Amanda Buchanan’s daughter, Penny, was just 10 days old when they spent a couple of nights at Amanda’s in-laws’ house over the holidays. Breastfeeding had gotten off to a rocky start; Penny wasn’t able to latch at the hospital and had only just learned to do so with the help of a nipple shield. “Because we were having problems with breastfeeding, I felt like I was being very apologetic and having to explain myself a lot. And there was judgment,” she says. “It was a lot of attention that I really didn’t want at that time.” Nursing a newborn during this busy season can be tricky, especially if you’re still trying to get the hang of it. Here are some ways to stay on track.
As a new mom, you definitely shouldn’t offer to host this year, but that leaves you at other people’s houses throughout the holidays. Feeling comfortable is important, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, says Toronto La Leche League leader Laura Watt. A quiet place to nurse, a glass of water or a bed to lie down on can make all of the difference, she says. “Family and friends will jump at the chance to help new mothers,” she says, so take advantage of their offers. Whether you’re comfortable nursing in front of others or not, time away from the festivities to feed your baby alone can help you recharge, so don’t feel guilty about not pitching in on dish duty this year. “You don’t need to entertain while you feed the baby,” says Toronto breastfeeding consultant Taya Griffin.
Feeding on demand
The holidays are a great opportunity for everyone to meet your babe, but as she’s passed around, it can be easy for you to miss feeding cues. Newborns should be fed as soon as they start showing signs they’re hungry, as it can be much harder to get them to latch on when they are ravenous. So let Grandma get her cuddles in, but stay close and trust your instincts about when it’s feeding time. Griffin suggests wearing your baby in a carrier or a wrap, so you’re still able to socialize and get things done, but can stay in tune with your baby’s needs. Keep in mind that missing feedings can cause milk buildup and lead to blocked ducts and even mastitis, a painful infection of the breast tissue that mothers with young babies are particularly vulnerable to, says Griffin.
So everyone’s ready to sit down to the holiday feast, and you’re in the middle of a feed. It can be a drag, but you don’t have to miss out. Have someone bring you a plate, suggests Watt. A mama has to eat, too, and it’s especially important when you’re nursing and need the extra energy. The great news is breastfeeding moms can eat or drink almost anything, though there are a couple of things to watch out for. The first is sage, which in large quantities can reduce your milk supply. A little bit in the stuffing is fine, says Griffin, but it’s something to think about if you’re eating several sage-filled meals in a row, especially if your supply isn’t established yet. The other thing is alcohol. Many experts agree that nursing while having a drink or two with food is fine for healthy mothers and babies. On the more conservative side, Motherisk suggests breastfeeding moms plan to pump milk for their baby before they drink any amount and wait until the alcohol has left their system before nursing again (generally between two or three hours after one drink). And Watt says that pumping won’t flush the alcohol from your system—you have to wait it out, though you may need to “pump and dump” to relieve any discomfort.
What if you’re around people who don’t support your breastfeeding goals? “Just change the conversation and move on,” says La Leche League leader Laura Watt. If they persist, explain that current guidelines recommend babies nurse exclusively until they’re six months old.
Whether you choose to drink or not, don’t forget to enjoy this time. Because you have a new baby, expectations of you are likely lower this season, so try to relax and take it all in—with your sweetie in your arms.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2014 issue with the headline “Booby traps,” p. 52.