Motherly Collective

Dealing with unsupportive comments while nursing or pumping is a significant challenge for many mothers who breastfeed. Despite the legal protection for breastfeeding in public in countries like the US, the UK and Australia, as well as in many other parts of the world, seeing mothers nursing their little ones in public remains a relatively rare sight in some societies. It is even less common to see a mom breastfeeding a toddler or older child outside of their home. During the holiday season, with family gatherings and visits to friends whom you may not otherwise regularly see, many mothers feel an added sense of scrutiny when it comes to feeding their babies. This can add stress to what is meant to be a festive and joyful time.

4 ways to manage unsolicited breastfeeding advice over the holidays

Here are 4 tried and tested ways to deal with unsupportive comments over holidays as a nursing or pumping mother. 

1. Pepper them with facts

There is a mountain of scientific evidence behind the breastfeeding benefits for both mother and child. Here are a few to stash up your sleeve and pull out on demand. 

2. Return their questions 

This one may take a little confidence, but in my experience, it is an illuminating response that can bring you closer to those around you and help you both understand one another better. Try these questions for anyone who you feel is making unsupportive comments: 

  • Could you share what was your experience of breastfeeding? 
  • Can you share more about what that opinion is based on?
  • Can you tell me why you feel that way?

Most of the time, asking these questions reveal genuine interest, ignorance, past trauma or a lack of understanding, opening the door for further honest conversations about the realities of breastfeeding. 

3. Set clear boundaries 

Again, this becomes easier as you become more confident in your motherhood journey. You may not feel comfortable engaging in questions and debates about breastfeeding—and that is absolutely fine! It’s not your job to educate everyone if you simply do not want to or feel unable to do so. Boundaries are about defining yourself as a mother and individual and identifying what you will and will not do. 

Here are some that I have found to be especially useful: 

  • “I am really passionate about breastfeeding on my own terms.”
  • “I’m not looking for advice.”
  • ”Breastfeeding is between me and my baby.”
  • “I love breastfeeding on demand, it’s an active choice that I make.”

Remember that you never have to stand for being insulted—and you have every right to draw a line at any comment that you feel is rude or uncalled for.

4. Respond with compassion

Responding to criticism with true compassion takes some serious love, but I promise you that it is worthwhile when dealing with those who may be dearest to you. Many of my closest female relatives have no experience of breastfeeding and so there have been times when their advice or opinions have come across as insensitive and even a little aggressive. 

If you are in the midst of the fourth trimester, you may not graciously receive your cousin’s incessant suggestion that you give your child formula to help them sleep at night. If you consider that she may have had a traumatic postpartum experience which left her feeling robbed of the opportunity to ever breastfeed, then you may not take her insistence so personally. 

In short, many people’s opinions about breastfeeding aren’t about you or your baby. Often, they are based on outdated ideals and generations of misinformation, along with a lack of breastfeeding support and education. While understanding this will not stop unsolicited comments, it may make them more tolerable.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.