By Vanessa Simmons @vanessa_simmons
Photo Credit w/ Written permission: Whitney Knoll @singsofmysoul
Based on https://www.instagram.com/p/B4z1E1CpcNz/
It’s that wonderful, warm, and loving time of year again. We’ll be pending some quality time with loved ones during the holiday. It’ll be a great opportunity for your family and friends to meet or see your baby for quite possibly the rest of the year – or at least until Christmas. You’re excited for all of the new things your baby will experience and how they will be so happy to play with the cousins and new friends that they’ll meet. There’s just one thing you are trying to figure out as you prepare to pack your bags for this brief holiday bash – you are proud to be breastfeeding your 6 month old baby exclusively, but you’re unsure whether or not to pack your cover.
As you are imagining how all of this will play out on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, it’s hard to not feel worried or overwhelmed, but before you arrive you need to deal with the fact that some or possibly all of your family will not feel comfortable around you and your breastfed baby come mealtime. Considering that the holidays are all about bringing the family together and how new babies seem to be a hot topic among the elders, we must remember that just because people like babies doesn’t mean that they have been exposed to what breastfeeding is really all about. It also doesn’t mean that your family members will be interested in the topic in anyway shape or form. This will be a huge reality check for some of you new moms as we head into the holiday season. When all you want to do is nurse your baby and get back to the festivities, but the family from out town wants you to cover up or leave the room, how do you deal with the lack of general education and never-ending taboo and stigma that surrounds the topic her in the United States? Instead of preparing for the worst and getting into an awful holiday fight, here are some things to consider to help you get through the holidays and keep you breastfeeding at every holiday party until you are ready to stop.
Know Your Rights, And Theirs
Memorize your state breastfeeding law. Have it at the forefront of your thinking in case anyone has a problem with you breastfeeding openly. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, you are not required to take on those opinions as your own. However, take note that if your family is offended they also have the right to ask you to leave since their home is not public property. Your rights are your rights whether they like it or not however it’s best fly below the radar when it comes to a family get-together for this reason. With that said, be kind and warm if and when people do decide to ask questions. Try to read between the lines to decipher what they are truly curious about and if you become frustrated ask them questions in response to clarify that you are not misunderstanding their question or concern. It is incredibly important to attempt to have a real discussion with your family while trying your very best to stay calm if they do in fact have a problem with it. Sure, you may feel like your head will explode after hearing some of the ridiculously ignorant statements people make about breastfeeding or hearing the questions that family and friends have, but understand that this is not their fault. This is a societal issue that can only change one experience at a time. So be patient and don’t try to turn your loved ones into being breastfeeding advocates just yet. We all know someone who is “all for breastfeeding, BUT” and those butter support folks need multiple experiences and interactions with breastfeeding to fully understand that there aren’t any buts when it comes to supporting families.
Plan for Your Preference
When your baby starts getting fussy, you know exactly what to expect. You know if your baby will lead in with a loud cry demanding a thirst-quenching drink of your liquid gold, or if your dear one will spend several minutes observing the new environment before silently signaling that they are ready to nurse. You know your baby best. Instead of passing your baby around the room, take notice if your baby is showing an eager interest in retreat. Step in and make it known that these are your baby’s cues for wanting to refill and refresh at the breast. You can even compare it the way some of the most eager family members rush to the table when dinner is ready to be served. Let’s give it up to DNA for keeping our family so tight knit that we can even see the resemblances in their mannerisms and characteristics, as young as a breastfed infant! If everyone is gathered in that same area, find a spot to sit where you can lay back and latch your baby on while continuing to be part of family time. Nurse openly or covered, whichever YOU prefer. I really suggest the two-shirt method for mamas who want some personal privacy. I also suggest that you continue to breastfeed in the same area of the home every time so that family members know what to expect from you and your baby. But in my honest opinion, feel free to whip it out confidently anywhere your baby gets fussy because it’s your baby who needs to be soothed, not them!
Be Prepared for Play
Nurse near the children’s play area so that you can play with your baby after nursing is done. You might even influence a young mind if a child sees you breastfeeding! You and your baby are a living example of what breastfeeding looks like for many people who haven’t ever been exposed to it in real life. While it’s very possible that your family will not like this next suggestion, this one is near and dear to my heart. From the very beginning of the creation of the normalize breastfeeding movement, I have been focused on the next generation of mothers who will need to learn HOW to breastfeed for the future of humanity. As it presents a daunting, painful, and time consuming challenge that not all women feel they can handle in early postpartum it is crucial that the next generation be exposed to breastfeeding sooner than later. They will observe early on that without a doubt it is a goal that is definitely manageable and achievable. So, wherever you plan to breastfeed for the next few days, you might want to settle and nurse near children’s play area. Just know that babies are highly distracted from nursing when they are in new environments, so it’s important to have some toys nearby to play in between latches. I was exposed to breastfeeding as I was breastfed myself until about one year old. I was about four years old when my younger sister was born. I had the first hand experience of seeing my mother breastfeed her – although the memories are now locked away in my subconscious. I also have printed photos that my father captured on an old school pentax film camera of mother breastfeeding me. The level of exposure that children have to see and be curious and ask questions about something so natural is the opportunity that may very well change their outlook of the future. It definitely had an impact on my way of thinking. I didn’t witness breastfeeding again until I was 21.
Wear Your Baby
At the end of the day, you showed up as a breastfeeding mom and you will leave a breastfeeding mom. You might as well make this easier on the two of you. Wear your baby in your favorite baby carrier and nurse on demand. Keeping baby close is the easiest way to see all of your baby’s cues so that you can nurse on demand and keep your milk production going strong. Also, the benefit about the baby carrier is that other family members cannot simply touch and hold your baby without considering your input. Sometimes people want to play with babies at the wrong time, and it’s not their fault, they simply have no idea that they jumped in and distracted a mildly hungry child who will become a screaming baby crying to the point that they are silently taking deep gasps just to catch their breath to keep crying. It is necessary to latch your baby while they are calm always, this is the first step to a good and deep latch. Have you ever seen someone trying to eat while they are angry? It’s just not a good combination! It’s necessary to step in when necessary and address their hunger before it turns into hanger when their blood sugars drop!
Ask the Elders
Make breastfeeding a topic of discussion with the elders! I mean c’mon almost everyone born in the 30’s and 40’s was either breastfed by their mother or was exposed to a younger sibling breastfeeding. There are even photographs floating around social media to prove it. It would be incredible to learn the history of breastfeeding in our individual families because it can help you during your own journey as far as establishing a baseline. Breastfeeding may be the best thing for babies, but not every given situation can provide breast milk for babies directly from the breast. Ask them if they ever learned to hand expressed their milk and ask if they ever used an old school pump. This knowledge is as good as gold and truthfully it may as well be included in our medical history! When you decide to open up the discussion, however, remember that there could be hidden layers of trauma and disappointment related or tied to topics in maternal health since the support of mothers and breastfeeding is a relatively new and modern concept since villages no longer exist in America. Approach your elders with care and childlike curiosity. You may be surprised to find out that you are the first to successfully breastfeed for several generations of your family!
Above and beyond all things, be sure to stay calm and not stress over how the topic is received. It’s just breastfeeding. There is no reason to wallow over the fact that your family doesn’t share your views. Stay positive and share, but try not to be overbearing or difficult if they just don’t get it. An entire generation of people have been raised without ever witnessing a breast do what it was biologically created to do. We used to receive National Geographic magazines on our doorstep with African women who were photographed bare-breasted for the cover and they didn’t even have a baby latched and nursing actively. However, there is hope for many as they might just get it have no issue with it and move on. They might even teach you a thing or two and really enjoy this topic of conversation. Either way, if you allow yourself to get upset over any topic on Thanksgiving, be forewarned, it will have a negative impact on your milk supply, which will cause you even more stress than what you planned for just taking the trip. Let go of any negative comments and feelings for the sake of your milk supply. You don’t want to let someone else’s ignorance ruin your investment of time into your baby. It’s definitely not worth the fight. Plus, you could
experience a significant drop in your supply for about three days or so until you build it back up with skin to skin and nursing on demand. When you are stressed, your cortisol levels rise and they negatively inhibit your oxytocin levels which are required to provide a let down for your milk to begin to flow. Avoid any and all conflict because it will only have a negative affect on your milk supply. Yes, breast friends, STRESS depletes your supply!
IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S JUST BREASTFEEDING
Don’t take it personal, mama. Remember that your family is probably not scrolling through endless images of latched babies on their social media like you are. They are most likely only vaguely aware of the recent breastfeeding craze and may need you to raise their level of awareness about the topic. This is your chance to look for opportunities to educate, inform, and inspire others around you. The important thing to consider is that no one else deserves to rob you and your baby of your joy and peace regarding your decision, especially during the holidays. Focus on feeding your baby whenever and wherever, because in my honest opinion that’s all your breastfed baby really cares about!