What to Say When Your Kid Asks Where Babies Come From

It's only a matter of time before kids ask the question: "Where do babies come from?" Here's what experts think about how to answer—and what not to say.

little girl touching her mother's pregnant belly

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Imagine this scenario: you're making dinner one night and your 4-year-old, who has just finished putting together a puzzle with their older sibling, looks up and asks, "Where do babies come from?"

Children are full of questions, but this one can be particularly challenging to answer. What should parents tell their kids about the realities of how children come into the world—and when should they begin the conversation? How early is too early for the facts about the "birds and the bees?"

Luckily, you don't have to navigate this alone. We turned to some experts for advice on how to handle this tricky, always-evolving discussion.

How to Talk to Very Young Children

Amanda Gummer, Ph.D, child psychologist and founder of Dr. Gummer's Good Play Guide, says the first thing to remember is this question can feel far more awkward for adults than kids. Young children "are more likely to just want facts," explains Dr. Gummer. Focusing on the biological process, and framing the topic as a scientific one, is usually sufficient. "For example, you could say that when [parents] love each other very much, they create a special cell that grows into a baby."

Jillian Amodio, LCSW and founder of Moms For Mental Health, agrees, and adds that using proper vocabulary to avoid any misunderstandings is important—even for this very young age group.

"One thing I recommend is to always name body parts by their actual names beginning from infancy. This gives children the vocabulary they need to talk about their bodies in an empowering way without shame or confusion," explains Amodio. "Typically younger children will have more questions about their bodies and how a baby gets in the person's 'belly' and how the baby gets out, rather than questions about sex itself."

Being clear with simple, biological answers at this age often diffuses the conversation without stigmatizing the topic when kids inevitably ask again.

How to Talk to School-Aged Children

In elementary school, children are often developmentally ready for a more detailed response.

Christopher Kearney, Ph.D, distinguished professor and chair of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Psychology, explains that later conversations can build on the first one that parents have when their children are younger.

"For elementary school children, a similar approach can be made, perhaps with a bit more detail about the fact that creating a baby requires, in most cases, two people, again with more of a focus on the upcoming event than the cause," says Dr. Kearney. It's also important to communicate to your child that all families look different, with single parents, LGBTQ+ parents, and other types of diverse households.

Elementary school children can understand more abstract concepts, but the key is to couch these abstract concepts in biology, which removes any potential shame and embarrassment from the equation. "As children get older, they may be ready for more detailed information about human reproduction, including the role of sperm and egg in fertilization and the development of the fetus," confirms Dr. Gummer.

How to Talk to Adolescents

As children become tweens and teens, the question of "where do babies come from" should start including more specific conversations about sex. "Older children will begin asking questions about sex, sexuality, and sexual acts. Sexuality is a normal part of human development and should be talked about openly and honestly," explains Amodio. "There is nothing shameful about the quest for knowledge."

In fact, research shows that speaking to adolescents about sex in an age-appropriate, direct, and positive manner leads to kids making better-informed choices. Dr. Kearney agrees, adding that with age comes greater understanding of the physical process of having babies. "Adolescents can think more abstractly and can understand biological processes much better." It's important, therefore, to empower children and to give them words with which to ask tough questions. 

"Every age bracket should have factual understanding of their bodies," confirms Amodio, reinforcing the importance of using correct terminology at a young age.

Talking With Adopted Children

It can be difficult, especially for young children, to understand where adopted babies come from. Their parent wasn't pregnant—so how did a baby come to be?

As with answering where a family's biological baby came from, honesty is key. "Conveying the truth is fine: that some parents choose to place their baby for adoption so that another family can care for the child," says Dr. Kearney.

It's important to explain to your children that even adopted babies are born like every other child, from the same biological process. "Adopted children are also a product of childbirth. Their birth parents and their adoptive parents play a very important role in their story of origin," explains Amodio.

What Not to Say When Kids Ask Where Babies Come From

It is important for parents to be open and honest with their children, especially as they get older.

"Use facts! Don't lie. Don't make things out to be any different than they are. Knowledge removes fear and uncertainty. Answer questions honestly and openly. Answer exactly what is asked," says Amodio.

Something parents might want to consider retiring is the old fable about a giant stork who delivers babies to expectant parents. Unfortunately, this tale can be confusing, especially for children trying to make sense of a complicated world. "The stork story...can’t be the basis on which you explain reproduction to your children," Dr. Gummer points out.

In the end, allowing children to ask the questions and frame the conversations themselves is important. "Letting the child lead the conversation allows them to acquire the knowledge they are seeking in a way that is consumable and not overwhelming," says Amodio.

While the question "where do babies come from?" can feel like a daunting one to answer, it's important to remember that honesty and clear vocabulary avoids miscommunication, awkwardness, and shame. By giving our children the gift of language and bodily autonomy, they learn that they can safely ask questions that will be answered truthfully.

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  1. Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood’s Get Real Program Works; It changes sexual behavior among middle school students.

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