For mothers who breastfeed exclusively, special occasions like Valentine's Day, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries hold a special challenge. Some mothers simply aren't ready to leave the baby, but feel pressured to do so by husbands, well-meaning grandparents and friends. Other desperately want to get away for an evening, special event or even a whole day, but don't really know how to do it. Here's some things to think about and some tips that might help if you are contemplating this dilemma:
• Just say no – If you are invited to a wedding or party that is not child-friendly, and your baby is still nursing frequently or you are feeling conflicted, simply say no. If appropriate, send a gift and your regrets. The thing is, you won't have any fun anyway if you are just worried about the baby getting hysterical back home or if your heart isn't in it. It's hard to miss someone's special occasion, but this is one of those times when it's important to remember that nursing is temporary, and you can celebrate the following year for the "next one" or on an anniversary.
• Consider an afternoon or weekend date – Bedtime is a particularly hard time for a breastfed baby to do without mom. For younger babies, evenings are also a common time for fussiness and cluster-feeding. Playing hooky from work and sharing a lunch and/or activity is a treat and will offer less-crowded restaurants with faster seating and service, easier parking, and potential a cheaper date (lunch menus, matinees). This way your sitter is more of a playmate/entertainer than a caregiver dealing with a baby's bedtime needs and expectations. For those who work, baby will already be in daycare, eliminating the need and cost of a sitter and reducing yet more time with the baby. Alternately, postpone your special date for the weekend, when a family member or friend can watch the baby for you for your daytime celebration.
• Celebrate with baby – My husband and I get out plenty…we just do it on family dates. No, it's not always as relaxing as getting out alone, but we can't frankly afford to add the cost of a sitter to our evenings out. Plus, we love celebrating as a family. They'll be so much of our lives when our kids would rather die than go out to dinner with Mom and Dad, and I know we'll never regret our family celebrations when we look back. Plus, we've found that if you take your kids out to restaurants and outings from the time they are small, then they learn how to behave at such occasions (and do…most of the time!).
• Split the difference – If you baby has a reliable nap, is still in an infant seat (the kind that attaches to a car seat base) or will sleep or be content in a stroller or carrier, you can have the best of both worlds. My husband and I have planned lunches when we expect the baby to sleep, and had a whole meal together while she dozes in the baby seat. (Incidentally, the Graco Infant SafeSeat, which is designed for babies up to 30 pounds has been worth every penny for us. Our daughter is 15 months and still happily transferable from car to stroller to house). Or have a friend or family member take the baby for a long stroller walk near your date, which may or may not include a nap. Or get really creative and have a date where the baby can ride on your back in a baby carrier or wrap (like a mei tai or backpack frame), like a hike or mini-golfing.
• Have a picnic or "home-date," or host a gathering – If getting out seems overwhelming for a special celebration out with your spouse, consider using a sitter or a family member while you celebrate in the house. Have a picnic in the backyard or on the balcony. Rent a movie and snuggle up in bed with takeout. If you need to take a nursing break, take it, but make the evening special and unusual. If the occasion isn't a date, but a celebration, for example, for a family member's birthday, offer to host at your place. That way, you can celebrate with them, but you can meet the needs of the baby, too. It might not be exactly what they had in mind, but they can understand that you need to be there for the baby, but are doing your best to be there for them as well. Leave it to them to make the choice of what is more important – the setting or your presence, and respect their decision. If you host, bring in food from the restaurant they wanted, or create an activity that will substitute for what they had in mind.
Babies change our lives in dramatic ways, and breastfeeding is a commitment whose rewards sometimes come with small sacrifices. Thinking outside the box about how to celebrate special occasions or spend special time with a spouse or family member can help meet the needs of everyone involved. Make nursing part of the celebration, not a hindrance from it.
**This is the carseat that I mentioned in the article -- in combination with the Graco Car Seat Carrier (in doesn't fit other types of car seat carriers because it is bigger), it has made our life MUCH easier, especially with being out and about with older child.
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