Breastfeeding During the Holidays

Let’s be honest.  While winter can bring lots of joy and extra snuggles with our nurslings, the holidays can also be a difficult time in our breastfeeding journey.

You’ll definitely be busier than usual – shopping, cooking, cleaning, attending worship services and holiday gatherings.  You may have houseguests for several days — or even weeks.  You might be traveling and living in someone else’s (un-child-proofed) home.

Your children may be getting hugs and kisses from relatives they don’t really know or remember.  Your home may be decorated and furniture rearranged.  Nap schedules and bedtime routines will be out of sorts.

New toys will come into your home.  Some of these might be noisy and scary to your child.  Or they may be so exciting that your kids are bouncing off the walls!

You can confidently breastfeed through the grocery store or at the playground any day of the week, without a care in the world.  But the thought of nursing your child in front of your father-in-law or teenage nephews makes you break out in a cold sweat.

Here are some tips to get you through the holidays!

Courtesy Stephanie Dame Photography

If you have a young infant, babywearing can save your sanity!  The ability to discreetly breastfeed in a carrier is invaluable.  (Take some time to master it beforehand.)  If you have you baby snuggled up to your chest, usually even the closest family and friends will respect your personal space.  If the baby is securely tied to you, there’s less chance of him being subjected to the “pass the baby” game.  While I’m happy that so many people love my children, I do try to limit the amount of kisses on their face and hands during cold and flu season.

Most of our mothers and grandmothers did not breastfeed.  Without that experience, it’s very difficult for them to understand the dynamics of your breastfeeding relationship with your child.  Women of their generation were probably instructed to start feeding their babies cereal at six weeks old.  In cultures around the world, food is a symbol of love, so everyone will want to feed your child!

Whether it’s delaying the start of solids, limiting certain foods or avoiding allergens, I find that it’s best to be up-front about what you allow and what you don’t.  Ask your family to respect your decision.  Be firm and be watchful, because I can almost guarantee that someone will try to sneak something that’s not allowed, or they may simply forget that about the butter basting when they offer turkey to your dairy-free child.

An older baby or toddler may be so enamored with all the new people, places, experiences, and toys that they forget to nurse, not to mention the relatives that will be filling his/her little tummy with things other than your milk.  So unless you’re both ready to wean, be sure to schedule some nursing sessions so you and your nursling have a chance to relax and reconnect.  For the easily distracted child, seek out a quiet room where the two of you can escape.

Chances are that you’re parenting very differently than other members of your family or social circle.  Some people will question your methods just out of sheer curiosity.  They’ll be open to hearing about how and why you’ve made these choices, so please take the time to share your story and information.

Others may be confrontational about your parenting, defensive in their own methods and even belittle yours.  In these circumstances, it’s best to not engage.  Just respond with, “This works for our family,” and do your best to change the subject.  You and your parenting partner may even want a code word to be used when one of you needs support from the other, and it never hurts to have an exit strategy!

Most mothers take a “make it work” approach when it comes to clothes that accommodate breastfeeding.   The holidays are the perfect opportunity to buy a nice piece of nursingwear to add to your wardrobe.  In an outfit made for breastfeeding, you won’t have to worry about how much of you is on display.

Many herbs used during holiday feasts (particularly sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, anise and mints) can decrease your milk supply, especially if you’re eating the leftovers for several days!  Stress, dehydration, cold/flu, lack of sleep, travel, irregular nursing sessions can also take their toll on your supply.  So be sure to take care of yourself during this season!  It never hurts to have some Mother’s Milk tea or Vitanica’s Lactation Blend capsules on hand.  (Look for these at your local health food store.)

Almost everyone loves babies and children – especially during the holidays.  So use some that goodwill to make your life a little easier:

Many of our parenting partners/spouses have additional time off during the holidays.  Send Daddy out on an errand with the baby while you clean the house.

Invite your mother-in-law to go shopping.  It’s almost always easier with another adult along.

Plan a “Baking Day” with your kids and Grandma to get those holiday treats made all at once.  (Plan to order take-out for that night’s dinner, or better yet, start your crock pot early in the morning, so when the day’s baking is done, dinner is ready.)

Have a niece or nephew with a driver’s license?  Consider hiring them to run some errands for you.

Find a young teen to hire as your “Mother’s Helper” for an afternoon or two during their winter break.  You’ll be able to accomplish a lot of cooking, wrapping, cleaning with someone else entertaining your baby or toddler.

It’s not unusual for children to experience a major developmental milestone over the holidays.  In all the excitement, they can forget a habit or routine and unexpectedly start (or stop) doing something.  If possible, it’s probably best not to attempt a major transition during this chaotic time.  Give all of you a chance to make it through the holidays before tackling a new skill.

While the holidays are a magical time for our children, they’re also very susceptible to becoming overwhelmed and overly tired.  Be sure to check in often to get a read on their physical and emotional state.

Best wishes for a joyous and healthy holiday season!

Christine Sheets Nutile lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband and their three children.  Much to her surprise, she’s been breastfeeding for over six years – through two pregnancies, hyperemesis and despite the numerous food allergies in her nurslings.  She’s a co-founder of the APChicagoSouth parenting group and offers private consultations and group workshops on babywearing.  Her family practices autodidacticism, also known as child-led learning, a form of home education.

7 thoughts on “Breastfeeding During the Holidays

  1. When my son was younger I used to periodically excuse myself and go in my bedroom to nurse him. It was really nice for both of us to have some quiet time together so he could relax and nurse. It made both of us more calm and happy during the holidays!

  2. I am really dreading tomorrow…..I have already been asked what foods my almost 3 month old (!) should eat. My reply: breastmilk. But it is still annoying to have to be so watchful.

  3. For Thanksgiving, we had my husband’s family with us and our 6 week old. I used nursing as a chance to spend some quiet time in our bedroom, away from the noise and excitement. Luckily no one tried to feed her any solids 🙂
    For Christmas, we will be with my family, who I am much more comfortable nursing in front of, but I still will often use nursing as an excuse to get away for a bit, or maybe invite a sister or two to come keep me comfortable and get the baby away from all the eager great-grandparents who want to hold her and are reluctant to give her up even when she is crying because she is hungry and/or tired. I definitely agree with the advice about differing parenting styles. If they are open to listen, explain it gently and without judgment for their style, no matter how different. If they are confrontational, change the subject and/or walk away.

  4. These are good things to know. This holiday and last, we weren’t with family due to distance, but when we were around family, I was less eager to feed my son in front of my in-laws… and instead took my son out to the car (as bad as it sounds, it was far more comfortable than doing it in a room somewhere in their house). At my dad’s, I did it in my room, but at my mom’s, I felt the most at ease. Maybe it’s because she was the only one who tried to help me get the hang of it with my first son (and saw my boobs already), or perhaps by the fifth kid, I had lost my uneasiness. Actually, now that I think about it, I did a pretty good job at no nipple-slip. It’s funny, I can feed my son in front of complete strangers without breaking a sweat, but thinking about feeding him in front of my in-laws gave me palpitations…

  5. I’m very nervous that lots of people will try to feed my 5.5 month old solids. He hasn’t started solids yet, and I have food allergies, so I really don’t want him to have anything other than breastmilk! I will try to be upfront about that to the various family groups that we’re visiting. *nervous*

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