How to Explain Where Babies Come From

Little girl listening to pregnant mother's abdomen
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"Where do babies come from?" It's a question that many parents are never fully ready to answer—especially when the question comes out of the blue, leaving the parent feeling blindsided, uncertain of what to say, or even how much to say.

The question may be spurred by the fact that you or your partner is pregnant, or someone you know has just had a baby. It's natural for a child to be curious. 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 some things you can do to help guide your explanation. Here are simple tips for how to explain pregnancy and birth to a child in an age-appropriate way.

Remember: Your discomfort (if any) 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.

Determine What Your Child Knows

Start the conversation by establishing your child's baseline comprehension of where babies come from before launching into a discussion. Ask a few questions to determine your child's level of understanding and what they may think pregnancy is all about. Chatting casually gives you an idea of which words to use and how to employ your child’s understanding to fill in the blanks cohesively.

For example, you might start the conversation with a preschooler by asking, "Do you know how the baby got into my belly?" Listen to their response, and respond by explaining it to them in an age-appropriate way.

You can explain that a baby grows from sperm and an egg in the way fruit grows from a seed. At this age, it can be helpful and fun to explain how the baby in your belly is doing all the things babies do once they are born: eating, sleeping, and even sucking their thumb! Younger children may need reassurance the baby is safe and comfortable in the womb.

With school-age children, you can do the same. Ask what they already know about where babies come from and then follow their lead. This is a good age to introduce accurate anatomical language like womb or uterus instead of belly, for example.

You may also explain sex and how sometimes babies are made when the penis deposits sperm in the vagina. Make your discussion inclusive by sharing other ways families are created (with a doctor's help, adoption, and surrogacy, etc.)

If you are someone close to the family is expecting a baby, you can prepare the child for the birth by describing that process. For toddlers and preschoolers, explain once the baby is done growing in the belly, they will let the parent know they are ready to be born.

You can be more descriptive with older children, explaining how childbirth happens, always letting kids know the parent and baby will be safe and well-cared for by the doctors and nurses. Focus on how exciting it is to welcome a new baby to the world!

Use Short, Direct Answers

The key to answering any question of this sort is to listen carefully and identify exactly what your child is asking. Sometimes, as parents, we will jump the gun and rush off entirely in the wrong direction. When it comes to how to explain pregnancy and birth to a child, stick to the topic and state the facts in a clear and concise way.

Younger children will probably just want the facts, while tweens and teens may have more complex questions about sex, relationships, and pregnancy. As kids get older, you can add more details to support a deeper understanding of these topics. It's really up to you as the parent or guardian just how far you want to delve into more advanced topics.

While sex, pregnancy, and childbirth are nothing to feel shameful about, remind your child not to discuss these topics with other kids. You never know where other children and families are in their own journey to learning where babies come from.

Choose Words Carefully

Children's understanding grows through different ages and stages of development. When talking, always use vocabulary that relates to words and concepts your child already uses and understands.

While a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old may ask the same question, the context may be different. The 3-year-old may simply want to know how the baby got out of your stomach, while a 6-year-old may be asking how a baby is actually made.

Always keep your child's age and maturity level in mind when relaying information about where babies come from. 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," it's possible that your child will be alarmed.

The same applies to the decision of whether to use specific terms or general ones. For example, describing the uterus 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 their belly.

Don't Rush

The more complex the question, the more you may need to think about it before answering. Don't hesitate to tell your child you need a little more time to find a good answer, but make sure you follow up and follow through. It's important that you don't ignore their questions.

If you need some extra support, find a children's book that describes pregnancy and birth in an age-appropriate way. Sharing stories can help your child can make the association between you and the parent(s) in the book. Books open the door for a constructive conversation while answering your child's questions effectively and accurately at the same time.

Be Inclusive

When discussing pregnancy and childbirth, consider explaining them in a way that is inclusive to gay, trans, and gender-nonconforming parents. Teach children about families created by adoption, surrogacy, and reproductive assistance as well.

You can explain that while most babies are created when sperm from the penis meets up with an egg in the vagina, not all men have sperm and not all women have a vagina. Everyone's body is different.

Sometimes, doctors help the sperm and the egg join so adults can have a baby. And sometimes, adults adopt children made in another person's body. In some families, an adult will have a baby for other adults who cannot. There are so many different ways to build a family!

Be Honest

It’s an old maxim, but it is true: Honesty is the best policy. It's natural to find these conversations awkward or uncomfortable, but those aren't reasons to avoid them altogether.

Kids who are dismissed may feel shame or embarrassment or believe their questions are inappropriate or bad. If they can't get honest answers from you, they may seek (and find) the wrong information from other kids, adults, or the internet.

You know your child best and have an instinctive sense of what they are 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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