There’s a Real Reason Why Kids Grab at Boobs — and No, It’s Not “Disturbing”

Canadian supermodel Tillie Medland recently posted a video to her Instagram account that’s sparked quite the Internet debate. In it, Medland is seen holding her 2-year-old nephew Jetson, when he suddenly reaches his hand down her sports bra and, you guessed it, heads straight for her right breast. The model’s reaction to the toddler’s action is one of stunned surprise, but quickly descends into a fit of laughter.

Much of Instagram, however, was not as amused.

“I feel weird,” wrote one user.

“Disturbing she isn’t correcting him,” added another.

Many of the other judgy comments that rolled in were a mix of shocked and surprised, as well — with many insinuating that the act had sexual undertones.

But as the father of a now-3-year-old son, I wasn’t surprised at all. Nor did I find it to be anything but harmless. In fact, I was happy to know my little guy wasn’t the only one who’s pulled this move in public. Yes, I too have been in Tillie’s shoes, having had my nipples handled on more than one occasion by my child in front of others.

“This is behavior I see many babies and young kids use to communicate a need for food and/or connection,” Kate Zachary, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, tells Babble. “Tillie obviously did not feel uncomfortable with this sign of affection, or her body, and so she shared the moment on social media.”

Medland herself tells Babble that Jetson was breastfed until he was 6 months old, and has exhibited similar behavior with his mother, Elena (who was the one working the camera for the moment).

Child Development Specialist Linda Barker also weighed in, adding:

“We know that one of the first sensory connections that a child has is through touch. This is vital for a strong attachment and provides an important way of communicating between a child and a mother.”

And, evidently, a father. My own son stopped nursing when he was around 17 months. But just like Jetson, that didn’t stop him for going back to an area of the body known to be a source of comfort.

If you don’t believe me, I have photographic evidence. Here’s a photo of my son and me on a weekend away from his mommy — as his hand reaches right down my shirt.

blair johnson and son
Image Source: Blair Johnson

And that wasn’t the only time he did it over the course of our time away. The next day, we were around family we don’t see very often, and my son was back at it. Yes, I got some questionable looks from aunts and uncles, but I just explained to them it was my son’s way of feeling safe in an unfamiliar environment. After all, in lieu of my wife’s absence, my upper body was the closest thing to the safe harbor of his former source of nourishment.

“Snuggling in the bosom of a woman — whether she is breastfeeding or not — is how brand new babies spend most of their time, and as they grow up they continue to return for feelings of safety,” Zachary noted.

I will say my son stopped utilizing this coping mechanism before he turned 3, soon after the weekend mentioned. And my wife pointed out the sensory move has been linked to the final stages of weaning for breastfed children.

As for Medland, the wide array of both positive and negative comments she’s received following her Instagram post — which has been viewed nearly 200,000 times as of this writing — seem to keep rolling in. But I’m here to say the video should be taken for what it is: a wholly innocent clip of a young child doing what is completely natural to them.

Zachary reminds us:

“It’s clear that people have forgotten that the breast was made primarily for feeding babies and children. Breasts have become hyper sexualized — no doubt — but that doesn’t mean that when a child like Jetson reaches for what he sees as as primary source of comfort that it is a sexual act.”

As a baseball fan and a proud father of a child who has done the exact same thing, I’ll admit it may seem strange at first to see a kid reach second base. But when put into proper context, there should be a sense of nurturing from this heartwarming act. At the end of the day, there’s nothing “strange” about it at all.

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