For new mothers over the holidays, joyous holiday decorating and entertaining may be interrupted by long to-do lists, high expectations and the excitement of out-of-town guests, which can in turn interrupt breast-feeding and sleep.
When decking the halls deals a hand of stress and fatigue, however, it’s important to ensure breast-feeding isn’t lost in the wrappings, according to Laura Corsig, lead lactation consultant for Novant Health Nursing Mother’s Place locations in the greater Charlotte area.
“Stress produces adrenaline and cortisol, which prompt fight-or-flight responses that can negate mothering instincts,” Corsig said. “In turn, this stress response may dry up a new mom’s milk supply.”
When we feel tired or anxious, Corsig explained, we need oxytocin, the hormone that opposes stress. “We get oxytocin by being in a safe environment surrounded by peace and love,” she said.
The best way to rekindle oxytocin is by holding your baby skin-to-skin, Corsig said. You can do this by placing your undressed baby on your chest, turning baby’s head to one side and placing a blanket over your baby’s back up to his chin. Try to be seated like this when your guests arrive. This way, everyone is able to see your baby’s face and you can keep your feet up.
“Of course your guests will want to hold your baby,” Corsig said. “As a good hostess, you should offer your guests a drink, but not your baby.”
A newborn in an unfamiliar environment – the arms of anyone other than mother and her partner – is easily overstimulated and is usually quick to shut out the world around them by falling into a deep, yet nonrestorative sleep. Babies’ feeding cues, so frequent during skin-to-skin with mom or dad, disappear and your baby can become difficult to wake, even at feeding time. Early feeding cues may include licking, rooting, making sucking motions and bringing the arms and hands to face or mouth. Later feeding cues could include squawking and more intense crying.
“If this happens, use skin-to-skin to recreate the environment your baby knows best,” Corsig said. “Expect your baby to sleep soundly when initially reunited with you in skin-to-skin, which can take up to one hour, and then to wake with feeding cues.”
Until birth, a baby is nourished to perfect contentment and soothed by the sounds of mother’s voice and heartbeat. It is normal for newborns to stay skin-to-skin, to eat frequently and to pause between feedings. Especially during the whirlwind pace of the holidays, it can be easy to assume your baby is finished, only to see sucking and/or feeding cues reappear just after settling down.
Ending a feeding before your baby is full can lead to cluster feedings (several feedings occurring over a short time span). Leaving milk behind in your breasts can send signals to your body to produce less milk. If your baby shows feeding cues, even if you thought the feeding was finished, offer your breast again or pump and feed your baby with a bottle.
Frequent feedings help your baby gain weight, sleep better and cry less, Corsig noted. When milk is removed from your breasts, your body produces more milk. Plan to feed your baby at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours or sooner if your baby shows feeding cues.
If babies go longer periods without nursing or if breasts are not adequately drained of milk, mothers are at risk of developing a bacterial breast infection called mastitis. Caused by inadequate breast milk removal and worsened by stress and fatigue, mastitis usually starts with breast redness and is accompanied by fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.
To treat mastitis, your doctor will most likely prescribe medication (safe while breast-feeding) and advise you to drain your breasts (either by breast-feeding or pumping) completely every three hours. Fighting mastitis requires rest so make your retreat and call in the troops for help.
“When families come together, traditions resurface,” Corsig said. “If breast-feeding is a new tradition in your family, it may take time to establish its normalcy.”
Quick tips for breast-feeding your newborn during the holidays:
- Caring for your newborn and yourself is your full-time job.
- Lower your expectations of the “perfect” holiday (décor, food, gifts, etc.)
- Breast-feed frequently and on cue – eight to 12 times per day.
- Spend lots of time skin-to-skin to reduce stress and help prepare your baby for feedings.
- Schedule a breast-feeding evaluation with a board-certified lactation consultant three to five days after leaving the hospital. Contact Novant Health Nursing Mother’s Place for more information.