The holidays often mean extra shopping, cooking, travel, relatives, late nights, different foods, and general busy-ness. They can be wonderful and very stressful at the same time, and often all these extras present challenges to breast/chestfeeding. Here are some tips for nursing through the holidays:
1. Keep your baby close. (Almost) everybody loves babies. At family events, all those relatives you rarely see want to hold the baby. For work parties, you don't necessarily have to leave your in-arms baby with a sitter to attend. So many strangers can be stressful for baby, and it's easy to miss nursing or stress cues when folks are playing pass the baby. A sling can keep baby safely right next to you where they can get to know friends and extended family, observing all the action and snuggling down for a break or rest when needed. With a little practice, you may also learn to nurse in the sling to feed baby while enjoying the party.
2. Nurse often. All that extra shopping, wrapping, cooking, elving, and celebrating can cut into nursing time. Both you and baby can get distracted and the time between nursing sessions can stretch out. You know what your baby's daily rhythm looks like, and you will both do better keeping a similar nursing "schedule." Remember to make extra stops during travel and take breaks during gatherings to offer baby the breast. It can help to step away from the festivities to a dark, quiet space especially if baby is at a very distractible stage.
3. Eat, drink, and be merry! In general, there are no foods or beverages that are incompatible with breastfeeding (unless you observe that your baby doesn't do well with a particular food you eat). If you plan to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, keep in mind that alcohol moves in and out of your milk; the amount of ethanol in your milk is approximately the same as in your blood. If you nurse baby right before having a drink, you should have time to metabolize the alcohol from one drink (a glass of wine, a beer, etc.) before your baby is ready to nurse again - no need to pump and dump. Keep in mind that if you drink enough to be neurologically impaired, someone else should be caring for your baby, and you should not co-sleep with your baby until you have metabolized all of the alcohol. (Read more.)
4. Watch out for plugged ducts and mastitis. Stress, dehydration, and milk stasis (from skipped nursing sessions) can lead to these. A plugged duct may feel like a marble in the breast. It may feel sore, and you may notice some redness, but not necessarily. Mastitis is a breast infection; a plugged duct can lead to mastitis, but mastitis can also arise without a plugged duct. It tends to come on quickly and folks often feel like they were "hit by a truck" with flu-like symptoms including fever and aches as well as pain and red streaks on the breast(s). With plugged ducts and/or mastitis, the most important thing is to keep nursing your baby and/or pumping very frequently; it is also important to rest, stay hydrated, and get in touch with your doctor and IBCLC. Antibiotics may be needed.
5. Everybody's got an opinion, but you set your own nursing goals. You may be spending time with folks you don't normally see and with whom you don't normally have to answer for your feeding choices. "You're still breastfeeding him/her? Why can't I give him a bottle? or a cookie?" You know what your goals are, and you have tools to help you meet those goals. Don't be afraid to remind folks that your choices are not up for debate this year, next year, or the years after that. Employ the support of your partner or another breast/chestfeeding parent in your family. Reach out to your friends or an LLL Leader for a listening ear and some encouragement.
6. When in doubt, offer skin-to-skin and nursing. Think your milk supply is down? Perhaps it is due to infrequent nursing. Baby on a nursing strike? Probably too much disorder from holidays, extra solid foods, or skipped nursings. Cranky fussy baby? Maybe baby is over stimulated, out of routine, or just needs a break. Snuggling next to you and nursing soothes baby and helps them to regulate their heart rate, breathing, and emotional state. It encourages nursing to boost your milk supply. It reminds baby that you are their warm, comforting place and that no matter what the season, you are there for them.
7. Holiday hurdles are not the end of the story. Even if things go awry over the holidays, you can still get breast/chestfeeding back on track. Reach out for qualified help to get you back on track.