How to manage a newborn and breastfeeding during the holidays
Updated November 12th 2021
I’m going to start with a little story. I had a 4 week old at Christmas back in 2019. I was a first time mom, newly postpartum and I was having a very difficult time breastfeeding. I was exhausted and stressed.
I reluctantly agreed to have some family over for Christmas. Because we live far away from family, they were also ALL staying in my home. Making the decision to have multiple people staying in my home for Christmas added to the stress I was experiencing. It didn’t help that I asked half of them to book a hotel and they flat out refused. You can bet I’ll be taking about boundaries later on.
There is SO MUCH going on when you have a brand new baby and the holidays can bring added stress and challenges. I’m going to provide you some tips for making your life easier and still focusing on yourself and your baby during this time.
How do you manage newborn life during the holidays
Watch Your Baby
What I mean by this is actually look at your baby to see what’s happening and how they are feeling. It’s important to know babies can become overstimulated. Newborns do not have the ability to shut out external stimuli and can easily become overwhelmed. They will express this overwhelm by crying, fussing and becoming irritable. Bringing them to a quiet, dark space will help. This helps to shut out the distractions and will be very helpful when nursing them. You may also find they want to nurse more. This is because the act of suckling helps regulate their nervous system.
Watch them for feeding cues as well. Catching those early hunger cues which include stirring, their mouth opening, turning their head side-to-side and rooting around can be missed if your baby is with another family member. When a baby escalates those hunger cues to stretching, bringing their hands to mouth and moving around more, a family member may try to shush them in the hopes of soothing them or pop a pacifier into their mouth. This will then start to spread out feedings which can put you at an increased risk of plugged ducts.
When these early cues and escalations are missed, babies start to cry, turn red and get very agitated. This may be the point that Aunt Doris says “let’s get you to mommy” for a feeding but at this point, your baby is going to need to be calmed by you before they will feed.
When a baby is crying because they are hungry, this is more of a distress signal than a true hunger cue so rocking, bouncing, singing, cuddling – any number of these things may need to happen before your baby is in a calm enough space to latch on and feed.
>> For more tips around breastfeeding a newborn in the first two weeks, check out my post ’14 tips for breastfeeding in the first 14 days’
Take a Time Out
The holidays bring their own special kind of stress. Stress hormones can interfere with oxytocin and your let-down. They can also impact your overall production (noticing a dip in your supply).This can make breastfeeding feel more stressful. Supporting milk production by reducing stress is about reducing your stress hormones and increasing oxytocin.
Taking time away in a quiet dark room with your baby can help. Watching videos or looking at pictures of your baby while you’re pumping can help support your let-down. Smelling something of your baby’s can also help.
It’s about finding ways to calm and relax yourself. When your stress hormones are low, your body can optimize oxytocin and prolactin. Maybe this means listening to music you enjoy while feeding your baby. Or maybe it’s using an essential oil you love while in the shower. Maybe you can find 5 minutes to sit still and deep breathe. All of these activities can naturally reduce stress hormones in your body and help to increase your milk production.
If it’s feeling like it’s too much, tell your company you need to feed the baby and take a time out. Go into the bedroom or nursery and spend 30-45 minutes alone with your baby skin to skin. Skin to skin releases oxytocin which is a feel-good hormone that relaxes both of you. Your baby should be in just a diaper and you undressed from the waist up. Your baby can breastfeed during this time if they want to but they can also just rest or sleep. This will help calm the both of you and give you much needed time alone.
>> if you’re wondering what else might be affecting your supply, grab my free video here
You are in charge of who is allowed to come over and for how long. It can be very difficult as a new parent to tell family you don’t want them over for an extended period of time but if the people visiting are close enough to be spending time with your new baby, you should be able to set some rules with them.
Set boundaries and stick to them and say NO whenever you need to. They don’t have to hold your baby. You do not have to justify your decisions, whatever they may be. You are the expert of your own baby.
When you’re navigating questions from family like “why don’t you use a bottle?” or “why are you giving him a pacifier?” or unsolicited advice like “just let her cry” you can simply respond with “because this is what works for us”.
Put Your Guests to Work
Having someone else hold your baby is not what you need. Ask them to:
- Rake leaves
- Shovel the driveway
- Take out the garbage
- Pick up groceries
- Do some of the cooking or bring some food
- Do a load of laundry
- Fold laundry
- Set the table
You get the idea…you are not there to wait on them. You just brought another person into this world and your body needs time to rest and recover. Tell your guests ahead of time if they intend to come, you’ll expect them to help support you.
Your body will tell you if you’re doing too much. Your bleeding (called lochia) can increase the more you’re physically doing. So be sure to take time to rest.
Make Sure You Eat
When you are lactating your energy needs are higher than when you were pregnant. Make sure you’re eating enough. Don’t worry so much about what you’re eating but that you’re eating. It’s so busy being a new mom and if you have company over, even moreso.
The holidays are filled with foods that will support your postpartum recovery and milk supply. Protein is very important when it comes to your body healing and your energy levels. It also has a role in milk production because it helps balance your blood sugar. Turkey and ham are great holiday sources of protein. So is roast beef which is also a great source of iron, a mineral needed for milk production. Nuts are also a great snack filled with protein, fat and fibre to support you postpartum.
Other holiday themed foods that can support milk production include oats, dates, molasses, apricots, fennel, sweet potato, almonds and dark leafy greens to name a few.
Your breastmilk will always be the most nutritious milk for your baby no matter what you’re consuming. Your body will always prioritize the milk and your baby. No one’s diet is perfect.
>> You can learn more about foods that support milk supply and other ways to help your body maximize your milk production inside the Milk Supply Masterclass.
What About Alcohol?
Of course I had to include this one as it’s a question on the mind of many. I’ll start by saying, no you do not need to pump and dump. You can consume alcohol while breastfeeding.
When you drink alcohol, the alcohol level of your breastmilk matches the alcohol level in your blood. Because of this, the general rule is if you’re sober enough to drive (or parent) you’re sober enough to breastfeed.
How much can I enjoy?
For most women, 1-2 drinks at a time can safely be enjoyed. This means you do not have to worry about the glass of wine you enjoyed with dinner, provided it was around 4oz. The general rule for alcohol consumption is a 4oz glass of wine, 1 oz of hard liquor or 8 oz of beer.
Remember to also drink water as alcohol is dehydrating and preferably enjoy the alcohol with a nutrient dense meal.
What if I’ve had too much?
There’s a few things to keep in mind.
- If you are not sober, you should have someone else care for your baby.
- It’s dangerous to care for an infant while intoxicated.
- You may also want to wait until you are sober to breastfeed.
- This could be several hours, if you find your breasts starting to feel very full, I would pump and discard that milk (since you were intoxicated)
- If you’ve only had 1-2 drinks and you are feeding your baby, you may find your breasts feel very full. This could actually be due to reduced transfer of milk.
- The feeling of full breasts after drinking alcohol is because the baby is inefficiently transferring milk because it’s been found that alcohol blocks the release of oxytocin which is the hormone responsible for milk let down.
- Hand express after your baby feeds to ensure the breast is empty and offer your baby the breast frequently.
- >> here’s a link to how to hand express
To summarize this for you, you are allowed to set boundaries and say no. Continue to feed your baby when they cue they are hungry and take a time out if you need it. Don’t forget to enjoy all the delicious foods and cocktails that come with the season. Being a parent is hard. We’re all just taking it one day at a time.
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Campbell, S.H., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core Curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Wilson-Clay, B., & Hoover, K. (2017). The breastfeeding atlas (6th ed.). Manchaca, Tex.: LactNews Press.