Updated: May 17, 2019
Well mamas, the holidays are upon us. This can often mean more and less of everything. More travel, more errands, more visitors, more visiting. Less nutrition, less time with your baby, less downtime, less exercise and more importantly less sleep. During these busy times our bodies are not functioning at it's best. We have more stress, the to do list is a mile long and we just want to get through the holidays. Your breastfeeding body will be more prone to illness, slower milk production, slower let down and maybe even blocked ducts or mastitis.
Stress affects milk production because it inhibits the milk ejection or the 'let down' reflex. This reflex is biologically controlled by the pituitary gland and depends on the release of oxytocin to then 'let down' your milk while baby nurses. Oxytocin is the love hormone. We make it and release it during times when we feel loved, comforted and safe. During times of stress our oxytocin release is inhibited. When we're in a fight or flight response (stress response) and our bodies aren't feeling 'safe' we go into protection mode releasing cortisol instead of oxytocin. Consider when you're crossing the railroad tracks and all of a sudden you see a train coming (or you skip a nap to bake cookies or do some last minute shopping at a crowded mall), it's not likely that you will feel those love hormones flowing when you're in this stress response. If you were to try and nurse your baby in this state I expect that very little would happen. You would likely end up with a stressed and cranky baby. Babies pick up on your emotional state very easily and reflect that emotion back to you. If you were to consistently nurse your baby in this frantic state, causing a repeated inhibition of your let down reflex, your breastfeeding body is now at risk for blocked ducts, mastitis and an overall decrease in milk production.
So what can you do to help? It's not likely that you can cancel Christmas but there are some small things that you can do to protect your breastfeeding relationship and ensure your baby continues to nurse and rest well over the holidays.
1. Don't be a holiday hero. Recognize that you may not be able to do all the things that you would normally do this year. Sit down with your partner and discuss your holiday commitments and expectations. Cut that list in half and then cut it in half again.
2. Schedule time each day as a designated nap or cuddle time with your baby. They will appreciate this downtime with you from all the stimulation of visitors, lights and excited energy. It will help calm their nervous systems as well as yours and help them sleep and nurse better.
3. Enlist help. Hire a housekeeper to come in the day before you host a family gathering. Ask family members to come early to help you prep, bring a dish for dinner and stay to clean up afterwards. You have a new baby and you can't do it all. If you are hosting the event, the fact that you are offering up your home is enough.
4. If you do end up with a houseful of guests try to sneak away to a quiet room to breastfeed. It's not necessarily out of modesty but gives you and your baby and chance to relax and let the oxytocin love hormone flow. If you're busy and distracted during the feed, oxytocin does not flow as freely which may give you a frustrated and equally distracted baby.
5. If you are going to a dinner at someone's house offer to bring a small dish just in case you don't have a lot of extra time to prepare it. Offering to bring buns or a small appetizer is often enough.
6. Stay hydrated. When you sit down to breastfeed bring a glass of water with you. For every small glass of wine or cocktail have at least 2 glasses of water.
7. Shop online! Avoid the busy mall, juggling the stroller, finding parking, finding a quiet place to sit and breastfeed and shop from home in your pj's while you snuggle your baby.
8. Get a massage. Schedule an appointment ahead of time so you have something to look forward to and schedule another appointment for after the holidays as your reward for making it through.
9. Talk to your partner. If you are feeling overwhelmed, your partner will be your best advocate. They can let your family know that you need some rest and maybe see if someone else is able to bring the buns for dinner this time.
10. Recognize that your baby needs you more than they need anyone else. This will be the only Christmas that your baby is this age. Taking a step back from your usual Christmas duties is not something to feel guilty about. You are doing the most important job by taking care of your baby and yourself.