How to manage a baby and breastfeeding during the holidays
Updated November 15th 2022
The holidays are here and with it can come a lot of stress and worries or concerns over your family and your new baby. 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. That Christmas should have just been my husband and I and our new baby, but that’s not how it went.
I reluctantly agreed to have some family over for Christmas. Because we lived far away from family at that time, 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.
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.
Holiday Booby Trap Number One: missing feeding cues
It’s important to know babies can become overstimulated. Newborns and young babies 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 breast inflammation leading to blocked ducts and possibly mastitis (see below for more on this).
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 Rita 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’
Holiday Booby Trap Number Two: Christmastitis; how to avoid getting mastitis around the holidays
Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the breast. It’s on a spectrum along with engorgement, plugged ducts and a few other issues. If you notice a red, shiny streak on your breast paired with a fever, chills or body aches, these are signs of mastitis.
This can happen:
- If you miss a feeding or a pumping session (easy to happen when you’re at holiday parties or with lots of family)
- If you space out the time between feedings (whether intentionally or unintentionally)
- If your baby isn’t effectively removing milk at the breast. This could be due to their latch or poor positioning at the breast
- If you are using the wrong flange size when pumping
- If you have an abundant milk supply (oversupply)
- If there’s lots of pressure against your breast such as with a tight fitting bra (because you’re in your holiday clothes). Find a comfortable and supportive bra designed for nursing or pumping
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recently released a brand new protocol for managing mastitis. The focus is on reducing the inflammation. Breastfeed and remove milk as usual. The newest guidelines suggest there’s no need to try and “empty” the breast like outdated guidelines recommend. Excess pumping can increase inflammation further making matters worse and potentially leading to an overproduction which is an entirely new challenge to manage.
USE GENTLE MASSAGE AND COLD
Gentle breast massage to move the excess fluid towards the armpits to the lymphatic system can help. Your breasts are not muscle tissue and should not be treated as such. Hard, vigorous massage can physically damage delicate milk making tissue and your breasts and further increase inflammation. Think of it like a sprained ankle, treat it gently and with care. Use cold after milk removals (nursing or pumping) whether it’s a cold pack, a fancy ice pack for breasts specifically or a bag of frozen peas.
A great video about gentle breast massage is below. This technique helps elongate and gently stretch the milk ducts. It’s called breast gymnastics and was developed by IBCLC Maya Bolman.
Reducing inflammation can include anti inflammatory foods as well as over the counter medications like Advil and Tylenol. These are compatible with breastfeeding. This is a great resource to check for medications.
Holiday Booby Trap Number Three: getting stressed 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
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Holiday Booby Trap Number Four: feeling family pressure
You are in charge of who is allowed to come over and for how long. You’re also in charge of your decisions to visit family in their homes or go to parties. 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” or “you’re going to spoil him” you can simply respond with “because this is what works for us” and by the way, babies can’t be spoiled.
Holiday Booby Trap Number Five: worried about what you’re eating
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.
>> 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.
- Follow your baby’s cues and feed them when they’re hungry. This will help ensure you’re not at risk for blocked ducts and mastitis. If you exclusively pump, keep to your schedule as best you can
- Create some quiet time with your baby
- Use gentle massage and cold on your breasts if you feel mastitis coming on
- It’s ok to say no
- Eat and enjoy yourself
Have questions? Join my private support group on Facebook and connect with other new moms.
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Bonyata, K. (2018 January 15). Hunger cues: when do I feed my baby? Kellymom.com. https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/hunger-cues/
Hetzel Campbell, S., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning
Katrina B. Mitchell, Helen M. Johnson, Juan Miguel Rodríguez, Anne Eglash, Charlotte Scherzinger, Kyle Widmer, Pamela Berens, Brooke Miller, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. (May 2022). Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Clinical Protocol #36: The Mastitis Spectrum, Revised 2022.Breastfeeding Medicine.360-376.http://doi.org/10.1089/bfm.2022.29207.kbm
Newman, J., & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s guide to breastfeeding. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
Wilson-Clay, B., & Hoover, K. (2017). The breastfeeding atlas (6th ed.). Manchaca, Tex.: LactNews Press.