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Breastfeeding tips for the holidays

There’s no shortage of things to think about when you’re a breastfeeding parent. 

  • Was that a hunger cue? 
  • Is this a good latch? 
  • Is this how breastfeeding should feel? 
  • When did my baby eat last? 
  • How does this breast pump work? 

Add in curveballs like plugged ducts, cluster feeding and so many other things, and breastfeeding can feel like a lot—even more so around the holidays. 

Here’s some advice from Gundersen's experts in lactation to help you and your baby get through the holidays happy, healthy and breastfeeding. 

Create a breastfeeding plan 

Think about what your day may look like and form a plan for when and where you’ll feed your baby (or pump). Consider things like: 

  • How long will I be gone for the day? 
  • How many times will my baby eat? 
  • Am I comfortable nursing or pumping with others around? 
  • If not, is there a private space ? If you’re not sure, reach out to the host. 
  • Will I need a cooler and ice packs for expressed milk? 

“It’s so important to remember to feed and/or pump at regular intervals even during the busy times,” said Gundersen lactation consultant Julie Sharar.  

It not only helps maintain your milk supply when you stick closely to your regular schedule throughout the holidays, but it can lessen your chances of getting plugged ducts and breast infections like mastitis, both of which are more likely to occur when you’re not emptying your breasts often enough or are stressed. 

Speaking of stress… 

“It’s OK to do something different this year or start a new tradition with your family if that’s what feels right. Really listen to what you need. What feels doable?" Sharar said. "Maybe you decide to just attend an event for a little bit. Maybe you choose not to host if people usually gather at your house. It’s OK to make a change for the holidays." 

Prep for the unexpected 

Whether it’s a distant relative or close friend, there’s usually someone who wants to weigh in on everything at every holiday gathering, including how they think you should feed your baby.  

“This kind of feedback can come at any time from loved ones or even strangers,” Sharar said, whether it’s the holiday season or not. “Think about what your response will be.” 

Some options include ignoring the comment or responding with a confident assertion about what you, your family and your pediatrician have decided is best for your family. If you have a partner, it can help to get on the same page and come up with a response together. You can even practice saying it to each other so you both feel comfortable. 

“It takes some preparation,” Sharar said. “And try to remember that any feedback you may get is unsolicited.” 

Limit drinking alcohol while breastfeeding 

The general rule of thumb when it comes to drinking and breastfeeding is to wait two hours after having a standard drink to breastfeed. Keep in mind, alcohol content can vary between types of drinks like beer, wine and cocktails. 

Another way to gauge if it’s safe for you to breastfeed after drinking is to ask yourself: Can I feel the effects of alcohol? If you can, wait to breastfeed. Or, if you need to express milk, pump and dispose of the milk. If you can feel the effects of alcohol, it’s not safe for your baby to breastfeed or drink the pumped milk. 

Want a more definite answer of when it’s safe to breastfeed after having a drink? Use this calculator, which takes into consideration your body weight, drink types and number of drinks consumed. 

Protect yourself and baby 

As with any gathering, there’s always a risk of bringing home a cold or other illness. If you do happen to get sick, it’s safe—and encouraged—to continue breastfeeding your baby as long as you feel well enough to do so. Breastmilk is full of antibodies and can help protect your baby from whatever illness you’re fighting off. Just remember to take other precautions that can help keep your baby safe, like washing your hands before touching them and potentially wearing a mask to limit the spread of germs. 

To keep your baby safe from germs at holiday gatherings: 

  1. Reach out to family and friends beforehand to ask that party-goers not attend if they feel sick or have any cold or flu symptoms
  2. Babywear with a sling or carrier if it’s an option for you. Keeping your baby close can help you stay attuned to their cues (like when they’re hungry or sleepy) and limits the number of other people who hold your baby

  3. Ask anyone who holds your baby to wash their hands first

  4. If baby will be out in a car seat, consider printing a small sign that reads something straightforward like “please do not touch, your germs are too big for me” or something clever like “pass the gravy, not the baby”  

  5. Limit the number of holiday gatherings you attend and the time you spend at each one

If you’re struggling with breastfeeding or have additional questions, Gundersen lactation consultants are here to help. Gundersen patients can schedule a phone or in-person appointment for help with: latching, painful nursing, sore nipples, engorgement, weight gain issues, milk supply issues, breast pump education, and breast milk donation. 

Did you know? 

In June, July and September 2022, Gundersen had an exclusive breastfeeding rate of more than 80%. Part of this success is thanks to donor breastmilk. 

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