How to Nurture Your Child’s Body Image

November 2, 2022 Children

Six-month-old Madilynn, my first grandbaby, had just arrived for a visit. I was telling her how happy I was to see her when my husband reached over, jiggled her little leg and said, “She’s so fat!” Although it was said in a loving way and with a big grin, I was put off. “She’s a baby!” I replied, “And what she is, is beautiful!”

To help children feel good about their bodies and themselves, it’s essential to encourage a healthy attitude about body shape and size.

Body image is a person’s thoughts and feelings about their body. Babies are born with a positive body image. Think about how babies enjoy playing with their toes, seeing themselves in a mirror and playing pat-a-cake — they feel good about themselves and what their bodies can do.

It’s wonderful that children begin life feeling good about their bodies. However, negative messages about body weight, size, and shape can turn a positive body image into a negative one.

Sadly, our society often tends to focus on physical appearance in a very judgmental way. Negative messages about weight, shape and size are common. Take a look at the ads in magazines, on TV, and on billboards. Many of these ads try to make people believe that looking a certain way (usually thin) is the key to happiness. A focus on appearance can teach children that what they look like is more important than who they are.

Children who have a positive body image feel more comfortable with themselves and feel more capable. On the other hand, children with a negative body image feel insecure, anxious, and cut off from others. Children with a negative body image are also more likely to gain too much weight or suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

Children need to know

they are beautiful inside and out — no matter their shape or size.

Studies show that some children as young as three feel bad about their bodies and worry about their weight. Three-year-olds need to be playing and laughing, not stepping on a scale or going on a diet. Luckily, there are many ways parents can protect and improve their child’s body image.

The bottom line: Put the focus on health — physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health — not on looks, weight, size, or shape.

Side-Lying Hold

  1. For the right breast, lie on your right side with your baby facing you.
  2. Pull your baby close. Your baby’s mouth should be level with your nipple.
  3. In this position, you can cradle your baby’s back with your left arm and support yourself with your right arm and/or pillows.
  4. Keep loose clothing and bedding away from your baby.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Cross-Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, use your left arm to hold your baby’s head at your right breast and baby’s body toward your left side. A pillow across your lap can help support your left arm.
  2. Gently place your left hand behind your baby’s ears and neck, with your thumb and index finger behind each ear and your palm between baby’s shoulder blades. Turn your baby’s body toward yours so your tummies are touching.
  3. Hold your breast as if you are squeezing a sandwich. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  4. As your baby’s mouth opens, push gently with your left palm on baby’s head to help them latch on. Make sure you keep your fingers out of the way.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Clutch or “Football” Hold

  1. For the right breast, hold your baby level, facing up, at your right side.
  2. Put your baby’s head near your right nipple and support their back and legs under your right arm.
  3. Hold the base of your baby’s head with your right palm. A pillow underneath your right arm can help support your baby’s weight.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Bring baby to you instead.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, cradle your baby with your right arm. Your baby will be on their left side across your lap, facing you at nipple level.
  2. Your baby’s head will rest on your right forearm with your baby’s back along your inner arm and palm.
  3. Turn your baby’s tummy toward your tummy. Your left hand is free to support your breast, if needed. Pillows can help support your arm and elbow.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:

Laid-Back Hold

  1. Lean back on a pillow with your baby’s tummy touching yours and their head at breast level. Some moms find that sitting up nearly straight works well. Others prefer to lean back and lie almost flat.
  2. You can place your baby’s cheek near your breast, or you may want to use one hand to hold your breast near your baby. It’s up to you and what you think feels best.
  3. Your baby will naturally find your nipple, latch, and begin to suckle.

This hold is useful when: