No matter what your religious beliefs might be, the period from now until the beginning of January is filled with celebration. While this time is a wonderful chance to focus on family and introduce your new baby to the aunts, uncles and cousins, it can also be a time when your milk supply could take a hit and when your baby may even wean from the breast.
So, what is holiday weaning?
Essentially it's accidentally nursing less often, and by doing so, inadvertently decreasing your milk supply, and maybe even ending the breastfeeding relationship altogether. It doesn't need to be around a holiday ” just anytime you're really busy. A birthday, a vacation away from home, a business trip, caring for a sick family member, or moving to a new home ” all are chances when weaning may unintentionally happen. Any time your normal routine is disrupted is an opportunity for weaning ” which is great if you want it to happen, but not-so-great if neither you nor baby are ready.
It may be that your baby is distracted and isn't signalling to nurse as often, or it could be that you're in a rush and you're not noticing subtle cues from your baby. Or maybe others are spending more time caring for baby, and their attention, while well meaning, is keeping baby from nursing often enough.
First time mothers are especially susceptible to holiday weaning ” it may be the first time you've been through a holiday season with a new baby, and you haven't stopped to think of how your traditional activities may be impacted by the new family member. You may want to spend a day baking with your own mother like you have in the past, but you haven't thought about how this might work with your newborn who is still feeding every 2 hours. You may want to attend a company holiday party or a friend's New Year's Eve event, yet you haven't considered how you'll pump while you're apart, or if you can leave for an extended amount of time. Having a baby changes things ” you may still be able to enjoy your normal traditions, it's just a new normal taking into account your new role as a nursing mother.
So what can you do to avoid accidentally weaning your baby when you're busy with a holiday or vacation? With some planning, you can enjoy a busy holiday season without the mishap of weaning with these 10 tips:
#1: Wear your baby in a sling or other carrier
Keeping your baby close will help you catch feeding cues you would otherwise not have noticed if baby was in a cot or swing (or another's arms!)
#2: Use nap times to your advantage
If you're in the early postpartum, you should still rest when baby sleeps. But, if you've got an older baby, you might use that time for planning, online shopping, or food prep.
#3: Give friends and family tasks
If your friends or relatives want to help, give them a task rather than the baby. Cleaning, straightening, cooking, washing dishes ” don't be shy.
#4: Be the only one to feed the baby
If someone asks to feed the baby, remind him or her that you're breastfeeding. No explanations or apologies needed.
#5: Remind relatives to pass baby back to you
If someone is cuddling with your sleeping baby, remind him or her to get you when baby starts to wake. Well-meaning relatives may ‘shush' and rock your baby thinking they're helping you enjoy yourself, but they may also unconsciously be the cause of baby not nursing often enough.
#6: Keep baby passing to a minimum
A baby who is being passed around from relative to relative is likely going to sleep a lot to shut out the overstimulation, meaning missed feedings. This is also true for noisy celebrations or the bright lights of the shopping mall.
#7: Dress for easy access
If you're out and about (at a party or celebration), make sure you wear clothing that gives you easy access so you can nurse without much hassle.
#8: Plan for plenty of driving breaks
If you're traveling by car, allow lots of time for nursing breaks.
#9: Wear baby at social events
Are you attending a party? Bring baby along in a sling or wrap ” just make sure you wear appropriate clothing to nurse discreetly!
#10: Ask guests to bring a dish
Are you hosting a party? Ask guests to each bring a dish ” which will cut down on the amount of prep work you have to do.
What If My Supply Drops?
If you do notice your supply is down or your baby is nursing less often, make a conscious effort to stop what you're doing and nurse your baby every couple of hours during the day and throughout the night. If you plan to pump and bottle feed for the events of the season, keep in mind you will need to pump as often as your baby feeds to maintain your milk supply. When you're weighing this option also calculate the extra work involved with bottle-feeding (not only pumping but storing milk and washing bottles and pump parts). It may just be simpler and less time-consuming to plan to breastfeed instead.
Holiday weaning can happen in a heartbeat. You may be surprised that your breastfeeding relationship could be disrupted (or even ended) by a few days of extra activity, but don't let that skepticism get in the way of planning. Let friends and family know how you value breastfeeding, and that you'd hate for anything to upset it. Don't present it as a problem, merely as something you're grateful for. Being informed and prepared is the best prevention for holiday weaning. During this special time, enjoy nursing – not as an added burden in your busy schedule, but as a time to reconnect with your baby despite the fact that you're so frenzied!