Ah, the holidays. That joyous time of the year when you gather around family and friends to celebrate, spend quality time, and eat all the things. I remember my first holiday season as a mother very fondly, minus one issue: breastfeeding. Apparently, breastfeeding around extended family members was a "problem," (something I still can't understand). Thankfully, I figured out a few tips to help you survive breastfeeding around family members during the holiday season, so the time you spend with those you love isn't tainted by a few opposing uncles or aunts or cousins or whoever that (for reasons unknown) have issues with a woman feeding her child with a part of her body.
I was breastfeeding my then-4-month-old son when we had our first Christmas with our respecting families. We split the holiday between my partner's parents, and my mother and her parents. It was truly incredible to essentially "introduce" our son to our extended family members, but I was exclusively breastfeeding at the time and not every single family member liked, understood, or felt the need to accommodate that decision. I was told there was no reason why I should still be breastfeeding a baby that was "so old." (Huh?) I was told there was no longer any benefit to breastfeeding a 4-month-old baby. (Say what?) And I listened to story after story about how, "Back in my day, no one breastfed their babies and everyone turned out just fine." It was exhausting. Every time I fed my son, I was met with resistance and urged to stop.
I learned a lot during that first holiday season, and I so badly wish I could go back and apply those hard-earned lessons so the exhausted, brand-new mom version of me could have skipped the constant judgment from family members. Alas, there's no way to go back in time. Not yet, anyway. So, I impart to you the tips I accumulated during those two weeks. If you're a breastfeeding mom and you're somewhat hesitant to feed your kid around family members this holiday season, read on. You're not alone, you shouldn't' feel alone, and you have every right to continue doing what you know is best for your baby (and you).
"Prepare" Your Family Members Ahead Of Time
By "prepare," I mean saying something as simple as, "Hey, I'm breastfeeding and will be continuing to breastfeed while we visit." I mean, I'm just not sure what else there is to "prepare" someone for.
When I was breastfeeding my 4-month-old son, I let my partner's parents and my grandparents know that when we were visiting their respective homes for the holidays, I would be taking my boobs out to feed my son. I wouldn't be hiding away in another room and away from the festivities. I would be sitting with family, sustaining my son, and enjoying the time we spent together. At least letting them know beforehand, in my opinion, minimized the chances they'd be "surprised" when I started breastfeeding mid-conversation.
Don't Waste Your Time Explaining Your Decision
Trust me. If someone has an "issue" with you breastfeeding, or doesn't see why you "just have to do that right here," any amount of conversation you may or may not have is will probably fail to make a significant difference. I tried to explain to my partner's mother that it was important for me to at least make it a year breastfeeding my son. She couldn't comprehend that decision. She didn't breastfeed her children, so using my body to feed my son (to her) felt like an unnecessary sacrifice. We politely decided to agree to disagree, because continuing to explain my decision and why it was important to me was just a waste of time.
Feel Free To Use A Cover...
I didn't use a breastfeeding cover because, well, my child hated it. He simply would not eat if something was covering his face. It just didn't happen. However, by no means should you ditch the cover in order to "prove a point" to family members who may not understand or appreciate your decision to breastfeed. I don't think any woman should put herself in an uncomfortable situation for the benefit of someone else. It's not your job to educate your family members. So, if you have a cover and use a cover, obviously you should continue to do so.
...Or Don't, And Hold Eye Contact With Your Family Members While Feeding Your Baby
I, on the other hand, opted to ditch the cover (for reasons previously stated) and look at my disapproving family members straight in the eye while feeding my son. I wasn't intentionally trying to make them uncomfortable, I just wanted them to know that, to me, feeding my son with a part of my body was normal. We could still carry on a conversation while my son was eating. We could still look at one another. I didn't need to be shunned or ignored when I was breastfeeding. My kid eating is, well, normal.
Pump A Few Bottles Ahead Of Time...
If you have a breast pump and want to use it, I say go for it. Sometimes, it's nice to have a breast pump available to pump a few bottles before hand, or to pump when you're engorged. That way, you can pump in privacy and not deal with any disapproving looks.
Plus, sometimes family members want to feed your baby because it's adorable. This gives you the opportunity to hand the feeding responsibilities off to someone else, while still feeding your kid breast milk.
...Or Don't, Because Pumping Is The Worst
While I pumped a few times while visiting family, I limited those sessions. In my humble opinion, breast pumping is the freakin' worst. I can't stand it. I didn't like having to sit in an empty room for an extended period of time, attached to a loud machine and scrolling through Facebook. It's boring and it's tedious and, oh, did I mention it's boring?
Remind Yourself That This Is Your Decision
You, dear reader, are the parent. You. You're the one with the boobs that produce the milk that is sustaining your baby. You're the one who decides how you feed your child, and someone else's opinion should not waver that decision. If you're dealign with combative family members who think you're "wrong" for breastfeeding (especially if you're breastfeeding for an "extended" period of time) some silent mantras to remind yourself that this is your decision and that you're doing the right thing and that everyone else should just hush, may come in handy.
Pressure from family members can be daunting and powerful, to be sure, but you are the parent. This is your choice. You're doing what you think (read: know) is best, and that's all that matters.
Never, Ever, Apologize For Sustaining Your Baby With Your Body
Seriously. If someone says they're uncomfortable, that's (not to sound really rude) their issue. My advice? Do not apologize for doing something truly incredible.
Insist Your Partner (Or Someone You Trust) Supports You
Before visiting our respective families during the holidays, I told my partner that he absolutely had to be in my corner. I mean, he was anyway, but sometimes when you're around your family the need to keep things copacetic trumps the need to stand up for someone else. I made it clear that if my partner loudly and unapologetically supporting my decisions to breastfeeding caused a rift in "family time," so be it. That wasn't our problem. Knowing that he was going to stand up to anyone who may have a problem watching me feed our son, made me feel more secure in my decision. I wasn't going to be dealing with uncomfortable family members on my own, and that's helpful.