The time from Thanksgiving in late November to New Year’s Day in early January is one of the busiest times of the year. Preparing for family visits, shopping for gifts for little ones and constant parties and get-togethers are fun traditions that can add stress and further time constraints on an already-busy mom. This time of year can be particularly challenging for breastfeeding moms who may experience inadvertent holiday weaning.
What is Holiday Weaning?
Holiday weaning occurs when your milk production decreases or your little one weans off of breastfeeding altogether as a result of the busyness and stress of the holidays. Holiday weaning differs from intentional weaning in that it occurs inadvertently or accidentally, surprising many moms.
Major Causes of Holiday Weaning
Nursing less often. Breastfeeding or pumping requires that you stop doing the million things on your to-do list and sit down. It can be tempting to skip a feeding or pumping session here-or-there in order to tackle more items on your list. Unfortunately, because your body makes milk based on “supply and demand,” each skipped nursing session results in your body making less milk.
Your little one is distracted. All of the attention that your little one is getting from visiting family plus the excitement of the holidays can mean that your little one is too distracted to nurse, which means that you may miss the subtle cues that he or she is hungry.
Your little one is overstimulated. The excess people and stimulation of the holidays can make some babies “shut down” from the overstimulation by going to sleep, which can cause a missed nursing session.
Well-meaning family members want to feed your little one. Your Aunt Dorrie means well when she insists on feeding your baby a bottle in order to bond with your little one and give you a break, but the “help” can cause your milk supply to drop.
You skip a nursing or pumping session because you drank alcohol. Holiday parties mean that alcohol abounds. Should you choose to partake, you may feel that you need to skip nursing or pumping in order to let the alcohol metabolize.
You are stressed. Your body relies on the hormone oxytocin to breastfeed. Oxytocin is released from your body when your little one cries or begins sucking, which prompts your milk ducts to release (or “let down”) your milk. Studies have found that stress decreases or delays the release of oxytocin, which decreases or delays milk letdown.
Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weaning
If you have a goal to continue breastfeeding your little one past the holidays, it’s important to avoid holiday weaning. Try these tips in order to avoid inadvertent weaning during stressful times.
Make nursing and/or pumping your priority. Breastfeeding is an incredible experience that only occurs with a new baby. Make breastfeeding and/or pumping your priority during the holidays. Time your nursing or pumping sessions (or take your little one with you) when you are out so that your little one doesn’t miss a feeding. If you have to miss a feeding, make sure that you use a high-quality breast pump in order to keep up your milk supply.
Ask for help. People are normally more than willing to help you out but often wait to be asked instead of offering. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Have a friend pick up a gift for your work party at the store for you, ask friends and family to each bring a dish to your dinner party or accept assistance in cleaning up afterward. The less stress you have, the better it is for your milk supply.
Use nap times to your advantage. If your little one is on a nap schedule, use this time to take care of gift wrapping, cooking or decorating.
Time your drinking. If you are going to occasionally drink, it’s best that you time it carefully. Alcohol is metabolized fairly quickly by the body. Once it has been metabolized, it is no longer in your breast milk. Drink right after nursing in order to give your body time to metabolize the milk before your little one’s next feeding.
Avoid “baby passing.” Everyone loves holding babies. This makes it easy for a baby to be “passed” from one relative or friend to another during get-togethers and parties. The constant holding and passing will more than likely put your little one to sleep, prompting a missed feeding. Before letting someone hold your baby, request that he or she be brought back directly to you when they need to do something else or when your little one starts to fuss.
Don’t let well-meaning family members pressure you. Age-old advice, such as, “Don’t hold your baby so much; you will spoil him/her” abound during the holidays. Don’t let this advice affect you. You know what’s best for your little one, and you don’t need to offer any explanation for it. Calmly tell your well-meaning relatives that you are doing what’s best and end the conversation.
Dress for breastfeeding success. The holidays are a fun time to dress up. Make breastfeeding easier for you and your little one by making sure your outfit can be easily adjusted for nursing and/or pumping.
Realize that no one really does it all. You are probably getting cards from family and friends across the country with perfect pictures of their families, and your social media pages are inundated with pictures of friend’s perfectly decorated houses, homemade gingerbread homes and home-cooked masterpieces.
All of the perfection can make you feel like you need to sacrifice in order to do it all as well. Don’t. No one really does it all; don’t sacrifice your special breastfeeding relationship with your baby so that you can try.
The holidays are a wonderful and exciting time with a new little one in your home. The key to maintaining your milk supply during the holidays is taking care of you and offering your breast as often as possible to your little one. Get as much rest as possible, eat healthily, drink plenty of water and nurse often. By doing so, you and your little one will get through the holidays without a dip in your milk supply.