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Breastfeeding during the holidays

Many parents have mixed feelings about the upcoming holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukka, Newyears' Eve: the days are filled with food, candy, toys and other presents and visitors and visits to family and friends. These events do not go not unnoticed in most families. First, a lot of time and energy is spend at preparations: shopping for all the christmas lists, buying food for that excuisite dinner, wrapping presents according to the latest fashion. Of course all this should be kept a secret for the little eyes and ears around your house. As a result, a lot of time during working hours, evenings and weekends will be consumed to meet everyones expectations. The house will be cleaned and decorated (how many time does it take to buy just one christmas tree?) and sometimes a small moving of furniture is requested to fit all the decorations in your living room. With the season come the plays, skits, special meetings and events from schools, work, churches and so on. Dress up clothes should be bought or cleaned and cleaned again after each event. Several formal dinners should be prepared, other dinner parties should be attended. Normal live goes on besides all these extra activities. The character of the season makes you feel you want to be close to family and friends, which will further fill up your tight schedule. In families who have to deal with divorce and/or remarriage, more inlaws have to be fitted into this schedule. Luckily there are twelve days of christmas. In the meantime, many people have to deal with more and complicated laundry, groceries and more difficult housekeeping due to all the holiday arrangements.

How can the holiday season effect your breastfeeding experience?

Mothers who nurse their babies may notice that the tight schedule with all the extra commitments mess up the normal pattern in a baby's day. If you find that you are running around a lot, make sure you pay attention to your baby's needs, do not forget to nurse your baby and eat a healthy diet yourself. Do not skip feedings. When you skip feedings or feedings are delayed due to your schedule, the baby may not get the amount of food he needs. You run the risk of developing plugged ducts or even mastitis. By continuing to feed frequently, the milksupply will stay at a good level. Nursing your baby may be a welcome moment to sit down and relax in these days.
When you are out of the house a lot, the time will come that you have to nurse your baby wherever you are. You can prepare for this by chosing clothes that give easy access to the breast, for instance layered clothing from warm, but thin fabric. If you buy nice clothing for formal occasions, check if you have not to almost undress completely in order to feed your baby. Again, several layers, for instance a fancy tank top with a blouse may work best.
If there is a chance that you have to nurse your baby while out of doors, you can try to keep yourself nice and warm by wearing a sweatshirt from warm but thin fabric, combined with nursing shirt to keep your stomach warm. You can buy such shirts, but you can easily make one by cutting vertical slids in a shirt at the height of your breast. Such a shirt is a good combination with a sweatshirt.

Critisism and problems

Most people welcome young families with their babies. Although well meant, some remarks may hurt your feelings, especially when they come unexpected. By rehearsing some responses, you can leave the remark behind you and go on with your day. Following are examples: it is not said that you will ever encounter such problems.

When you are pregnant:

If you expect to deliver your baby somewhere during the holiday season, prepare yourself by knowing where to get help with breastfeeding. Many mothers will post and read the breastfeeding forums on the internet, even during the holidays. You can also try to locate a La Leche League leader near you. Be aware that the LLL leaders are volunteers. Most of them will be happy to help you, but they also want to spend time with their families and friends. You may have to try several phonenumbers before you can contact a leader.
It will be helpfull if you know in advance how to latch on your baby. If you know how to prevent and treat engorgement and how to express milk by hand and feed the baby when the baby does not want to latch on, you have the necessary knowledge to get you through the holidays in case of an emergency.

If you have a young baby who is still exclusively breastfeeding:

Family members and friends may ask if they can feed the baby a bottle. If you don't want that, don't do it. In really young infants, it is best to prevent feeding from a bottle in order to establish breastfeeding.

Family members or friends may suggest that it is time to introduce solids. Again: if you think your baby isn't ready yet, stick with breastfeeding. Introducing solids while from home or during the holidays may not be a good idea after all: if the baby has adverse reactions to the new food, your day is spoiled, your baby may fall ill, you worry in stead of enjoying your holidays.

Some people are surprised if you want to latch on the baby while dinner is served. Well: everyone is hungry, so is baby. Ask if you can sit next to someone who is willing to help you with your dinner while you are feeding the baby. Bring an apron to prevent spoiling food on your baby's clothes (and beware of hot foods).

You may have other ideas about the expression "sleeping like a baby" than most people have. It is thought that babies sleep best in their own room, away from the everyday noises. If you think your baby does best in the same room as were you are and have him sleep on your lap or on a blanket while you are having dinner, then don't change your mind because others think sleeping in a separate room is better. It may be helpfull to carry a babysling or an infant chair with you if you spend long days from home. Suggestion: babies like to watch christmastrees.

Be not afraid to ask for a quiet room to nurse your baby if this works better for you. Better to spend some time alone with your baby and later be happy all together than trying to cope with a fussy baby because you do not want to be unsocial to other adults.

Some people regret that you can not use a lot of alcohol while breastfeeding. The funny thing is: both breastfeeding and a reduced alcohol intake, lower your chances to get breastcancer at some point in your life. Oh, and of course each family needs a designated driver to get home.

You may meet people who are not used to see babies older than a few months who are still nursing. They may make remarks that it looks strange to see a nursing baby with shoes, or a walking and talking baby who asks his mother for a nursing session. Think of the situation as a learning experience for those people. After a while they may start to appreciate it. Besides: it is your baby and your life, as long as you and your baby are happy while nursing, who cares? Of course you know all the benefits of breastfeeding to your baby and yourself.

Allergy

The holiday season is a difficult season for mothers and their children who have allergies. People try to feed you all kinds of good food, which may contain lots of ingredients that you and/or your baby can not tolerate. Some people insist that "you only have to try a little bit, that will not harm, will it?" Well, yes, it will. Suggest that you will bring the crying, colicky baby this night, or that the next diaper chance is theirs.
If you have dinner out of the house, suggest that you bring some of your own food to be sure that you can eat as well. Also, keeping hypoallergenic food at hand for you or your older baby while traveling and visiting others may be handy, just in case you want to spend some unexpected time with them.

About making a list and checking it twice

Make a list of what you think you are expected to do. Make another list of what you really want to do. Try to end up with a list that will accomodate your wishes in the best way possible. A wishlist for presents may include stuff you need anyway, like socks, agenda's, schoolsupplies etc. If you want to surprise someone with a gift, think of gifts you can easily make yourself for a reasonable amount of money. (What about a gourmet dinner served at the receivers home?). Cut back on decorations if this will use up to much of your time and budget. Less is sometimes more, even with decorations.

The holiday season lasts only a few weeks. But next year they will return. By thinking through all your wishes and rules regarding your kids, chances are growing that your wishes will be respected. Be firm in your choices about candy, presents, your kids behavior in crowded environments. These are choices that are part of your style of parenting and you will benefit from it the next couple of years.

Happy Holidays!

Nanny Gortzak, IBCLC
Ecoparents

A translation and adaptation of this article appeared in "Borstvoeding Vandaag" nr 5, 2003, volume 22, the magazine of La Leche League of The Netherlands.

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© 2003 Nanny Gortzak