It’s Christmas! That magical time of year when you might be confined to close quarters with friends and relatives who you’d happily avoid for the other 11 months of the year. Alcohol is flowing; people are suddenly comfortable telling you how you should be parenting, and suddenly you want to strangle everyone with the nearest bit of tinsel. It can also make breastfeeding at Christmas that bit trickier…
Breastfeeding at Christmas can bring feelings of anxiety
The simple act of breastfeeding can bring unwanted comments however unobtrusively you try and feed and if you’re feeling anxious or defensive about this, you won’t be alone. Of course, you might be surrounded by love and understanding relatives who are fully supportive of your breastfeeding journey, but what happens if you’re not?
A quick story poll on my Instagram account revealed that over half of respondents were worried they would be questioned over their feeding choices this Christmas, with a whopping 87% affirming they thought that criticism would be worse with an older child. The good news is that they sounded like a feisty bunch with over half saying they would feel confident in knowing how to respond to unwanted criticism or comments, but digging deeper, many felt angry, frustrated, confused, stressed, undervalued, and tired at having to find the energy to do so.
Over half of respondents were worried they would be questioned over their feeding choices this Christmas
Parenting shouldn’t be a battleground, but because it involves a series of choices, it invariably becomes one. It would be lovely if we could all give our inner judgemental Judy’s a rest, but realistically we all do it, and when your nephew’s still screaming at 10pm and refusing to go to bed, you might be tempted to make a loaded comment about whether it was really advisable to let him eat the whole box of Quality Streets…
Christmas can bring out the worst in people
Essentially, Christmas can bring out the worst of people and it’s definitely worth trying to channel the mantra ‘it’s not about me’, because invariably it’s often about someone else’s anxieties or negative experiences and not about the fact that you’re comfortable feeding your two-year-old in public.
Remembering that everyone brings their own baggage, not only to Christmas gatherings, but also to parenting, can be very helpful when you’re at the receiving end of criticism. In fact, it can sometimes be worth trying to work out why a comment has upset you in the first place, as it can then be a lot easier to empathise rather than immediately snapping back with those statistics from the WHO that you feel like you should have just got tattooed on your forehead. For example, someone innocently commenting that your baby feeds a lot, might not necessarily be criticising your milk supply, but if you’ve struggled with this in the past, you’d easily be forgiven for reading it as such.
Equally, your mother-in-law insisting that your 4-month-old baby should be on solids by now is probably just her spouting the outdated information that she was led to believe was fact way back when, rather than maliciously questioning your milk output. Perhaps she would be open to your in-depth explanation of baby-led weaning, but she may also end up feeling indirectly judged herself for parenting choices that she made in good faith at the time.
For some, feelings of guilt or failure and the trauma of their own experience of breastfeeding may be triggered by watching you feed your child, so retorting that ‘breast is best’ to any perceived criticism from your sister-in-law might not be the most empathetic approach if she struggled to get her own baby to latch from the start.
Ultimately, people can be thoroughly ignorant, prejudiced, and ridiculous about breastfeeding, but others may just be clumsily expressing their support without knowing how you want that to look. Having a few responses for any family member or friend up your sleeve could make you feel far more in control and confident whatever you come up against this Christmas. Sometimes, however, it really can be a case of channelling Elsa, and letting it go!
People can be thoroughly ignorant, prejudiced, and ridiculous about breastfeeding, but others may just be clumsily expressing their support without knowing how you want that to look.
Dealing with tricky family members and friends
Let’s have a practice with these lovely pre-prepared stereotypes!
The Mother-in-law: Overly interested in your breastfeeding journey she is constantly offering you a private place to feed whilst glancing uncertainly at her husband. Perhaps one way to deal with this is by taking her up on the offer, disappearing with your kid and popping your head back out again in the New Year? Using the excuse of needing to feed the baby is a great way to give yourself a bit of a breather if you feel like you need one! Just be prepared for the stage whispers outside the door: ’where is she’…‘oh she’s just feeding him’…’AGAIN?’
The older sister: Very keen to give advice, it ends up sounding like a horror show of how to distress both you and your child. So, what you need to do is get them taking a bottle so you can have a break, do a dream feed, put them down drowsy but awake, let them cry it out a bit, don’t worry if they vomit, they’re just trying to manipulate you…
Just glance pointedly at her wild offspring currently destroying anything in reach and thank her politely for her advice whilst doing the opposite.
The childless friend: She’s persuaded you into a bar for a rare night out but can’t seem to understand why you want to return home to breastfeed before a) your boobs explode and b) you miss your child so much you start inelegantly sobbing into your Baileys. Leave her singing ‘Fairytale of New York’ at full volume and sneak off to get a taxi. Look at photos of your sleeping child the whole way home and realise you’ve leaked right through your going out outfit.
The brother-in-law / oafish male relative: Feels uncomfortable with the idea of breasts being used in a non-sexual way so tries to cover it up with inappropriate ‘Carry on’ style comedy such as: ‘Oooo tits out again, is it?’ I’m not even sure that this warrants a response.
Awkward older male relative: Unable to look you in the eye after an unfortunate nipple slip during Xmas dinner, but always brings you a cup of tea or a glass of water whenever he sees you’re feeding. Sometimes you can find allies in the most unlikely of places!
Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, remember that your breastfeeding choices are the business of no one but you and your child. Whether it’s ignorance, inexperience, outright prejudice or misguided attempts at support, you can choose to empathise, ignore or challenge depending on how much emotional energy you are willing to expend.
Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, remember that your breastfeeding choices are the business of no one but you and your child.
And if that’s none at all, don’t feel guilty, just keep on boobin’! Happy Christmas Mama!