The holiday season is personally my favorite time of year. However, breastfeeding during the holidays proves to be tricky for so many mothers. Here are a few tips to make your holiday breastfeeding experience stress free.
Prioritize you and your baby. Breastfeed whenever your baby wants to. This can be easier said than done. Usually schedules are different during the holidays. People are traveling, family members are present, and you find yourself out of the regular routine. Many mothers do not even realize how much their feeding patterns change during the holiday season until they get a plugged duct, mastitis, the baby is on a nursing strike, or some other sign that things haven’t been going as smoothly as they thought.
A big problem for mothers (especially new mothers) is what family and friends think about breastfeeding. I’ve seen mothers who are ordinarily social butterflies become recluses as they breastfeed the baby in a closet in the back of the house while everyone else is in the front room having fun. My piece of advice: “FORGET WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK!” If your family is big enough you are bound to run into a person who is not supportive of you breastfeeding and may have a sly remark or throw shade your way. BE PREPARED! You know your friends and family better than anyone. If you anticipate a reaction like this, have a game plan for how you will respond. But remember, you are still a part of the family and so is the baby, and you deserve to be included in the festivities like everybody else!
You may also have to be prepared for the “She seems hungry to me, are you feeding her enough?” or “He should be taking a bottle by now, can I feed him?” or “Why doesn’t she have a pacifier?” type of comments. Remember, none of these people have to deal with the long-term ramifications from that day except you. Do what is best for you and your baby. They are not the expert, you are!
If you are a personality that prefers to breastfeed in a private place, then designate where that place will be and have your mind in gear. Be aware of when the baby gives hunger cues and respond just as quickly as you would if you weren’t talking to your Great Aunt Margaret who you haven’t seen in 7 years. Now is not the time for politically correct social acts and gestures. No matter what is going on, when the baby is hungry feed the baby. Everything else can wait. If your baby is still feeding very frequently bring a book or activity that you can do to pass the time or help you relax. If you use a nursing pillow or stool, bring it with you. For pumping mothers: this is NOT the time to skip a pumping session! Bring your pump, all of your pieces, have a place for storage, cleaning, and traveling with expressed breastmilk. If you are pumping and feel that your holiday schedule will interfere with your pumping schedule, then you should adjust your plans to make sure you get the pumping in!
And remember, babies are thrown off of their routines too! A baby who usually has a predictable schedule may feed more frequently and at different times than usual. They are small, but they are not immune to stress, and often will want to breastfeeding to calm themselves. Your new baby does not know that the strange man with the cold hands is his uncle, and she doesn’t know that the loud toddlers are her cousins. Being surrounded by many new people in a strange, loud environment can be disconcerting for a baby. Everyone is going to want to hold the baby, and it is okay to say no. Particularly if the family member has not had their Tdap shot, smokes, or has not washed their hands. If you do have family that passes the test be thoughtful of when and how others engage with the baby. Do not have tons of people passing the baby around. Minimize how many people hold the baby at one period of time and do this at moments when the baby is calm and willing to engage.
The holidays can be a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends and introduce the newest family addition, but at the end of the day go with your gut and do what is going to be the best for you and your baby, relax, and have fun!