By Emma Pickett
It’s your baby’s first Christmas. It may be hard at the moment to picture exactly how that might go. Usually, it seems beautifully predictable: certain family members, expected recipes, that board game, probably that film. They’ll be staying with them. They’ll come over for that meal. You’ll go to them for that meal. Now there’s a baby in the mix AND some uncertainty when it comes to travel plans. It’s a combination that makes it hard to predict what Christmas will be like.
You may be in a situation where your baby will spend time with close family in a way they never have before. This may be the first time you’ve all slept in the same house together. It could be the first time they’ve been around as you put your baby down for a nap. It may also be a time when the alcohol comes out, and whether or not you are having any, it might loosen a few lips. Maybe people will behave unpredictably. There’s a lot to think about.
There may be other family members who have thoughts running around their head too. They have had some insight into your parenting and your life with new baby but, how are you really coping?
You might be practising responsive feeding and that’s not something they may entirely understand if they parented in the 20th century.
These weren’t conversations they wanted to have over the phone but perhaps in person, they want to ask some questions. For them, breastfeeding was about timing and routines and avoiding ‘spoiling’ a baby or the breast being for comfort. Now we understand much more about the emotional aspect of breastfeeding and the value in the breast being about more than nutrition. We understand that babies can’t be spoiled and responsive feeding helps to develop the right milk supply for your baby, gives them the ability to respond to their own appetite and may help them to calm or even to fall asleep. For many of our older relatives, a baby falling asleep on the breast was a parental failure. For many of us, it’s a useful tool taking advantage of the natural sedatives and relaxants found in breastmilk.
You might be introducing solids to your baby using baby-led weaning and for some older relatives, that all seems a bit odd.
How can your baby negotiate a broccoli floret? Surely, that needs boiling and mashing and can only be delivered through the medium of a spoon.
Of course, your family aren’t daft. They understand how things change and recommendations change and they are capable of learning and reading but that takes effort. You may not be in the mood to be a one-person early years education tool right now.
Or with co-sleeping (which we know up to 80% of new parents do), you may not fancy explaining lack of risk. Or explaining why you don’t use a cot. Or that, ‘yes, your baby can sleep in a sling and they will be able to breathe’ or, ‘it is OK to have a glass of wine if I breastfeed based on the current evidence’.
Or, ‘I have no intention in stopping breastfeeding just because my baby is 10 months old.’
All these conversations that normally would have been spread out over months could now potentially be squashed into a few days. It doesn’t feel very Christmassy.
You can take control. If you are spending a moment worrying about the negatives of having family around, there is action you can take.
They may be worried too. Not all families are up for the honest and frank discussion option but there are subtler versions.
You might send them an email that says, ‘We’re really looking forward to seeing you but I just wanted to give you an idea of our day at the moment so you know what to expect.’ When you mention meal-times, add in a link about baby-led weaning so they can ‘learn more about it’. Talk about the food your baby has and politely ask that no one else offers other food. Explain that you might pop off around nap time because your baby still breastfeeds before they fall asleep. In the evenings, you may lie down with them and may not be around for a while. Some parents with babies go to bed WITH their baby at the same time and that’s OK too. You do not have to drag yourself back downstairs to have an ‘adult evening’ if that’s not what you want to do and you know you’ll be woken up several times in the night to come. You don’t have to try and fit some imagined version of what your parenting life will be like. Nobody who cares about you would want you to do that.