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How to Answer the “Where Do Babies Come From?” Question

Most parents are a bit gobsmacked the first time their child asks where babies come from. This question doesn’t always come up at the most opportune time, either. However, being prepared to have honest, age-appropriate conversations with your child about sexuality and reproduction can help them make responsible choices as they get older. We’ve put together a guide about how to have helpful conversations with your child and some insight into age-appropriate answers for each stage of development.

Assessing the situation

Depending on how old your child is, there are different ways to approach the “Where do babies come from?” question. Experts typically advise starting as young as possible, beginning with broad concepts such as basic anatomy and the mechanics of sex. It might be better to wait for your child to ask the question rather than bringing it up yourself. When children are around three years old, they may begin to notice that there are different genders. This may be around the time they start asking you questions and a good age to begin the basic conversations about sex and gender.

Too much information too soon can be overwhelming for children. You can talk to your child’s pediatrician and read books about child development to help you find the right words and the right amount of information to help your child understand sex and reproduction.

Younger children may be curious if they see someone who’s pregnant. It’s natural for them to ask how the baby got into the woman’s stomach and how it comes out. Some children may worry that they’ll suddenly have a baby in their tummies, so giving them the facts can help soothe their minds.

When children get older and enter school, they become more exposed to information about sex and gender. If their friends have older siblings, they will probably be picking up information passed on by the older kids. At this point, some things they hear may sound gross or untrue. Creating an environment where your child feels comfortable asking you about sex will mean they can trust you to verify or correct things that they’ve heard.

As children progress into their teen years, they may have doubts about their own sexual relationships. Girls may worry about becoming pregnant or telling you that they’re pregnant. Teens may also be exposed to things online, from adult websites to sex advice articles meant for adults. Teens may be concerned about setting healthy boundaries with their partners or the repercussions of sex.

Answering the “Where do babies come from?” question

Talking to children under 5

Children at this age are beginning to understand the world around them. They aren’t shy about discussing bathroom business or genitals. Their innate curiosity and lack of understanding about socially appropriate topics can lead to embarrassing moments for parents.

If you’re out in public and your child is loudly insisting on getting answers to their sex questions, don’t shut them down. Instead, gently remind them that this is a topic better discussed in private and that you’ll answer all their questions when you get home. Then, you can revisit the conversation with your child when you’re ready. 

At this age, keep the amount of information minimal and stay calm and relaxed. However uncomfortable it may feel using the actual names for body parts, it’s important that you do so.

Children begin to develop a sense of shame when they’re around three to five years old. Making the topics of sex and babies forbidden or taboo may create an environment where they feel ashamed of their bodies and desires as they get older and don’t feel comfortable coming to you with questions about sex.

At this age, keep the amount of information minimal and stay calm and relaxed. However uncomfortable it may feel using the actual names for body parts, it’s important that you do so. For instance, say “penis” instead of “peepee,” and “womb” or “uterus” instead of “tummy.” By grounding your early sex-education conversations in scientific terms, you’re laying a foundation of clear facts to work up to more complex questions and answers as your child gets older.

Answer your child’s questions as they come up, no matter how silly they may seem. At this point, complicated answers about the actual mechanics of sex may be beyond their grasp, so keep the explanations simple. It’s important at this stage to emphasize what parts of the body are private and who is and is not allowed to look at or touch your child’s genitalia.

Talking to children between 6 and 8

At this point in development, your child may have begun to hear rumors at school about sex and may have had a “Show me yours; I’ll show you mine” encounter. Keep reminding your child that it’s important for private parts to stay private, but rest assured that these situations are fairly normal and reflect children’s curiosity.

Discussions about babies and sex at this age should provide matter-of-fact, honest answers. Keep using the same medical terms for body parts as you have in the past. You can go into greater detail, although topics like periods, labor, and erections may be too advanced at this age. Keep maintaining the open environment where your child feels comfortable asking any question, but know that at this age, they’re probably more focused on the social aspects of their world.  

Take the time to listen to your child without shaming them. Some things they hear on the playground or from older children (especially slang terms for genitalia) may be embarrassing for them to ask about, especially if they worry they’re the only one among their peers who doesn’t understand. By removing shame from your discussions, you’ll establish yourself as a safe person to ask tough and embarrassing questions.

Talking to teens

Between the ages of 9 and 12, your child will start going through puberty. If you have daughters, it’s important to start talking about menstruation and what to expect before they start their periods. It’s not uncommon for girls as young as 10 to start their periods, and this can be embarrassing for them, particularly if they’re the first of their friends to start their period or develop breast buds.

At this point in your ongoing conversations about sex, it’s important to have more deliberate, serious talks about how babies are made, what they can expect to happen during puberty, and your own values about sex. Each family is different, and this is the time to outline your values and expectations about appropriate behavior from your child.

You should discuss the physical mechanics of sex, from erection to penetration and conception. Using visual diagrams may help you and your child feel more comfortable talking about sex like any other bodily function. This may also help them feel more comfortable with their bodies and reinforce that while some parts of their body are private, they aren’t shameful.

As your child gets closer to their teen years, it’s important to discuss pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

While it’s vital that your child understands the physical aspects of reproduction, it’s important to touch on the emotional aspects as well. At this point, your child may be having crushes, feeling strange physical urges, and be unsure about how this all relates to sex. Talking about flirting and kissing as well as the desire for another person gives your child a better sense of the act of making love as a whole.

As your child gets closer to their teen years, it’s important to discuss pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While a 9-year-old may not be ready to handle these concepts, it’s important to educate your child before they unknowingly engage in an encounter that could lead to an unwanted pregnancy or STI. This can also be a good time to take a refresher health course yourself! Remember that STIs aren’t just transmitted from penis-in-vagina intercourse. Your discussions should include oral and anal sex to give your child the full idea of what practicing safe sex should entail.

Conclusion

Laying the groundwork for healthy conversations about sex with your child often begins by being comfortable with the “where do babies come from?” question. You become more comfortable talking to your child about sex by educating yourself and embracing sex and reproduction as part of natural, healthy relationships.

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