Navigating The Festive Season

By Lucy Ruddle (IBCLC)

I sometimes wonder if Mary had to field the opinions of family and friends when it came to her feeding baby Jesus. Did extended family ever tut and tell her he couldn’t possibly be hungry again when she offered her breast twice in one hour? Given that breastfeeding would have been very normal back in 1AD, I doubt it. Sadly, many of today’s parents do have to deal with the unwanted opinions and well-meaning but inaccurate advice of others, especially at Christmas.

If you thought spending time with family at Christmas was stressful and draining before you had a baby – buckle up. While some parents are lucky enough to be surrounded with loved ones who simply respect the way they’re caring for and feeding their infant, many others will face different challenges, having to handle at least a few bizarre and awkward moments over the course of the Christmas period. Unasked for opinions and well-intentioned, but inaccurate advice, may be top of the list. It can help a lot to arm yourself with suitable responses, if you want to address these comments rather than ignoring them (or rolling your eyes!). So, to help prepare you, I thought I’d share the top comments you’re likely to get, and why they’re inaccurate because let’s face it – breastfeeding around extended family could come with its own bingo card of nonsense!

As you latch baby for the second time in an hour and someone declares “He can’t be hungry again?”, try to remember that babies, especially breastfed ones, feed frequently. When babies are overwhelmed or in unfamiliar situations, like experiencing their first Christmas, they may also seek the reassurance and comfort of breastfeeding in order to feel calm, safe and regulated. Christmas festivities can be a busy event, and often come with a LOT of sensory input – noises, smells, lights, bright colours, and all those faces wanting to get in on the baby cuddles. So don’t hesitate to explain this to your loved ones or playfully remind them that even they reach for food and physical contact repeatedly during the festivities.

As you latch baby for the second time in an hour and someone declares “He can’t be hungry again?”, try to remember that babies, especially breastfed ones, feed frequently.

Drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is still a common, and controversial, topic of discussion during family events. Most experts agree that consuming one or two units of alcohol is safe while breastfeeding, as long as bed sharing isn’t involved while alcohol is still in your system. While alcohol can pass into breast milk, it takes a substantial amount to negatively affect infants. In fact, its more likely to temporarily slow down your milk letdown than it is to make your baby fussy or sleepy. Interestingly, if you want to increase the chances of alcohol leaving your system before the next feed, you can enjoy a drink while actively nursing. This might cause a stir at the Christmas dinner table, but alcohol takes time to enter breast milk, making it an excellent compromise if you’re concerned about your baby ingesting any alcohol. For more information on breastfeeding and alcohol, you can refer to resources like La Leche League.

It’s inevitable that at some point during the day your baby will become overwhelmed or tired, and start to become unsettled or even cry. Cue the helpful family member and a declaration of “They are fine, I’ll settle them”. This reflex comes from the innate urge to respond to a baby’s cry, and while that is well-meaning, you know better than anyone else what your little one really needs – and that is probably your breast or closeness. It’s totally OK and normal to want to express your preference for handling your baby’s needs, even if you worry about sounding selfish or ungrateful. If you find it challenging to navigate the situation, there are a few options. You can choose to smile sweetly and excuse yourself, taking the opportunity to have a bath or a nap, knowing that ultimately your baby will need you. Alternatively, you can politely state that it’s time for a feed, sleep, or a nappy change, and physically remove your baby from the well-meaning family member. Lastly, a gentle approach might be to thank them for their attempt to help and ask if they could lend a hand with other tasks like washing up or folding laundry, allowing you to rest and spend quality time with your baby.

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