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Holiday gatherings can be a challenge for nursing mothers

December 18, 2009|By LEIGH HAMRICK / Special to The Herald-Mail

There's another holiday gathering in the forecast. Next weekend, families will get together in bulk to celebrate Christmas.

Deep-down, everyone has their own personal reasons for good cheer: seeing family and friends again, anticipating the New Year around the corner, getting to eat and drink too much, or just getting the day off from work (that one's got my vote).

While pondering the impending festivities, I couldn't help thinking about all the breast-feeding moms who'll be among the fold, and all the little irritations and responsibilities they're going to have to face for which the rest of us never spare a thought.

I remember when I was the one withdrawing to somebody's chilly bedroom at the back of the house. I would perch uncomfortably on an unmade bed, breast-feeding my baby and listening to the murmur of the party from the other side of a closed door. Sometimes it was a relief to be secluded - I don't have many in-laws I like - but at other times it was, quite simply, an appalling drag.

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Sure, I loved bonding with my baby, but do we have to pretend that every moment mothers spend with babies is filled with bliss, bunnies hopping in the meadow and fuzzy things floating in the air? I'd gotten dressed up to party with big people, hadn't I?

By the time I emerged from whoever's bedroom that was, rumpled and smaller-bosomed and smelling of milk, I'd been forgotten, conversations had changed, food had gotten cold, my husband would be talking to someone I didn't recognize, and I would have to start all over. With a sleeping infant on my arm.

The subject over women breast-feeding in public is a controversial one that could go on and on, isn't it? It always makes me laugh. No one can seem to find the appropriate middle ground. We either hear about some women who liberally pull it out from under a tank top while sitting on a bench in the middle of a shopping mall, or some poor repressed women who close the blinds and shut off the lights before picking up the baby.

Once, I read an article in the paper about a woman saying breast-feeding in public ought to be banned because she didn't want her husband or teenaged son to be inadvertently exposed to sexual arousal. This one topped the cake for me.

She's fighting a losing battle. I'll agree that watching your own baby's mother nurse said baby might be a cause for intimacy, but it hardly raises the pulse when you catch a stranger doing it. And as for teenage boys, they're liable to get titillated by a postage stamp.

I try to be realistic as well as modest. It's such a nice combination. I see nothing wrong with breast-feeding among family during a holiday party, provided you conceal the works with a nice roomy blanket. Women didn't become mothers so they could be banished to the cold posterior of the house. If there's someone a mother might be uncomfortable nursing in front of - say, that strange uncle or cousin - then she can move to another room, where the women are hanging out.

Here's another great idea. Why not pump your breast milk beforehand and bottle it? Then anyone can feed the baby, particularly that grandmother who goes dewy-eyed at the sight of children. It will give other members of the family a chance to bond with the baby, and you get to keep your top on. For once.

Leigh Hamrick is a freelance writer and mother who raises a son, a daughter and a husband in Frederick County, Md.

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