Holidays and family gatherings often present a challenging time for breastfeeding mothers. The presence of extended family holds our childrearing choices, including breastfeeding, up to scrutiny by those who feel they have a right or responsibility to comment, educate and criticize. The cozy breastfeeding relationship is disrupted by schedules that are out of our control and relatives who make claims on baby’s time and physical body itself. Breastfeeding families who travel for the holidays are out of their comfort zone – staying in strange beds and rooms, without access to breastfeeding aids or reassuring comforts.
Here are some tips on what to expect and how to handle challenges that may arise:
Think about where and how you will nurse
Even those who are avid advocates for nursing in public sometimes balk at the idea of taking out a breast in front of our own father or father-in-law! But the sooner you get comfortable with nursing around family, the quicker they will come around to the idea. If you are the first in your family to nurse, you have a chance to set a precedent for how this will be handled. If you are not the first, the way may be paved for you, or you may have to overcome the assumption that you’ll leave the room or use a blanket or cover. The nifty thing about dealing with those who are uncomfortable with nursing, is that they are often also too uncomfortable to say anything about it! Children are usually quite curious, so be prepared to answer basic questions and be proud that you are showing them a great example of what babies need.
On the flip side, know that depending on the age of your baby, some children will have a very difficult time concentrating on nursing if there is a lot of activity and new people, and particularly with other children around. During the actual family meals or events or other busy times, you may want to have a quiet, comfortable space prepared for your use. Nursing can also be a great “excuse” to rescue a baby who needs some private time with mom and a break from excessive attention or passing around.
Prepare to deal with with comments and criticism
Be prepared for “helpful” relatives who will give you advice and criticism regarding your breastfeeding choice. You’ll have to wade through a combination of opinion, outdated or incorrect information, myths, misguided advice, simply hurtful comments, *and* some actual helpful information. Comments you might prepare for include:
• When their baby started solids and why yours should too -- Remember that current studies indicate that introducing solid foods before 6 months is not recommended as baby is not developmentally ready and may lead to increased chance of food allergies. When most current mothers were babies, food was introduced at 4 months or even sooner.
• That your baby should be sleeping through the night and breastfeeding is why they are not – This is simply untrue on two counts. First, many babies need to feed at night even well after their first birthday – this is normal and necessary. Second, feeding rice cereal or formula or adding rice cereal to a bottle will not help a baby sleep longer, can be dangerous and may actually cause discomfort and disrupt sleep. Claims from those who will swear it worked for them are anecdotal and not scientific – when tested, they do not pan out, but persist as myths.
• You are spoiling your baby and creating a “mamma’s boy” or clingy, dependent child – Again, this is simply wrong. Child development experts generally agree that infants can not be spoiled by meeting their needs. Beyond early infancy, children who feel secure and confident through attached relationships to parents, including through breastfeeding, are actually *more* independent and secure later in childhood. Take your baby back from relatives and offer the breast just as you would at home – your family will get used to it.
• Breastfeeding more than a couple weeks or months has no additional benefits, so you might as well stop – The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and often increase along with breastfeeding duration. Recent studies even link increased breastfeeding duration with increased health and IQ! Be sensitive when responding to this one – I have found that this sort of comment is often a “defense through offense” mechanism from those who ended breastfeeding early or lacked support for longer-term success.
• Your baby is crying because of hunger and needs more food or formula in addition to nursing – This is another one to be sensitive about in your response. While this may simply be lack of education about breastfeeding (which they may see as an answer to thirst, but not hunger), this sort of comment also comes from disappointment over the inability to participate in baby’s life through feeding. So many media images of tender moments with babies include family members giving a bottle or offering food, that grandparents and relatives feel left out of the bonding process when not given this opportunity. Offer other alternatives for creating connection.
For strategies to reply to these sorts of criticism in effective and positive ways, see my article "Responses to Breastfeeding Criticism" in related links at the end of this article.
Getting to know family is a true gift for your child. If your child has living grandparents or great-grandparents they can count themselves lucky as families have children later and later. Cousins and extended family can represent friends for life for your child. Gently shifting family into a role of simply enjoying time with your child, rather than trying to influence parenting choices, can make family get-togethers a joy rather than a stress.
Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.