As a La Leche League leader, the holiday season means a huge surge in messages from frantic mamas dealing with high anxiety about their newborns getting passed around, clogged ducts, or a baby refusing the breast (or a combination of all three, which can lead to nasty case of mastitis!). The most wonderful time of the year typically means the most busy, and it is so easy and so common for mothers and babies to get a little off track from their nursing rhythms with all of the travel plans and distractions. If you are a new breastfeeding mama, here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the upcoming season.
You Can Advocate for Your Baby
Your baby was born to you because you are the best mother for her. I believe this. I also believe in mothers following their instincts, which I now know I did not do in looking back on that first holiday season. If I had, I would have kept my tiny baby in a wrap up against my chest and nursed her on demand like I did at home, or I would have told my husband I did not feel ready to get out for a full weekend away when we were still struggling so much. I would have said, "No," one way or another, because it was what was best for my baby. At that age, she just needed me and my milk.
You Can Advocate for Yourself
After my second daughter was born, I stayed in bed with her for almost six weeks. It was not the holiday season, but that sacred first 40 days was the most healing time of my life and I find myself daydreaming about it and wondering how much healthier of a mama I could have been if I had gone that route the first time around. What if I had eaten turkey and pumpkin pie in bed with my new baby and then closed my eyes to take a nap alongside her? Things would have looked much different.
Our society does not put much value on the mental health of mothers until it is poor. I realize to most the idea of lying in is foreign and extreme, but based on my experience it is so, so magical!
It can be super uncomfortable to explain to family members who expect you and your newborn at their table, but advocating for yourself and your child does get easier with practice. If you choose to skip out on the parties to lie in, you can reassure everyone that you are just trying to do what is best for yourself and your baby, and that she will still be a baby in a few weeks when they get to meet her. If you choose to leave your bed for the festivities, know you can politely say, "She needs me right now," or "She needs to nurse," and excuse yourself to another room whenever and however often you want in order to feel calm and connected to your baby.
Preventing Clogged Ducts and Mastitis
If you want to go into scientific detail with your family members, you can always tell them your boobs are full and you would like to avoid clogged milk ducts and mastitis, and then excuse yourself to nurse or continue nursing baby in your carrier instead of passing her around.
And you would not be lying--clogged ducts leading to mastitis are most common during the holidays when both mamas and babies are most distracted and totally out of their normal nursing rhythms. Keeping baby close so she can smell your milk and remember her hunger and so you can read her cues and nurse as often as possible is so important in preventing these painful issues! Here's exactly what you should do if you do feel like you are getting clogged ducts.
Preventing Accidental Weaning
It is highly unlikely for babies to self wean before age two, but it is possible for them to mistake a prolonged period of distraction for weaning. If a family is on a substantially long holiday trip and mother and infant are mostly separated due to baby being held by others and fed with a bottle because Great Grandma Linda asked, "Can I please feed her?" baby can become confused and think the breast is no longer an option. This can cause breast refusal when mama attempts to reintroduce nursing, and weaning earlier than was desired by both mother and babe can happen. If you do feel your supply dipping try these tips to increase your breastmilk supply quickly.
Hold your baby, mama! Nurse your baby often. This may mean skipping out completely, keeping babe in a carrier, or leaving the room often for undistracted time together. And that is okay, because she is your baby, and you are her mama. You know her needs better than anyone else does, and your needs matter, too.
Now that you know several of the most common breastfeeding issues that can arise during the holidays, you can feel more empowered to take care of your nursing relationship like the precious gift it is. You can also take your herbal allies with you to keep your milk supply up and your nerves cool and centered. Nurse on, sweet mamas, let your love and your milk flow!