It is often best to establish the baseline comprehension before launching into a discussion. Start by asking a few questions to determine your child's level of understanding and what he or she may think pregnancy is all about. Chatting casually will give you an idea of which words to use and how to employ the child’s understanding to fill in the blanks cohesively.

Always gauge your answers in the words your child already uses and understands. If you use a word that the child doesn’t know, explain it as simply as you can. The simpler the response, the less likely it will lead to additional questions or misunderstandings.

3. Be careful when choosing your words.

Using the wrong words or phrases can sometimes scare children. If you are asked, for instance, how the baby came out and explain a cesarean section with the words "cut out," the child will likely be alarmed or at the very least dismayed.

The same applies to the decision of whether to use specific terms or general ones. For example, describing the uterus (or womb) allows a child to understand that it is separate from the stomach or belly. In this way, there will be no confusion as to whether the child may also become "pregnant" in his or her belly.

The choice is yours but choose carefully.

4. Don't think that you have to answer everything at once.

The more complex the question, the more you may need to think about it before answering. Don't be afraid to tell your child you need a little more time to find a good answer.

If you can’t, find a children’s book that describes fetal development in an age-appropriate fashion. In this way, the child can make the association between you and the mommy in the book. It allows you to share a moment and be accurate at the same time.

5. Be honest.

It’s an old maxim, but it is true: honesty is the best policy.

Although you may feel uncomfortable about the whole situation, avoiding the discussion or telling untruths will only signal to the child that something is wrong. He or she may feel shame or embarrassment where there is none or believe that the question was either inappropriate or bad.

You know your child best and have an instinctive sense of what he or she is able to handle. But, you also need to consider if your own feelings of discomfort may be coloring your words. By remaining honest—and not reaching for fairy tales—you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with the human body, pregnancy, and sex.

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