by Star Rodriguez, IBCLC
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice, readers! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!! There’s snow! (Unless you’re in a place that doesn’t have cold, snowy winters, in which case, can I spend mine with you? Or mail you some snow, at least? Like, maybe all of it?) There’s cookies! There’s a festive holiday air that we all love!
Oh, yeah, and if you’re a breastfeeding mom and baby, there’s some possible, holiday-related pitfalls. In this article, I’ll address some of them. Hopefully, some of these tips will help keep your holidays happy.
Help! My baby is suddenly super fussy and nursing all the time!
So it’s the holidays, and you’re spending them with, well, pretty much everyone you’ve ever met. Ladies with babies are extra popular at the holidays. We all want to hold, kiss, snuggle, and love your babies…and then hand them back as soon as they are fussy.
With traveling, and new people, and being passed around, it is totally normal for your baby to get a little overstimulated and cry often. When breastfed babies get upset, they enjoy nursing. It’s comforting for them, and allows them to calm down, and settle. And then they might fall asleep. At the breast. While you’re holding them. And then they wake up the second you set them down. And this cycle repeats for what seems like FOREVER.
This doesn’t mean you have to stay awake, half dead from sleep deprivation. One of the easiest things to do in this case is let your baby fall asleep while nursing. Then, keep cuddling your baby until your baby is in a nice, deep sleep. It usually takes babies at least 10-15 minutes to get there. After your baby is in that deep sleep, though, you can generally put them down and go sneak off for your own holiday enjoyment. Or just go take a nap. Whatever.
Help! My baby seems to be nursing less!
Remember how we talked, up in the last few paragraphs, about everyone holding/kissing/snuggling your baby? Well, sometimes, when babies are passed around, they get sort of distracted and stop thinking about eating. If you’re wondering how that happens, remember the last time you were really, really busy. Lots of stuff was going on. Maybe you felt hungry once or twice, but as you got caught up in other things, you pushed it away and your hunger probably abated a little.
Well, that can happen with your baby, too. Now, I’m not encouraging you to put this theory to the test by not feeding your child, but, at the holidays, it sometimes happens. If you notice this has occurred, try to take your baby aside, somewhere quiet and less distracting, and nurse. Be prepared for your baby to possibly cluster feed over the next night or day. This is ok; it is your baby’s way of catching up after missed feedings.
In this particular case, the best defense is just making sure that you’re nursing your baby regularly at gatherings, though.
Help! I’m nervous about breastfeeding in front of my family and friends!
Sometimes, you are the nervous one, who is worried about exposing yourself. Sometimes you’re in a home that’s not incredibly breastfeeding-friendly. Either way, this can make you feel very anxious about the holidays.
In this situation, there are many things you can do. Some people just decide to not care, and nurse just the way they do at home. Gathering up the confidence to do this often leads to a great experience for moms, and little to no negativity from the people surrounding them. If you’re not sure that’s for you, try breastfeeding in front of a mirror and see how much really shows. With your baby at the breast you may be more covered than you realized and after practicing in front of a mirror be ok with breastfeeding wherever you are. However, not everyone will be comfortable with this, and that’s ok.
You can also use a cover or nurse in another room. Covers have the advantage of not making you have to go away from where the action is. Some babies don’t like them, though, and will pull them up so that they can see what is going on around them. Some homes are warm, and the cover leads mom and baby to feel too hot. Nursing in another room can reduce all of those negatives, but, again, you’re missing fraternizing with others, and that’s what the holidays are for.
I also, as with almost any nursing in public endeavor, recommend a cami under a regular shirt. You pull the top shirt up, the bottom shirt down, and they cover pretty much everything, even your stomach. See this video for how that can work. Special breastfeeding tops make it easy too and and an Undercover Mama is a nice option as well.
You can also try making your holiday trips short, if possible. Many moms can go to an event for 2-3 hours and just nurse before and afterwards. That may allow you to get out without having to worry about nursing at all.
Help! I have a sick relative insisting on handling my baby!
First of all, babies are not super delicate if they are healthy, full term newborns without any health issues. As long as your relative washes their hands and uses sanitizer, doesn’t have something horrible like pertussis, and doesn’t get all up in your baby’s face, it will probably be fine. Feel absolutely free to bring sanitizer with you and insist on its use if that makes you feel more comfortable. This is your baby, and you can ask people to have good hygiene before touching.
However, not everyone is ok with letting any sick person handle their baby, or, maybe your baby is immune compromised in some way. The best thing that I have found for this is, “I’m so sorry. My pediatrician is concerned about me exposing (baby’s name) to germs right now. Let me hold (baby) for you, and you can take a look at her.”
You can also wear your baby. I’ve found that, when baby is strapped to your breasts, people are a lot less likely to get too close or to ask to hold or touch the baby.
Help! I have a lot of traveling to do!
Holiday travel by car, for me, would involve ten hours of driving, so I feel your pain on driving with babies. Air travel is usually easier; look for nonstop flights, nurse your baby during takeoff, and try to get nonstop flights when at all possible so that you can minimize your time on the plane. Arrive early enough to get through TSA, and I highly recommend a baby carrier for traveling through the airport. If you are bringing pumped milk, know the TSA guidelines for pumped milk.
If you are driving, think outside the box. If it’s a long drive, can you drive most of it during the part of the day or night that your child sleeps most? Can you bring a support person to help entertain the baby? Can an older sibling help? Take as many breaks as you need, and allot for them in the time that you are driving.
Help! My relatives give unsolicited breastfeeding advice!
I get questions every year from people basically asking me how to tell their relatives to back off. They hear things like, “Are you STILL nursing that baby?” “I don’t know why you can’t give a bottle!” “We used to give babies rice cereal in a bottle and they slept much better than yours does!”
First, remember that this is your baby, and parenting decisions are up to you to make. Other than that, people handle this very differently. Some moms just let it go in one ear and out the other. Remember, most of these people legitimately are about you and your baby and are probably just unfamiliar with current research.
Some people will come equipped with research showing that breastfeeding is acceptable and a good idea. Many of my clients use snippets from the AAP or WHO – “The AAP recommends nursing until at least a year” or “The WHO recommends nursing until two years old,” can both be good. A simple, “My pediatrician thinks this is a good idea for us,” can also be a really great way to shut down opposition.
It may make you feel better to argue, debate, or reply sarcastically (and I will admit that there have been many times that I have done just that) but it’s rarely a great solution. Although, this particular example has always amused me.
If you can pull off sarcasm that well, absolutely do.
Help! My relatives keep trying to sneak my baby food!
Make your expectations clear when you first get there if you think this will be an issue. “We are not doing solid foods yet. My baby only gets breast milk. Please do not feed our baby.” You can also mention allergies: “We are concerned about allergic reactions in our baby, so we are starting solids gradually and in a very specific way. Maybe instead of feeding the baby, you can change diapers/take her for a walk/rock him/et cetera.” Giving people something else that they can do with the baby is often the easiest way to get them to stop stuffing things in his or her mouth.