17 Dec

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all relatives: surviving the holidays as a breastfeeding mum.

Victoria Davies, aka Mum In Make-Up, writes about how to get through the holidays even when your family’s views on breastfeeding don’t quite match up with your own.

The festive season. It means something different for everyone, but for new (and not so new) breastfeeding mums it can spell an entirely new level of stress. This year I’ll be celebrating my third Christmas as a breastfeeding mother. My little boy might not be a cluster-feeding newborn any more, but he’ll certainly be demanding boob fairly regularly nonetheless. It’s his way of reconnecting with me when things get a bit much, when he’s tired or just wants some uninterrupted time with me. If you’re new to this, unless you are spending the whole two weeks staying at home with just your little family, you’re likely to be wondering how whipping the girls out regularly is going to go down. After all, you’re going to be seeing various assorted extended family and friends and Jane-from-number-ten who always comes to the Boxing Day buffet. Here are a few things to consider before you decide to come down with a mysterious seasonal illness.

Get some boob buddies
Chances are if you’re staying somewhere for a few days there will be a few others there too. Who can you trust to have your back? If you have a partner, they should be the first person you drag onto your cheerleading team, but there are bound to be others who will get you a glass of water, plump the cushions for you and glare at anyone who dares to utter that time-honoured line “Are you still breastfeeding?” Give those people a quick message before you see them. Something like “Please help, I’m breastfeeding and Uncle Martin thinks my five-month-old should be eating steak” should do the trick. 

Dealing with nosy parkers
Chances are nobody will make a peep. After all, drawing attention to the fact your boobs are out just isn’t cricket, and most people will be polite. If, however, there are people there who haven’t seen you breastfeed yet and don’t observe the usual social boundaries, you might find yourself inundated with a barrage of questions and interest. If you feel so inclined you can discuss your choice to breastfeed, telling your audience all about current recommendations from the NHS and the World Health Organisation, and that things may have changed significantly since they had their own babies, in regard to when and how children are weaned from the breast. If someone is genuinely curious it can be nice to impart some of your gems of wisdom.

However, you don’t actually have to do any of this. It’s not your job to be Google, and if you don’t want to be drawn into a conversation about breastfeeding, especially if you’re dealing with truculent people who feel they have the right to question your choices, you absolutely don’t have to. Being asked repeatedly “But when are you going to stop?” can get incredibly wearing after a while, especially if “when we’re ready” isn’t quite cutting it with people who want some kind of detailed timeline.  After two years of breastfeeding, I’ve found the most helpful phrase to shut down anyone who is challenging me beyond my boundaries is “It’s working for us and we’re really happy.” It lets the person know that your choices are not up for debate. After all, this is your child. Don’t feel undermined or threatened for a second.

Do what you normally do
Does your partner usually give a bottle in the evening? Go ahead and stick to that. Perhaps Granny would like to do it; after all, some of the complaints tend to be about extended family members not getting enough cuddle time. Do you usually use a cover or scarf to feed? Keep going with that, especially if it gives you the confidence to feed whenever and wherever. Do you and your partner like to curl up together on the bed for a feed with your baby? (I ask because this is our favourite thing to do). Keep on keeping on, and enjoy that little ritual together.

Take a break
Particularly when babies are very young and going through a cluster-feeding stage, having to breastfeed almost constantly in front of everyone gathered at the Christmas celebrations can feel a bit much. Smiling at your in-laws through gritted teeth as one of them pipes up “Are you feeding her again?!” is probably not what you need right now. And here is where breastfeeding gives you the perfect excuse to take a break. Take your child off to the bedroom or to another quiet space, put your feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet. You don’t have to worry about anyone else right now; this is more important. It’s also a brilliant excuse to get away from your dad’s more strident views on politics, or to avoid eating yet another slice of Granny’s horrible cake. Breathe and enjoy the time with your baby. Barricade the door if you have to.

A breastful of milk
This is the time of year when, at its heart, we’re celebrating the birth of a baby. A baby who would have been fed from his mother’s breast. Hey, it’s even mentioned in the carols we sing every year! Every time someone questions your decision or makes you feel on edge, just take a few deep calming breaths and remember that you are part of something beautiful. So many women have done what you are doing, and have experienced that magical bond created by breastfeeding. At one time, the entire community would have helped a new mother and encouraged her. If you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone, and you will always have help and support online or on the phone from organisations like The Breastfeeding Network. If it was good enough for Mary and Jesus, it’s good enough for you and your baby.

Merry Christmas, you brilliant woman. Well done.