With the holiday season fast approaching, I am anticipating getting calls about fussy babies and low milk production. Why does the holiday season bring about these calls? Because moms get busy. There’s Christmas shopping to do, cards to write and mail, parties to attend, groceries to do, meals to be planned and prepared, traveling and visiting with friends and family etc. The holidays are a busy time, and sometimes in all the hustle and bustle and excitement, breastfeeding is often (unintentionally) disrupted.
It’s easy for feedings to be missed when your baby is being passed from family member to family member. For some babies this might not be a problem if they are the type of baby who will protest loudly (usually prompting a quick return to mom). For babies who tend to be very easy going however, two things can happen in this situation. One, is that your baby becomes overwhelmed by the stimulation and shuts down by going to sleep. The other is that well meaning family members, in an attempt to “give you a break”, try to soothe your baby rather than handing him over for you to nurse, and again, your baby shuts down and goes to sleep (and misses a feeding). Older babies may be too distracted by all the excitement to actually settle down and nurse. Sometimes feedings may be missed or held off because you’re in the car (out shopping etc), and it’s not a convenient time to nurse.
Because milk production works according to supply and demand, these missed feedings can have an impact on the amount of milk you produce. Another factor is that stress can inhibit letdown (and lets face it, the holidays are often a stressful time!). If letdown is slow, this can result in a baby who is fussing at the breast which can cause a mom to doubt her ability to feed her child. Baby is fussing not because milk production is low, but because the milk isn’t letting down fast enough and he’s getting impatient. Sometimes however, depending on how patient your baby is, he may not take in as much milk as usual. This sends a signal to your body to slow down milk production and if the situation is prolonged, it can result in true low production of milk.
Along with this is the inevitable unsolicited advice from family members and friends which can sometimes shake a mother’s confidence that she is doing the right thing “How can he be hungry again? You just fed him!” “You’re going to spoil him by nursing him and holding him so much”. “Are you sure you have enough milk?” Comments like these can cause a mother to question her abilities and choices.
A temporary dip in milk production due to a few missed feedings and holiday stress, is usually easily fixed by increasing the frequency of nursing and spending as much time as possible skin-to-skin with your baby. Sometimes however, the holidays are a slippery slope to early weaning. Missed feedings, fussiness due to over stimulation and a mom’s decreased confidence in herself due to comments from friends and family can lead to the introduction of bottles. If mom is not pumping every time her baby gets a bottle, her body gets the message to slow down milk production. Combine this with the possibility of baby developing a preference for the fast flow of milk from a bottle, and soon you have a baby that isn’t happy at the breast. With perseverance the situation can usually be resolved, but more often than not it leads to complete weaning from breastfeeding, and can leave mom with a lot of self doubt.
In order to avoid holiday weaning, remember: family first, and people before things. It’s OK to set limits and say no to family and friends if you feel that you (or your baby!) can’t cope. Try to make sure that your baby is nursing according to his/her usual pattern, and be alert to your baby’s cues. Be prepared to intervene if your baby is getting over stimulated, needs some extra nursing etc. If necessary, find a quiet place to nurse so that your baby is not distracted while nursing, and most important of all, don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if nursing is preventing you from “helping out”. Your baby doesn’t know it’s the holidays, and his needs don’t change just because it’s a busy time of the year. Frequent nursing will make sure that your baby continues to get what he needs, will help to protect both of you from the stresses of the holiday season, and will prevent holiday weaning. Happy Holidays!