Holidays can present some challenges for the breastfeeding mother: busy schedules that result in missed feedings; traveling with pumped breast milk; tempting seasonal libations; and well-meaning but unsolicited advice on breastfeeding from family are among the challenges you may face. Arm yourself with the information below to ensure you meet your own personal breastfeeding goals.
1. Be aware of inadvertent weaning
Some younger babies may inadvertently self-wean, partially wean, or go on a "nursing strike" during the holidays. This can be a result of normal holiday stress and busy schedules which lead to missed/delayed feedings as well as more bottles offered in mom's absence (whether breast milk or formula). In fact, this is common enough that it has been dubbed "holiday weaning syndrome." Here are some tips to avoid holiday weaning:
- Make nursing your number one priority. If you have errands to run, gift shopping to do, then arrange it so you can bring your baby along and nurse him, rather than leaving him home with a bottle which may lead to a bottle preference.
- If you need to be away from your baby and rely either on stashed breast milk or formula, be sure to pump or hand express to account for the missed feeding.
- If you are hosting a holiday party, ask guests to contribute a dish to decrease your burden.
- If you'll be attending holiday parties, ask your host if there will be a private room to nurse/pump or let your host know that you will need to breastfeed during the party.
- Make a point to offer the breast to your baby more than usual, especially if you think your supply has decreased. Stress can inhibit letdown, so extra nursing sessions can also be a great way to relax and spend quality time together. Choose a quiet, dark place to nurse and do skin-to-skin time as well.
- Make sure your baby gets plenty of rest and avoid over stimulation. Make sure you also get plenty of rest as well as plenty of water.
2. Prevent plugged ducts
Even if your baby may be able to handle delayed feedings during the holidays, your breasts may not be able to. Missing feedings can result in plugged ducts, but a baby distracted by holiday hustle and bustle can also lead to plugged ducts if he is not emptying your breasts as efficiently. Stress may also inhibit letdown resulting in incomplete emptying. You can prevent plugged ducts by following many of the same tips above for preventing weaning. Plugged ducts may present as small, hard lumps in the breast tissue that may be tender to touch or feel inflamed. If you suspect a plugged duct, continue to nurse as frequently as possible. Nursing on the side with the lump can be helpful as your baby's sucking is strongest during the beginning of a session.
3. Alcohol consumption and breastfeeding
Even if you don't normally drink, you may find yourself tempted by the occasional spiced eggnog or the aroma of spiced, mulled wine. Don't be caught off guard; know the guidelines about alcohol consumption while breastfeeding:
- According to Hale (2012)1 “mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal.” A good rule of thumb is: if you're able to drive, you're able to breastfeed.
- The AAP recommends only the occasional drink or no more than than 0.5 g alcohol per kg body weight.
- The AAP also recommends waiting at least 2 hours before nursing in order to minimize its concentration in the breast milk. Alcohol does not accumulate in the breast milk but leaves the milk as it leaves the blood, peaking in the breast milk approximately 1/2 - 1 hour after consumption2 (1 - 1 & 1/2 hours on a full stomach3). Pumping and dumping does not speed the elimination of alcohol.
- If you want to consume several drinks then you may consider feeding baby with stored milk while alcohol clears your body. In this case you will want to pump and discard the milk in order to avoid discomfort from engorgement4.
- Nurse your baby right before you have a drink in order to maximize the time between alcohol consumption and the next feeding. You might also want to try alcohol screening strips made to test breast milk.
*Daily Mom does not provide medical advice. These tips are general guidelines for the average mother, individuals metabolize alcohol at different rates depending on a number of factors. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.
4. Flying for the breast pumping or breastfeeding mother
Know your rights when flying: If you wish to bring breast milk with you, whether or not your child is flying with you, breast milk is now considered a liquid medication and therefore exempt from the "3-1-1" requirement for carry-ons (though official TSA guidelines are unfortunately vague on what a reasonable amount is). Other things to know include:
- Separate your breast milk, empty bottles, and ice packs from other liquid and containers in your carry-on.
- You must alert the security officer before you go through the X-ray screening that you have these items.
- Be prepared for additional inspection where you may be asked to open the containers or have your milk swabbed for an explosives test. You should NOT be asked to taste the milk. If your bottles are chosen for inspection you should ask that the TSA agent change his or her pair of gloves.
- If you require transporting large amounts of pumped milk, be prepared to answer questions about your itinerary in order to justify bringing large quantities.
- Breast pumps are considered personal items and can be counted as one of your two carry-ons. If you need to pump during the flight, consider bringing a smaller hand pump.
- Allow yourself extra time for getting through security and print out a recent copy of the guidelines in case you encounter resistance: Traveling With Formula, Breast Milk, and Juice, Traveling with Children, Clarification on Ice Packs and Empty Bottles.
- Purchase bottled water after clearing security if you will need to clean your pump or bottles on the flight. Water in the airplane has been found to contain coliform bacteria.
- Since airlines are federally regulated in the US, federal laws apply so your right to nurse in public should be protected. Unfortunately U.S. courts have failed to protect women from breastfeeding discrimination and some jurisdictions have specific legislation regarding breast feeding if the plane is grounded.
- Most airlines say they are family friendly, with a few requesting mothers to cover up. Chances are you won't encounter any problems but you should call your specific airline for clarification on their official policy.
- Nursing your baby during takeoff and landing can help equalize pressure in the ears.
5. Holiday car travel
If you're planning a long road trip this holiday, be sure to plan frequent stops to nurse every 2-3 hours. A moving vehicle is not the time or place for nursing--do not lean over your baby to nurse, even if you and your baby are both buckled in! It's best to find a parking lot or somewhere other than the shoulder of the road to nurse. If you must pull over, be sure to put on your car's hazard lights. You may also want to bring along a breast pump and car adapter, or a manual pump, in case your baby sleeps well in the car and you don't want to wake her.
- If you can, take fresh milk with you in a cooler rather than frozen.
- Fresh milk can be transported and kept cool with ice packs for about 24 hours and then transferred to a refrigerator at your destination and kept 3-8 days.
- If you take frozen milk with you you must keep it frozen during your trip, otherwise once thawed it is good for only about 24 hours in a refrigerator.
- If you require large amounts of frozen milk at your destination, consider shipping your supply to your destination using dry ice.
- Even if your hotel room doesn't include a fridge, most hotels will arrange a refrigerator for you to use if you call ahead.
5. Handling criticism
Breastfeeding around family and friends that you see during the holidays can invite some questions about your choice to breastfeed, how much your child is eating, or unsolicited advice on weaning a toddler. You might want to plan ahead how you may respond. Here are some ways you can handle such situations:
- Tip #1: Say, "Our pediatrician..." or "The World Health Organization…" recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years, indicates breastfeeding confers immunological advantages, etc.
- Tip #2: It can be frustrating to hear "How can he be hungry again? You just fed him!" Explain that you are feeding on demand, that breast milk digests quickly, or that your baby "just has lots of growing to do!"
- Tip #3: Smile and then change the subject. "My husband I decided it's best for our baby if we do baby-led weaning, so we will follow her cues. Say, I've been meaning to ask, how was your trip to England?"
- Tip #4: Avoid the issue. The best way to avoid unsolicited advice is to not elaborate on your breastfeeding plans. When you need to breastfeed, find a private area. This will give you and your baby some relaxing time anyway.
- Tip #5: Smile and nod. Sometimes it's easiest to just smile and say "Thank you, I'll have to think about that".
- Tip #6: Respond with humor: "I think we'll breastfeed until he graduates from high school, but if he wants me to come to college with him I will!"
6. New Year's Resolutions and Crash Dieting
If you put on a few extra pounds from the holidays, you might be tempted to go on a diet. While you may have been able to easily lose weight in the past by crash dieting, your situation is different when breastfeeding. Restricting your caloric intake or excessive exercise can result in a decreased supply. Breastfeeding women generally need at least 1,500-1,800 calories per day. If you wish to shed a few pounds, it's generally recommended to aim for a steady loss of 1-1.5 pounds per week through a balanced diet and moderate exercise. Be sure you keep yourself well-hydrated and if you suspect a decrease in your supply try to nurse more frequently.
Check out Daily Mom's Guide to Christmas
for more holiday articles and gift guides!
1. Hale, Thomas. Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012 edition. Hale Publishing, 2012: 417-419.
2. Bonyata, Kelly. "Breastfeeding and Alcohol." KellyMom. 29 July 2011.
3. "FAQ on Alcohol." La Leche League International. 6 April 2013.
4. Tanya. "'I'm going to a New Year's party and...' What I tell people about breastfeeding and alcohol." Breastfeeding Blog. Motherwear. 30 Dec. 2006.
Photo credits: The Whimsical Photographer, The Art of Making A Baby