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.
Recently, I was able to attend an LLL/API conference in Nashville. It was great to see folks I rarely get to visit, to meet folks in person I knew from online, and, of course, to learn some new things from a line-up of great speakers. I attended Kathleen Kendall-Tackett's excellent session, "A New Paradigm for Depression in New Mothers." She explained the natural role that the inflammatory response plays in late pregnancy and early postpartum and the impact that inflammation has on our response to stress. Reducing inflammation in the body through anti-inflammatory treatments such as omega-3s and - you guessed it - breastfeeding helps to mitigate the effects of stress. These are an important part of addressing perinatal depression in addition to the more traditional focus on antidepressants and therapy.
"How does breastfeeding reduce inflammation?" you ask. Through the release of oxytocin as baby nurses. Skin-to-skin and other close contact as well as baby's suckling trigger the release of oxytocin, the "love hormone," in both members of the nursing dyad. Oxytocin release can make us feel warm and fuzzy, literally. Holding, snuggling, and nursing baby bring frequent doses of oxytocin and help us to fall in love with our little ones and to manage the stresses of welcoming a very new person into the world - recovery from birth, sleep deprivation, . . .
Oxytocin is released when we feel good - from close contact with someone we love and trust, when we feel connected to someone. It is responsible for helping to cement social relationship and for causing uterine contractions during labor (and afterwards!). When explaining more about the role of the hormone, Kathleen posed the question, "Does this increase oxytocin?" as a marker for a good decision, a positive choice. That struck a chord with this IBCLC/doula/CBE whose education is in chemistry and whose experience is in parenting. This chemical, which is released when our children are conceived, during our labors and births, every time we nurse is the very same one we all so desperately need as those kids grow bigger and more independent and more challenging - the love hormone.
And so, these are my new guiding words: Does it increase oxytocin. . .
. . . during a labor? If so, it's likely a good idea!
. . . during a birth? Yes? Then go ahead!
. . . during breastfeeding? Maybe. Then give it a try!
. . . during pumping? Assuredly! Then use that trick/tool!
. . . in my day-to-day life with my big kids, husband, the world? Then, by all means, aim in that direction.
This is one of my favorite meals to serve my own family and to take and share with new families. It is delicious (if I do say so myself) and very nutritious. I like that it is good warm or cold so folks can eat it when I drop it off or save it for later.
Several years ago, I used NutritionData.com to analyze this recipe (using chicken), and 1/4 of the recipe will provide about: 14 g protein, 48% (RDA) of vit C, 23% vit E, 191% vit K (as K1), 22% thiamin, 12% each riboflavin and niacin, 21% vit B6, 45% folate, and 9% calcium.
Black Bean Salad
1.5 lb chicken, steak, or salmon
oil for cooking
2 c. cooked black beans
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced (I like to use a mandolin slicer and make them very thin.)
1/2c. fresh cilantro leaves
juice from 2 large limes
1 t. salt
3/8c. olive oil
8c. baby greens
Sprinkle meat liberally with chili powder, and pan fry in oil (or grill/broil) to desired doneness. Cut into bite sized pieces. Mix veggies, cilantro, salt, lime juice, and olive oil. Arrange lettuce, then black bean mixture, then meat on top. Serve and enjoy.
Why breastfeeding? Why birth?
Pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding have been at the center of my personal life for over a decade. My own journey has included the support of a loving partner, excellent midwives, and community support groups. I deeply appreciate the impact that each has had on my ability to meet my own goals to birth and care for my children. I also know first hand how isolating new parenthood can be and the inadequacy of support available to many new parents.
I began supporting other parents leading birth discussion and breast/chestfeeding support groups when my oldest son was a toddler. This work gave me an adult outlet in a time when most of my waking hours were very child-centered and has given me insight into the wide range of goals, challenges, and experiences that make up parenthood in our society. I have had the privilege of helping many other parents in my own community and around the world to become accredited as chest/breastfeeding counselors as well. Each parent has taught me something new.
The impact of birth on breast/chestfeeding and parenting has been a common theme in my work with parents. Preventing unnecessary challenges though education and empowering parents to have better births was a natural next step for me. I enjoy my work as a Bradley Method® childbirth educator and doula. It allows me to form deep connections to birthing families as I learn about their own struggles and give them tools to reach the goals they set for their families. I see a positive relationship between preparing for a positive and empowered birth and meeting breastfeeding goals - even when pregnancy and birth presents unexpected hurdles. Becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) offers me even more tools to help families who find themselves facing difficulty with breast/chestfeeding.
I started with my personal journey and find myself coming back around to a new beginning, and a another new beginning, . . . each time asking the same questions: What does this baby need? What does this parent need? What does this family need? and coming to the same answers: a pregnancy, birth, and feeding experience that is their own, as unique as they are, where they have the tools and agency to make the best choices for themselves and their families.