suckle [transitive / intransitive] : to feed a baby, especially a baby animal, with milk from the organ in the mother that produces milk, or (of a baby, especially a baby animal) to drink milk from the mother:

We watched the cow suckling her calves.

The puppies went back to their mother to suckle.

My son is about 2 years old now and I have been intensively speaking English with him since about 6 months ago. English is my second language.

At this moment, he sometimes invents many new expressions based on the words that he knew.

I often say this to him "Do you want to suckle" whenever he wants to be breastfed.

I also taught him what "a boob" is.

Today he said "I suckle the boob"

is my toddler wrong when he says "I suckle the boob"?

I know that a correct one should be "Mommy suckles me" but is there any chance that "I suckle the boob" is correct? I feel "I suckle the boob" sounds ok to my ears.

Also, English is very strange, the verb "suckle" sounds similar to the verb "suck" & when we say "I suck the milk" we mean "I drink it or take the milk into my body" not "I give the milk to others". But why does the word "suckle" mean "to give milk to others"?

1 Answer 1


Please don't be disheartened - I think it's great that you're teaching your son English and working to improve your own! - but your situation and choice of words may get you some strange looks or even laughs if your son says these things in public.

"Suckle," as pointed out in the definition you found, is usually used for animals. Saying to the average person that a human child is "suckling" is likely to conjure up images of noisy piglets suckling on a sow's teats. When "suckling" is used for humans, it's often for comedic effect, as for example in this clip from the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

(Note, however, that "suckle" is often used in medical and health care settings to refer specifically to the mechanical action of the child's mouth on the mother's nipple.)

The much more common term for the general act for humans is the verb (to) nurse or simply (to) breastfeed.

"Boob" is a slang term which is rarely taught to or used by young children. The anatomically correct term is "breast." A child saying "boob" will often provoke laughter at the notion that the child has innocently and endearingly picked up a somewhat "naughty" or mildly vulgar term from an adult.

Some expressions you could use instead to ask if your child is hungry and wants to breastfeed are:

  • Do you want num-nums? ("num-nums" is baby talk for "food")
  • Do you want me to nurse you?

Or simply...

  • Are you hungry?
  • Do you want to eat?

Finally, note that in the U.S. at least, it's very unusual for a 2 year old child (and thus, a child with such developed language skills) to breastfeed:

US National Breastfeeding Rates (source)

The trend is for mothers to breastfeed longer and longer (in line with WHO recommendations), but still, only a few percent of U.S. children are breastfeeding at age 2. The vast majority of breastfeeding children in the U.S. are not old enough to be able to talk about it, especially in a 2nd language.

I do not make this point to criticize your parenting decisions in any way! Instead it's only to help illustrate why this situation might strike some people as unusual and/or funny, and why it might elicit laughs and/or strange looks, in addition to the word choices already discussed.

  • My son is addicted to it. He will cry like crazy if he can't be nursed
    – Tom
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:08
  • I've no argument with TypeIA (I've upvoted his answer) but I suggest that suckle is used in medical and health advice circles (as opposed to family conversations) as an alternative to breastfeed. habermanbaby.com/about-suckling .... ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK153490 Mar 3, 2020 at 15:21
  • @Tom I understand. He doesn't want to be weaned!
    – TypeIA
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:22
  • @RonaldSole That's true, but in that case isn't it referring specifically to the mechanical action of the mouth on the nipple (e.g., when discussing technique or problems with a health care provider) rather than the act of feeding in general?
    – TypeIA
    Mar 3, 2020 at 15:23
  • @TypeIA I'm out of my depth. I take the fifth! Mar 3, 2020 at 15:25

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