January 22, 2018

Breastfeeding, like babies, requires some semblance of a daily routine. Gone are the days when mothers would watch the clock to know when to nurse their baby, but still, a healthy breastmilk supply depends on either breastfeeding or pumping frequently. And holiday get-togethers, especially with travel involved, can wreak havoc on this.

Here are 5 ways the holidays can ruin breastfeeding:

1. Everybody wants to hold the baby.

Grandparents, aunts, cousins — there is no shortage of people to hold your baby. And this may work out okay, unless your baby never makes it back to you! I remember this particularly well with my second baby at a particular holiday get-together. I had brought a bottle along to feed the baby during the road trip there, which seemed to give everyone the idea that my baby didn’t need to breastfeed. They could just give a bottle.

It was a struggle to get my baby back to breastfeed. I was made to feel guilty for wanting to do so. It was very tempting to give in, and just give a bottle. But whenever you give a bottle and don’t use a breast pump, this reduces your supply.

Another problem with everyone holding the baby all day long, is if the baby ends up sleeping for longer periods of time during that holiday. Then, your baby will be up frequently that next night to get his feedings in. And this doesn’t make for a pleasant holiday.

A mother may just give up, feeling that breastfeeding is inconvenient when in reality, the problem was a change in daily routine.

2. Someone is uncomfortable with you nursing around them.

Breastfeeding is becoming more commonplace, but our older generation is still getting used to the idea of seeing a mother feed her baby the way nature designed it to be. Mothers may be embarrassed to breastfeed in the same room as her relatives, particular men, even if they use a nursing cover. So, they close themselves in a room away from the crowd. This can give a mother and baby much-needed downtime, but their relatives may not be very considerate.

I was so annoyed with my second baby when I missed the entire Christmas meal while nursing my baby, because my relatives didn’t want me nursing at the table but also didn’t want to wait for my baby to finish his feeding. This is another scenario that makes it easy to just give in and give the baby a bottle.

In truth, mothers have as much right to nurse their baby in the family room as their relatives have to sit there. Most mothers are very discreet when nursing, so there really is nothing to see. I encourage mothers to advocate for their breastfed babies by staying put and nursing. The more contact that naysayers have to modest nursing, the more likely they are to start changing their views.

3. Pumping takes too long.

Pumping is something you should do in private. It is hard to be discreet, and comfortable enough to express your breastmilk, if you’re not in a secure place to use your breast pump. Pumping should be done anytime you give a bottle to your baby, in order to maintain or build your milk supply. Some moms mostly or exclusively pump if their baby doesn’t latch.

Inadvertently, or purposely, skipping a pumping session may not lower your breastmilk supply noticeably, but a whole day of not pumping regularly for babies who are not nursing adequately can cause a lowered breastmilk supply as quickly as the following day, as well as put mothers at risk for engorgement, plugged ducts, and milk blebs. All of these painful breast conditions take longer to resolve than they did to develop, often from irregular breastmilk removal.

With my first baby, I exclusively pumped due to her prematurity. I recall being a bit lazy around the holidays, skipping pumping sessions so I didn’t miss out on any of the family time. I quickly learned that I not only had to pump double-time the next few days to build my supply back up, but I also had to contend with engorement and plugged ducts.

4. Traveling and get-togethers upend the family routine.

An all-day road trip or plane ride, offering bottles instead of breastfeeding, skipping pumpings, going to bed too late, changing sleeping arrangements — these are just the tip of the iceberg of what holidays can bring to your family, and some babies don’t do so well with change. You may end up with a baby who isn’t sleeping well, or a baby who won’t stop crying, or a lower breastmilk supply, or even a baby who starts refusing to nurse at all.

I blamed it on drinking a half glass of wine, but the reality is probably the change in routine, but my third baby went on a 3-week nursing strike after the holidays his first year. I was so scared that he would never latch again, though he did eventually.

As impossible as it seems, do try to keep something familar for baby in the midst of seeming chaos. Probably the most important thing to do is to continue breastfeeding your baby per his hunger cues, even if that means that he’s suddenly nursing very frequently. Breastfeeding is as much comfort as it is nutrition, and it will be your baby’s go-to comfort measure when he’s stressed out by the holidays. Encourage that.

5. There is too much fun to take downtime.

Babies’ nervous systems are still maturing, meaning that they are more easily overstimulated than we are. Inject your day with plenty of downtime, and start winding down early in the evening well before your usual bedtime routine would begin. Breastfeeding is a great way to get this downtime in, but take care to find a quiet, soft-lit room, too. Bright lights, loud noises, lots of people — these all make for an overstimulated baby who refuses to sleep no matter how late it is.

These babies will cry for hours until they finally fall asleep, and this can make for a dreadful night for parents. Overstimulated babies usually won’t nurse well or at all, making some parents feel that breastfeeding isn’t working when, in reality, nursing as nothing to do with it.

A good breast pump recommended.

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