Taking the stress — and the guesswork — out of the holidays for new parents
The holiday season is a time of celebration, family gatherings, and indulgent feasts. But for new parents who are breastfeeding, it can also bring about feelings of stress and uncertainty. What can breastfeeding parents not eat? Should they pump and dump after enjoying a glass of wine or a piece of rum cake? What about two — or three?
While these questions may not ordinarily worry you, the holidays can stir up a host of emotions. They can cause sadness, trigger postpartum depression, or bring up complicated feelings about food. Family members can also trigger uncomfortable feelings — and those sentiments may multiply when you have a little one. They may have opinions about your breastfeeding, give unsolicited parenting advice, or make demands on your time that you feel obligated to keep. When feelings of uncertainty about what you “should and shouldn’t do” while nursing get added to that list, you may end up feeling more stressed than thankful.
All that stress runs counter to the energy of what the holidays are supposed to be about — gratitude, joy, and taking a moment to rest. As a parent, you have the ability and the right to set boundaries that protect your well-being during the holiday season. Creating a wellness plan for yourself (and your new baby) can help you feel more cared for, supported, and at ease as you navigate the most wonderful — and stressful — time of the year.
What goes into a holiday wellness plan?
The holiday season presents a couple of major challenges. To prepare your plan, you’ll want to consider your schedule and how you’ll balance your needs with everything else that’s going on.
So many festivities, so little time
The first challenge is the impact on your schedule. You might find yourself short on time, traveling, staying up late, or getting up early. All of this naturally affects your family and breastfeeding routine as well. It’s common to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, even when you’re enjoying yourself. And while you can stay up late or catch an early flight without too much fuss, your child will likely need a little more time to adjust. When things are up in the air, feeding your child can provide a quiet break (as well as a sense of normalcy). And the hormones released during expression help to reduce stress.
Breastfeeding parents also need to account for feeding and/or pumping time when planning their daily schedule. Traveling can throw your routine off, as well as your babies — but no matter what, your baby still needs to eat, and your breasts still need regular milk removal. While this doesn’t have to happen strictly down to the minute, you may already be familiar with the discomfort that comes from missing a nursing or pumping session. If your baby is cranky when missing a nap, they’re likely to be very upset about missing a meal — as well as the other benefits of breastfeeding. Too many missed sessions can inadvertently lead to holiday weaning — or even mastitis.
Food, drinks, and drugs
A second concern might be sticking to a healthy diet. After all, holiday menus aren’t exactly known for their health-conscious choices. And though certain foods might feel a little indulgent (which is part of the fun), others might have ingredients that you may be worried about eating while nursing. These concerns are often exacerbated by family’s well-meant (but usually unsolicited) comments on what you should and shouldn’t eat.
Despite their reputation, many holiday foods are perfectly safe to eat whether you’re nursing or not. And in general, there aren’t really any foods you need to avoid while breastfeeding. In fact, some of your festive favorites may be healthier than you think.
|Common holiday foods||Benefits|
|Turkey||Rich in protein, B vitamins, low in fat|
|Ham||High protein, low saturated fat|
|Stuffing||Can be high in fiber|
|Macaroni and cheese||Can be high in fiber, calcium, and protein (cheese)|
|Collard greens||Rich in fiber and potassium, enhances good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol|
|Green beans||Fights inflammation, high in potassium|
|Sweet potatoes||High in beta carotene and vitamin A|
|Cranberry sauce||Contains vitamin C, antioxidants, and manganese|
|Mashed potatoes||Fiber, antioxidants, potassium|
|Dinner rolls||High fiber, can potentially help you manage your blood sugar|
|Potato salad||High fiber, high in resistant starch|
|Eggnog||Might contain vitamins, protein, and antioxidants|
|Wine||Antioxidants in red wine|
|Pies and cakes||May actually increase fruit and fiber intake|
Part of your worry about what you can and can’t eat while breastfeeding might have to do with alcohol and other substances. These might include marijuana but could also include over-the-counter medications like pain relievers or allergy medications. There’s a lot of advice out there on what is and isn’t safe for nursing parents to have, and some of it conflicts. What’s the “right” answer?
Officially, there is no safe amount of alcohol that you can have while breastfeeding. However, a standard drink (one glass of wine, 1.5 ounces of alcohol, or a 12-ounce glass of beer) is not known to cause any harm to breastfeeding babies. Likewise, many over-the-counter medications are safe for breastfeeding — so if you get sick or have a headache, you won’t have to stop nursing to treat your ailment. If you have questions about any specific medications, reach out to your doctor for advice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises nursing parents to wait two hours after one alcoholic drink before nursing their infant (or pumping breast milk for storage and use). If you have any questions about the safety of marijuana, medications, alcohol consumption, when to pump and dump, or specific foods while nursing, you can always ask an IBCLC.
If you’re not happy, no one’s happy
There’s no getting around it — at best, the holidays are equal parts stressful and joyful. Every milestone as a new parent (going to the store for the first time, going back to work, and visiting family for the holidays) is a brand-new experience for both parent and child.
You know your family best, and you’re the expert on what works for you and your child. It can be immensely helpful to plan ahead for you and your nursing baby’s needs before the celebrations start. Expect that you might get overwhelmed, frustrated, or tired more easily than usual. You can then plan meals and the best time to nurse or pump with those needs in mind.
Of course, everyone’s wellness plan looks different, and you probably have a good idea of what you should expect. If you’re hoping to make your season run a bit more smoothly, you can build your new parent holiday plan by asking the following questions:
1. What should I have on hand?
Take a good look at your schedule. How long will you be away, and what do you need to be comfortable? How many feeding or pumping sessions will there be during that time? Will you need somewhere to store expressed milk? If you’ve checked out the menu and there are particular foods that don’t agree with you, you can plan to bring a few healthy snacks. Bring a water bottle as a reminder to stay hydrated.
2. Where will my baby be?
Your family will be excited to spend time with your little one. In fact, depending on their age, your child may spend much of the holiday getting handed from (or running to) person to person. Once you both get distracted, it can be easy to skip a nursing session. Try wearing your baby or setting alarms on your phone. Sticking to your nursing routine as much as you can help prevent mastitis during the holidays. In fact, breastfeeding may give you a welcome excuse to sneak away for a little while.
3. How can I be kind to myself?
Holidays are disruptive by nature. Your current routine is designed to work well for you and your family — but it may not flex too well over the season. That’s okay. There are no right and wrong ways to celebrate the holidays as a nursing parent. If you’re happy and your baby is happy, you’re doing just fine.
When things go off plan, look for ways to reduce your stress and return to what matters most to you. Book a hotel if you need a little extra space, go for a walk, or ask for help. Remember, nourishing yourself and your baby is about balance and enjoyment. Trust your instincts, listen to your body, and make choices that bring you joy this holiday season.