While the predominant 'S' word of the festive season may be the big man in the red suit, there's another 'S' word that crops up regularly; stress. Yes, the holidays are a time of celebration, merriment, family and food but sometimes it can be too much of a good thing, especially as a new parent, and even more so when you're breastfeeding.
Because, as you quickly find out, a LOT of people have an opinion on how to parent, and many aren't afraid to share their, ahem, wisdom with you. From telling you how you should be feeding your baby, to sleep and solids advice and general; 'Well that's not how I did it,' navigating these conversations can be exhausting.
Here are our best tips, from parents who have been there, for managing the most common conversations you might have to tackle during the festive fun as a new mama.
Surviving the Festive Season as a Breastfeeding Mum
"But can't you just give him a bottle?"
Ahhh yes, this old chestnut. There are few breastfeeding mums who HAVEN'T heard this 'helpful' suggestion. Because if you just gave your baby a bottle then you could join in the night out/get more sleep/hand over baby duties. Thing is, not all babies want to take a bottle and, more importantly, not all mums want to give one! There is absolutely nothing wrong with not giving your breastfed bub a bottle. As a mum of 3 with two kids who would have gone on a hunger strike rather than suck on a bottle teat, I get it.
As a first time mum however it can be hard to stand up for yourself in the face of mounting pressure. If you feel confident, explain to your cousin, sister, Aunty Cheryl that you're not keen on offering a bottle at this stage and you've accepted the implications of that. If you want to shut down the discussion altogether, say that your baby would rather starve than take a bottle and as that won't be happening on your watch, you'll need to stay close by. If you DO want to to offer a bottle or have a milk stash to use, we've got some top tips on how to introduce a bottle to your baby.
"Do you need a cover for that?"
Whether it's the offer of something to cover yourself with or a room away from the hustle and bustle, it's not uncommon to be indirectly asked to breastfeed under wraps. It's likely that the majority of people have the best intentions and just want to give you the option of a quiet space. And for some mamas, that might be ideal, especially if your bub has reached the 'I won't feed when there are other things to look at' stage. Other mamas may prefer to feed wherever they are. And you know what? Either option is absolutely a-ok. When it comes to feeding covered/uncovered, the choice is all yours mama. Do what works for you and your baby.
And remember, breastfeeding in public both with and without a cover, is completely legal. It's actually illegal for you to be asked to move, cover up or stop. In all the years I have spent breastfeeding, I have never had a single issue but some mamas aren't as lucky. If this happens to you and you're made to feel uncomfortable in a public space, you have the legal right to refuse AND can escalate your experience via a complaint to management.
"Feeding to sleep will form bad habits."
While it may be tempting to reply that the only bad habit is keeping in contact with the person you're talking to, sometimes you need to take a more diplomatic approach. Unfortunately, when it comes to sleep, people tend to think that the only right way, is their way. Our advice? Do not engage and shut down any talk of sleep immediately. Because it's a battle you're never going to win. Feeding to sleep is biologically normal. It's been done since the beginning of time pretty much and if it works for your family, that's all that matters. And take it from someone who fed all their children to sleep well into toddlerhood; they ALL sleep independently eventually.
"Should you really be eating/drinking that?"
This one often starts during pregnancy when every man and their dog decides to police what you're putting in your mouth and continues through to breastfeeding. Whether it's coffee or a glass of wine, a rum ball or smoked salmon, there may well be a 'helpful' stranger imparting outdated wisdom on how you shouldn't eat XYZ. The best response? Education. When it comes to food, unless your baby has a medically diagnosed food intolerance or allergy, nothing needs to be off limits, including coffee and chocolate. Some mamas may find too much of some foods leaves their bubs a bit unsettled but you'll generally have an idea of where your threshold lies.
As for alcohol, this can be a real minefield. We wrote a WHOLE blog post about breastfeeding and alcohol and the findings state that, while not drinking at all is always going to be the safest option, very little actually passes through to the milk when alcohol is drunk in a reasonable amount. To that end, a standard drink or two is generally considered very safe for a breastfeeding mama. Many mums will choose to have a drink straight after feeding as they may then have a gap of an hour or two before bub wants to feed again by which time the alcohol will have started to metabolise and leave their system.
"When will you be weaning/aren't they a little old?"
"That is really none of your business." End of story. Hopefully this doesn't crop up during your breastfeeding journey. But, sadly, there is a chance it will, especially if you breastfeed beyond babyhood. Natural term breastfeeding is, like the name suggests, natural. The World Health Organisation recommends that children are breastfed till two and beyond is possible. Your baby, your body and your choice.
At the end of the day, difficult conversations will happen throughout your parenting journey. Hold your head up high mama, stick to your principles and know that you've got this!