What to say when babies are not invited or when babies are unwelcome at weddings.

Barbara Higham

As a breastfeeding mother how do you respond to receiving a wedding invitation that expressly excludes children? Last week there was a story that went viral of an invitation to a wedding that specifically entreated guests only to breastfeed their babies in a private area designated for this purpose at the venue. It led to an angry outcry from breastfeeding mothers worldwide. Such a restriction adds another layer of awkwardness to the etiquette surrounding the acceptance or rejection of invitations to significant events. When longstanding friendships may be put on the line, how do you prevent people from ending up being hurt or offended in such a situation?

If your baby is still breastfeeding frequently and you are not at all happy at the idea of leaving him with anybody, how do you cope with such an invitation without spoiling friendships?

When Babies are Unwelcome at Weddings
Ken Tackett

For many nursing mothers (and the majority of new ones) breastfeeding happens very frequently and cannot be put off for anyone’s convenience, regardless of any social conventions. When your little one begins to fuss, you need to latch him right on, otherwise you will soon have a situation on your hands!

The majority of us live within a culture where breastfeeding is no longer a normal everyday sight, so it’s not surprising that unless you have lived in a breastfeeding family, you are unlikely to appreciate that nursing is different to mealtimes, it’s not something you can timetable. If you’ve been raised in a bottle-feeding family, the baby is ‘fed’ not ‘nursed’ and there is more predictability to when the baby eats.

How as a nursing mom do you explain to a childless bride and groom, why either you don’t want to be separated from your baby or don’t have it within your power to choose at what point in the ceremony he will need to be on your breast?

Here are 8 mothers’ responses to such an invitation. 

1. In answer to an invitation excluding babies:

I am so sorry that I cannot be with you for your big day and hope you understand my reason for not being there. Right now, my body physically needs my baby and vice versa. If we are separated even for the short time it takes me to dash to the store, she becomes very upset and I involuntarily leak milk standing in line at the checkout! Unless we breastfeed frequently, I am likely to get blocked ducts, which can make a mom unwell. For the time being, I’m afraid, all else is on hold as we operate as a single unit. I shall look forward to seeing your photos. I hope the sun shines for you!

This answer shows you wanted to be there but does it validate the couple’s desire to exclude children? Perhaps something that shows you see their perspective, even if it does not help you to be there, might be less likely to make them upset by your rejection? For instance, you might include something along the lines of 2.

2. To show there are no hard feelings on your part:

This is your day, it only happens once and I appreciate that including children might easily double the number of guests! I am so sorry that I can’t come but my baby is not yet ready for that amount of separation. When she needs to breastfeed, it has to happen pretty much straightaway and bottle-feeding does not work for our family.

Your interpretation of the exclusion is that they have reached full capacity at the venue rather than that they don’t like babies or disapprove of breastfeeding. If we are ever to normalize breastfeeding, let’s take it for granted that no one in their right mind could possibly disapprove of feeding a baby in the normal way. You are not burdening the bride and groom by asking them to make an exception in your case. Organizing a wedding is a lot of work as well as a social minefield.

If we are ever to normalize breastfeeding, let’s take it for granted that no one in their right mind could possibly disapprove of feeding a baby in the normal way.


3. You know the bride and groom well enough to suggest alternatives that would make your being able to attend a possibility:

It’s difficult (actually impossible!) to be separated when you are breastfeeding. If I wore X in a wrap, most likely nobody would notice she was breastfeeding anyway. I can be very discreet and if she as much as squeaks during the ceremony, I’ll make a swift exit from my spot at the back.

If you are still trying to get the hang of breastfeeding, then feeding in a wrap might be more tricky. Showing the couple photos of your baby in a beautiful wrap, especially one taken at another formal occasion, might help them think about this as a workable proposition. Better still, invite them over beforehand so you can model how your real breastfeeding baby behaves. Then they can see how unobtrusive nursing is, whether under wraps or out in the open. If it’s breasts they are scared of seeing, then being angry about your right to show yours when you are using them to care for your baby probably won’t help them understand.

4. In response to the invitation that specifies babies be breastfed out of sight:

Thank you for the invitation. Would it be OK if I bring my mom? She would stay in my hotel room to watch my little one while I attend the ceremony. It’s great that you have designated a quiet area for breastfeeding moms so their babies can be at the ceremony, but if I am holding X and she wants to breastfeed, then she wants to nurse there and then and I’d be worried that making an exit to go feed her could disrupt the proceedings. If she started to cry during your exchange of vows, you wouldn’t thank me! If my mom keeps an eye on her, I can feed her before and after the ceremony and pop in and out during the reception.  

This is very accommodating of you and it could quite possibly turn out to be a really stressful day for you and your baby (and your mom!) but depending on your baby’s age, temperament, and familiarity with your mom or other trusted caregiver, it might work out OK. Expect to be tired, distracted, and on the alert for texts from your mom to flee at a moment’s notice, so be sure she and the baby are somewhere nearby for ease of speedy and frequent feeding.

when babies are unwelcome at weddings
Ken Tackett

5. If you know that the bride and groom will not be open to accommodating a breastfeeding baby because you have heard them make disparaging remarks about “attachment” parenting:

I am really sorry to decline your invitation. At barely four months old, X would likely suffer intense separation anxiety if he couldn’t be with me.

Being firm and assertive about your needs may result in a coolness between you, but shows that there is no question in your mind that you know what you have to do. Try not to lose sleep over this because putting your baby first is your responsibility. Be sure to send a lovely gift, and hope that if they one day have a baby of their own, they may come to understand the position you have taken.

6. To the happy couple with the designated area for breastfeeding, perhaps there is no need even to refer to the issue of breastfeeding:

I can understand your hesitation to have babies present at a ceremony. It’s not really possible to expect a child so small to be silent throughout any event. X isn’t ready to stay still and I’m not ready to leave him either. Please may I suggest a compromise? I could skip the ceremony but bring him along to the reception afterwards?

Chances are that no one would notice him having a feed during the festivities and people are often delighted to coo over a baby. This option allows you to bypass any disagreement over breastfeeding.

7. Some can handle time away with sensitivity while still maintaining the breastfeeding relationship:

I am delighted to accept your invitation. X can already manage a short separation from me and will manage fine with my mother-in-law overnight.

There are different factors at play here, including your child’s age and whether he is accustomed to taking a bottle of milk from a trusted caregiver to allow you to spend a few hours or longer away from your child. Only you can be the judge of whether this is right or possible for your individual child. Know in advance whether this is going to be a mistake because you may not want to wind up pumping in the bathroom in formal attire or to hear that your baby was distraught without you. If you decide to go, I recommend taking a hand pump or a car adaptor and making time to pump.

8. It is sad that our modern culture is at variance with the importance of including children and the concept of extended family. Weddings are traditionally family celebrations of love and thus great examples for our children to witness some of life’s rewards. If only everyone wanted to include the very young and the very old, both of whom need our special attention, not our disapproval. Unfortunately, you can’t change our culture on the strength of an acceptance or rejection of an invitation:

I respect your decision to exclude babies and know that in turn you will respect my need to be with my baby. What poor timing! If only my little one had arrived a few months later then I could have partied all night with you.

Respect has to work in both directions, so hope that by respecting their failure to invite your baby, they will respect your decision to put your baby’s needs before their own.

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