Such a good question, and the answer is…there is no answer. As always, what’s “appropriate” is what feels appropriate to you and your partner, in your family, in your home. Many families prefer to keep a “private parts are private” policy around the house when it comes to members of different genders (or even the same gender) once the preschool years roll around, sometimes sooner. Other families (especially in other cultures) are comfortable with looser limits, or no limits.
And whether your family’s comfort level about which body parts should be covered and when and where is dictated by religion, or is a reflection of your own upbringing, or of cultural norms, or of experiences you’ve had, or is just something you’re figuring out on the fly, doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is that your little ones grow up with healthy feelings about their own bodies, and a healthy respect for other bodies….top to bottom.
All that said, one really important thing about the body that we’d probably all be better off learning early on is this: Breasts are made for breastfeeding. Yes, they’re sexual, too — and let’s face it, have probably been over-sexualized by the media — but they’re fundamentally functional, and can serve an ingenious practical purpose. They are and always have been the perfect providers of the perfect food for babies. And right now, that is all your little guy needs to know about breasts.
And it’s fascinating stuff to know — and to study. Every 4-year-old is curious, but that curiosity is scientific in nature, no matter what kind of nature we’re talking about, from birds (they lay eggs!) to bees (they make honey!)…to breasts (they feed babies!). Sexuality isn’t on a 4-year-old’s mind, or even on his radar, when he asks questions or shows interest in functions of the human body (whether it’s where poop comes from or where babies come from…or how babies are fed). Science is.
So, consider giving him a science lesson as you get ready to breastfeed your new baby, and contemplate whether or not to go under cover around your son when you do. Find a book or a video that illustrates and explains in little-kid terms the basic science behind breastfeeding, how milk is made, how it is dispensed. Show him, too, how all mama mammals breastfeed — from mama cats and mama dogs to mama cows and sheep and whales. And while you’re at it, show him photos or videos of himself breastfeeding back in his baby days (if you nursed him and have pictures).
Chances are he’ll watch with wonder (and try to get a super close look) the first few times you breastfeed his new baby sister in front of him, but he’ll quickly lose interest and stop paying attention — nothing to watch here. Using those breastfeeding sessions to spend special one-on-one time with your son (reading, cuddling, coloring) will not only help normalize breastfeeding, but help him adjust to life as an older sibling.
Remember, too, that what’s under wraps is usually more intriguing to a little one than what’s out in the open — what he doesn’t get to see won’t hurt him, but it will probably make him more curious….leading only to more interest in what you’re doing under there, not less.
Still feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding in front of your son? Again (and again!) do what comes naturally to you, even if that means covering up while you feed his sister. Your body, your family, your home, your comfort level, your rules.
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