Merry Mothering This Holiday Season
While the holidays are a special time for families, no one can deny that they can be stressful, and they can be particularly taxing on nursing mothers. Nursing mothers already put a ton of effort into their daily routine, so holiday preparations can zap the energy right out of them just in time for the big event. On top of the exhaustion caused by a marathon of daily activities intertwined with shopping, wrapping, baking, packing, etc., a nursing mother may also experience anxiety. Perhaps she can't decide whether to breastfeed in private or among her family and friends. Maybe she is the only sober adult at a gathering that has gone very late and just wants to go home. Whatever the reason for the exhaustion and the trigger for the anxiety (and there are endless possibilities), here are some tips that I hope will help you be a merry mother this holiday season:
If you have a partner, share the burden with them. In other words, don't be a martyr. If you have an able significant other in your life, ask them to take on some of the additional responsibilities that the holiday brings. They are your partner after all. If you take on all of the additional holiday responsibilities, you may become resentful, which can buildup over time. While you can't control your loved ones, and nothing is ever perfectly fair, you should give them the opportunity to meet your expectations by expressing them. Nothing ruins a holiday (or a relationship) as quickly and silently as resentment does, so it's important that you speak up before it sets in.
Give because you want to, not because you have to or because you want to win. The holidays are not a contest, but if they were, the winner would be the person experiencing the most joy. Corny, but true. Therefore, if you enjoy hand-picking or hand-crafting each and every gift, do that. If you enjoy baking and want to bake ten dozen cookies, do that (and bake some for me while you're at it). However, if you don't enjoy those things, or don't have it in you this year, don't do them. If you celebrate Christmas, suggest Secret Santa or White Elephant, so that you only have to buy one gift, at least where adults are concerned. Your family might thank you for saving their bank accounts and the spirit of Christmas. If that won't fly in your family, buy everyone the same thing. They will not think you are lazy if you put some thought into that one gift. Your family will probably think you are clever for finding something that everyone will treasure or laugh at, e.g. a framed photo of your child or goofy socks. If your child's photo was anything like my daughter's preschool photo, your family might both laugh at and treasure the photo.
When it comes to nursing, do what makes YOU feel comfortable. If you are more comfortable nursing in private, do that. However, don't nurse in private because it makes someone else more comfortable. Remember that resentment thing we talked about earlier? It erodes relationships. If you are aware that someone is uncomfortable, you could give them a heads up, so that they can leave the room, but you shouldn't be evicted for feeding your child. What worked well for me during those uncertain weeks following the birth of my first child was to tell guests in my home that I was about to breastfeed and that, while I'd be pretty well covered, they were welcome to leave the room. No one ever left the room and it helped me to say something because I didn't have to experience their double-takes when they realized what I was doing. I stopped warning my guests once I became comfortable with it.
Don't let anyone make you feel ashamed for feeding your child. If someone shows disgust or outrage in reaction to you breastfeeding, you should not let them make you feel shame. It's never happened to me, but I'd probably laugh maniacally and get angry. Hopefully you have a better temperament than I have and would be able to remain calm, but whatever you do, don't let shame creep in. I have heard that some mothers take the opportunity to try to educate critics of public breastfeeding. By all means, if you feel comfortable with that, more power to you. Just remember, it's not your job to change society. You are already doing your part by normalizing breastfeeding. All that being said:
Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't assume that you are going to offend anyone by breastfeeding your child in their presence. Many of us have relatives who have raised their children in a time when breastfeeding was less prevalent, so we assume that it will be awkward for them. My family members didn't bat an eye when I breastfed, despite the fact that it was not something that they had much experience with. I've breastfed countless times at restaurants and malls and have never sparked public outrage. Sometimes us mothers can be our own worst enemies because we worry too much about how others feel about our actions. If no one reacts, don't react for them. If they show a little surprise, be understanding because they may not have been around breastfeeding before and just need a chance to acclimate.
Don't forget to pack your own comfort items, whether you are traveling long or short distances. You probably pack carefully for your children, but remember that it's equally important that you take care when packing for yourself when you are nursing. Bring a water bottle and some snacks, so you that you don't become dehydrated or famished if the food doesn't hit the table for hours on end, which sometimes happens in my family. Pack clothes that you are comfortable breastfeeding in and don't forget a nursing pillow if you use one. Also, bring a book or other entertainment in case you feel the need to slip away. Speaking of slipping away:
If you are staying with trusted family or friends, take advantage of the free childcare and take some time for yourself. This is a lesson that I am continuously trying to absorb. Without fail, I snap on someone over the holidays if I have been staying at someone else's house and following someone else's itinerary (because I can't be bothered to create one myself). Give yourself a break from your loved ones before they get on your last nerve. Someone missing you for a couple hours is better than you hurting their feelings because you lost your cool, which can have repercussions that last much longer.
Lastly, remember that motherhood is as precious as childhood. You deserve to enjoy every moment of this holiday season with your family, so let your hair down and let your family and friends help you with your tasks so that you can. If no one volunteers to help you, casually ask someone. Sometimes people just need to be asked. After all, the early years of motherhood are busy and fleeting and you too might forget all that was involved. Play your favorite songs, dance with your children, and be merry because you are their everything. Your children will remember the happy times and the beautiful smile on your face. No one will remember or care whether you checked off every box on your to-do list.