Sunday, December 20, 2009

Breastfeeding and the holidays: How to take care of yourself

Welcome to the December Carnival of Breastfeeding: Taking care of yourself during the holidays

We're bringing together tips and stories on how nursing mothers can make sure they don't get rundown while they're caring for little ones and celebrating all the usual hubbub. Be sure to check out the links at the end for the other participants' excellent posts! I'll be adding more throughout the day Dec. 21.


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mother (sorta) and baby at Christmas


I'm going to assume, for the sake of argument, that it's mothers of younger nurslings who need the permission and suggestion to slow down and take care of themselves. I've been breastfeeding my son for two and a half years now, and it's not breastfeeding that exhausts me anymore — it's the two-and-a-half-year-old part! Nursing, in fact, is a calming time in our day, a chance to sit and reconnect and have his mouth too full to chatter for a minute or two.

But I've been through two Christmases with a younger nursling, his first at six months, and his second at 18 months, so I'll speak more to my experiences those first two years. There's what worked for me, but then there are the choices you will make, and it's totally possible and probable that you will have a different set of criteria and priorities when it comes to holiday celebrations. So take my advice as just a series of gentle suggestions. Sometimes people need permission to let go of the pressures of the holidays and of visits to distant relatives, and if that's you, I want to grant it! It's your holiday celebration, too, so try to slow down and enjoy it.


Cut down on travel, or plan ahead

We traveled by plane with Mikko when he was four months old, and then again when he was seven months old. After those two experiences, we swore off plane trips for the next several years at least. We then, warily, tried a road trip when he was 20 months old...which made us rethink future road trips.

I'm not saying you'll have a bad experience if you travel somewhere with kids. I'm just saying you might. We did. That second flight we took was for Mikko to meet his great-grandfather before he died, so it wasn't really optional, but that first Christmas we had decided: No way are we flying out East. It wasn't just the holidays, though. We decided to put a general moratorium on flying. If our families wanted to see us (and Mikko — mainly Mikko), they could come out West. And so they have. For years before we had Mikko, Sam and I schlepped our sweet twosome out their way. We figure we're due now for a few reciprocal visits.

So that's my first advice, if you can swing it and if you want to. Put your foot down, say you're staying put, and enjoy a quiet holiday season with just your immediate family, or with any relatives who decide to come out your way. Now that I've said that, I'm realizing that housing and feeding visiting relatives might not be any quieter, so maybe have them come at a different time!

But, if you really want to travel and it would make you sad to stay home alone, then I would suggest really preparing in advance for the trip.

If it's a plane trip, breastfeeding will actually help you out immensely (as long as you can avoid getting kicked off the plane — eep!). You can nurse during takeoff and landing to help regulate your little one's ear pressure, and it can also help calm a cranky kidlet. Read PhD in Parenting's post on "Tips for Breastfeeding on a Plane" for ideas of what to bring to breastfeed comfortably in flight, and how to deal with any confrontation. Breastfeeding Moms Unite! has good advice to airlines to make all flights breastfeeding-friendly, and Geeky Gaming Mama reminds us to practice safe cosleeping and breastfeeding practices while on the plane. If you're likely to be tired yourself, make sure you have a safe place to put a young infant while you sleep, since it's not safe to sleep upright with a small baby in your lap. Ideally, buy a separate ticket for your baby and bring along an airline-approved car seat so that you both have a secure spot to rest.

For road trips, make sure to leave extra time and bring extra supplies. Particularly when traveling with kids in the winter, I like to know we have everything that might help in case of a weather emergency. Equip your car with warm blankets, nonperishable snacks, water bottles partly filled so they won't explode if they freeze, jumper cables, flashlights, and charged cell phone with emergency numbers. Keep your gas tank comfortably full as well. A good tip is not to let the gauge slip below a quarter-tank. Don't push it when you're traveling in winter. If you become temporarily stranded, having some extra gas might be the only thing keeping you warm while you wait for help.

But the most important thing to have as a traveling, breastfeeding mother is extra time. You never know when the baby is going to need you to pull over somewhere safe and eat — and the younger the nursling, the more often this will happen — so don't try to rush to your destination. One of the best pieces of advice I received as a parent was never to promise to be anywhere on time. Just accept that a breastfeeding baby is going to need some pit stops to refuel. Find somewhere safe and warm, or use that extra gas I mentioned earlier to keep your car running at a rest stop, and feed safely. Never try to breastfeed in a moving car, even if you're both strapped in — car seats and babies aren't meant to withstand the weight of a mother rushing at them in a sudden stop. What you can do, though, is be a presence to your child by sitting in the backseat with him or her. And this is something anyone in the family can do, not just the nursing mama. I let Sam take over that job when Mikko's had enough alone time, because I get carsick back there and Sam doesn't.

The other way extra time helps is in letting you slow down and drive safely in inclement weather. I still remember rushing to Sam's parents during a blizzard on Christmas Eve one year. We skidded off the exit and ran into a little pole. Fortunately, that was all we hit! That was pre-kids; I would want to take absolutely no chances of rushing on icy roads or during a storm with a baby on board.


Put the relatives to work

If you're visiting or being visited by family members and friends, take advantage of the situation.

Does Grandma want to bounce the baby for an hour? Let her enjoy her bonding opportunity, while you take some time to eat a warm meal — with two hands and actual silverware!

Does your young cousin want to play countless games of peekaboo with your toddler? Say: Go for it, cuz! Now you have a chance to enjoy some adult conversation for once.

Instead of trying to do it all yourself, let there be a dispersal of responsibility, and take the time, at this stage in your life, to relax and just enjoy the holidays. It might feel selfish, but as a breastfeeding mama, you are supplying the nutrient load of an entire other human. That gives you the right for a little time to put your feet up! And your loved ones will actually appreciate the chance to interact with your little bundle of joy.

If no one is volunteering to help you out, you might have to get specific and ask for help. Sometimes people don't know what would be most helpful for a nursing mama, so you might have to point out what does and doesn't work for you. For instance, you might need to keep a newborn close for those frequent feedings rather than pass the sweetness around, but you can request that someone bring you a cup of holiday punch or fill a plate from the buffet with finger foods and set it on a convenient table at your side.

Similarly, if you're hosting the holiday gathering, be shameless about requesting help, both in advance and on the day. Make it a potluck where you provide just one dish — if any at all. Be reckless and use paper plates, or assign clean-up duty to some of the tween and teenage set. They'll probably enjoy the chance to have a little water fight with each other, anyway — bonding over bubbles, and all that! Have a group of friends come over early to help you decorate and tidy, or see if you can wangle an early present of a cleaning service gift certificate.


Have an answer ready for any questions or criticism

Consider ahead of time how you might smoothly handle any criticisms of your breastfeeding or your parenting style. This is not meant to make you paranoid. Just as I have never been asked to cover up on an airplane while breastfeeding but some women have, and just as I have not had nosy relatives criticize my commitment to full-term breastfeeding but other women have, I prefer to go into a situation with forethought of how I might conduct myself if something should occur. Here are a couple resources that should help you formulate a plan: Kellymom's "Handling criticism about breastfeeding" and The Tranquil Parent's "Six ways to defend extended breastfeeding, positive discipline, or other attachment parenting habits." If, for instance, you don't want to agree to move to another room or cover up while breastfeeding, have a calm response to give to anyone who asks you to.

You might also practice ahead of time ways to breastfeed in as discreet a way as will keep you comfortable, perhaps investing in a few simple key pieces of a nursing wardrobe in advance, such as a nursing camisole or belly band. I'm not at all suggesting that you cover up or treat breastfeeding as anything other than natural and normal — but you have to decide what your personal comfort level is, considering your experience with breastfeeding and which people will be present to observe you.


Slow down and pare down

It's so tempting to run yourself ragged over the holidays, even when you're not breastfeeding and caring for children. But when you are, it's even more important to weigh carefully what sorts of commitments you'll allow yourself to get into.

Be willing to say no to parties that don't interest you or events that would require finagling a babysitter and expressing milk, if that would stress you out. Agree not to exchange presents with some people, or go more low-key on the giving. Don't wear yourself out trying to hand-knit 20 people on your list an extra-special poncho. Maybe this is the year you commit to an emailed annual letter instead of hand assembling artsy holiday cards. Who knows? In making things easier on yourself, you might just save money and help the environment, too.

And if you have a newborn: That advice to sleep when the baby sleeps? It still applies during the holidays. If you need a rest and can grab a nap, take the chance!

Please leave your comments of how you relax and recharge as a breastfeeding mama during busy seasons. And check out the other carnival participants for their advice!

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Enjoy these posts from our other carnival participants:

Cave Mother: A Mother's Christmas
Mama Knows Breast: A Breastfeeding Poem: Twas the Breastfeeder's Nighttime
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Don't Forget the Pump!
Blisstree.com's Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Breastfeeding and Dehydration
Accidental Pharmacist: Motherhood Statement
Mommy News & Views: The Holidays And Being A Breastfeeding Mom
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: Caring for a high-needs baby during the holidays
Motherwear Blog: Taking care of yourself and your baby during the holidays
Breastfeeding Mums: Looking After Yourself During the Holidays: 7 Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers
Happy Bambino: How to take care of ourselves during the holidays
The Adventures of Lactating Girl: Breastfeeding and the holidays
Blacktating: Advice for the Holidays


Photo courtesy BenSpark on flickr (cc)

8 comments:

The Accidental Pharmacist said...

We aren't going anywhere this holiday season and are enjoying our time as a new family. Living in Vancouver, which can be a transient city, we felt selfish at first as all our friends planned their trips - but we're so glad we stuck to our guns. We get to start new traditions this way - scrap the turkey...it's gonna be a lasagna Christmas, baby!

Hobo Mama said...

Lasagna! Thank you! We were trying to decide what to have for Christmas dinner this year. Last time was fondue. We're not much for tradition in general, I guess.

And, as to your point, I totally agree. It feels at once selfish and freeing, and it's so fun to have Christmas as a little family. With our parents in two different, distant locations, we had to wonder if our holidays would keep us pulled in different directions, feeling all frantic, unless we decided from the start that we would just stay put and begin our own family celebration.

Olivia said...

Great tips! We are not traveling either. Our baby is almost 9 months, and I think it will be fun to have our first Christmas as a family in our own home. We bought new pajamas for everyone to wear on Christmas Eve, and we have movies, snacks and meals planned (egg rolls and fried rice).

We had guests for Thanksgiving and used paper plates. It was so wonderful to not have to wash dishes after having a big meal and cooking all day, so we are using them again for Christmas.

Hobo Mama said...

Mmmm...fried rice. That would be a good one, too. Do fried rice & lasagna go together? Maybe one could be our New Year's Eve meal. :) Enjoy your new jammies!

Jenny said...

wow! this is quite comprehensive. breastfeeding has made our plane travel a lot easier! my husband and i are travel junkies and our 2 year old has been on more than 10 plane trips. luckily, i was never kicked out from the plane in any of those trips! happy holidays!

Amber said...

Thankfully, I don't have to travel as our families both live within an hour of us and they're coming to our place. And only for, you know, the afternoon.

I have found that breastfeeding during the holidays makes things easier. I get those lovely, calming nursing hormones. It's something only I can do, so other people need to take over the heavy lifting while I nurse. And it also burns those extra calories, which comes in handy at the holiday feast. Yay for breastfeeding!

beth said...

I hosted thanksgiving this year as mom of a 2-month-old baby, so I can endorse some of your tips!

My mom (who has hosted before) helped me make a list of all the food and supplies we needed, and when anybody asked what they could bring, I had a ready answer. I also made sure that everybody who was bringing food also brought the dish and spoon it would require. Crock pots were encouraged.

I gave myself a week to make the two items I wanted to cook. I think I did one on Monday night and one on Wednesday night.

The night before T-day, I had my parents shop and bring over a few supplies, and they held the baby while my husband and I did some tidying and prep work.

On the day itself, I popped the turkey into the oven (no stuffing means quicker prep & less cook time) and barely had to lift a finger all day - leaving me plenty of time for no-pressure feedings of the little one.

beth said...

Another thought: we are taking a train (did it earlier this month for a wedding, too) and it's a good compromise between the inconveniences of flying & driving. You can feed or change the baby while moving, even walk up and down the aisles with him, and you don't have the crowdedness and security hassles of airports and planes.

There is enough space by your feet to set down a car seat - which we needed so we could safely get some sleep (our train ride was 10 hours).

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