Deck the Halls with Bottles of Breast Milk--Pumping During the Holidays
The snow is not yet flying outside my window, but the ever colder temperatures tell me that the holidays are on their way, and of course with Thanksgiving and Christmas comes parties, food, shopping, family, and lots of fun. But the holidays also tends to bring late nights, little sleep, stress, tired and cranky little ones, and insanely busy schedules—all things that can wreak havoc on a pumping mom.
I don’t want to be a Grinch—although my kids might describe me as that on occasion—but I do want to chat about the Christmas season, the pitfalls to be aware of, and things you might consider in order to make your life easier, save a bit of your sanity, and prevent your supply from tanking during the busy holidays—and if you don’t celebrate Christmas (or are a Canadian like me who has already celebrated Thanksgiving in October) this is for you too, since any holiday or cultural or religious celebration has the potential to throw a wrench into your perfectly planned pumping schedule.
Not to suggest that stress isn’t something that we carry with us on a daily basis as new moms, but the additional stress that can build up around the holidays is an entity unto itself. Whether it is the rush of Christmas shopping, your crazy—but beloved—family that’s coming to visit, the extra energy your older kids acquire, or the added financial pressure, the holidays add a great deal of stress to our already busy lives. As an exclusively pumping mom, this is something you want to keep in check as much as possible, and something you need to release whenever possible.
Stress does have the potential to affect your milk supply, but even more likely is the impact stress will have on your immune system. As our bodies experience stress, our immune system tends to become depressed which leaves us open to illness. Now’s the time for self-care! Eat well, sleep as much as you can, drink enough water to stay well hydrated, consider a multi-vitamin, look at natural methods of improving your immune system (you might, for example, try elderberry syrup or tea), and be sure to include time in your life for activities that help you recharge such as exercise, a quiet bubble bath, yoga, prayer, or meditation.
Get This Party Started
December brings with it three sure things: food, presents, and parties! Enjoy Christmas cheer, but not too much. There are differing opinions on alcohol when breastfeeding, but the general consensus is that it’s okay to enjoy a drink or two, just ensure to enjoy alcohol in moderation. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics states that alcohol consumption should be limited to occasional intake and should not exceed 0.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, other experts such as Dr. Thomas Hale suggest that “mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal.”1 As with most things, moderation is key. An occasional drink should not cause you to worry or require you to pump and dump. Alcohol will transfer through your breast milk, but less than 2% of the alcohol you drink will reach your milk. It’s best to avoid alcohol for the first couple months of your baby’s life as a newborn’s liver function is still immature and will have to work very hard to detoxify the alcohol.
And try not to pull too many all nighters. As mentioned above, stress should be reduced or avoided when possible, and a lack of sleep can create a lot of stress on your body. So while you don’t need to avoid parties and get-togethers completely, be sure you’re not the one closing down the party.
Enjoy your food as well—and the fact that milk production burns some extra calories! Sage is often a topic of discussion around Thanksgiving and Christmas since it can be used to reduce milk supply, and of course is a starring herb in turkey dinners, but the moderate amounts used in food is unlikely to have any impact. However, if you eat multiple Christmas dinners…
You’ve got your busy Christmas schedule to worry about and your pumping schedule to consider. It can be easy to set aside your pumping schedule when life gets busy, but try to think of the long-term effects not just your short-term needs. It’s important to make your pumping sessions a priority. If you have a large family that comes together for Christmas, make use of them! Have them help you with baby care, and maybe even use pumping as an excuse to avoid some cooking or other holiday duties—might as well use it to your full benefit, right? Every loves an opportunity to play with a new baby, and this can work to your benefit. If you have a family that tends to cause chaos and conflict at family events, think of your pumping sessions as an excuse to get away and have a bit of “me” time. Sanity breaks, even when you aren’t pumping, can sometimes be critical to getting through the holidays!
Remember that the number of sessions in a day are likely more important than the length of time between your sessions—within reason. If you are in the first couple months post-partum, try not to go much more than four hours between sessions. If you’re a little further in your exclusively pumping journey, you might be able to stretch that a bit more, but you still need to get your pumping sessions in, so that might mean that you’re pumping every two hours for the rest of the day. Best advice here is to plan ahead, be aware of potential disruptions to your schedule, and make time when needed to pump. Reduce your expectations a bit: if you don’t get dinner on the table until a bit later or you shop online for all your presents instead of hand picking them in a store, that’s okay. Ultimately, you’ll enjoy the holidays much more if you’re feeling like you are on schedule and not constantly trying to catch up.
Gifts from Santa
Don’t forget yourself and your needs! There are always things a pumping mom could use and I’m sure Santa would be more than happy to oblige. Maybe you’d like a hands-free pumping bra, a new pump, or another flange set. Great! But don’t overlook things that are just for you. What about a new book (I hear Exclusively Pumping Breast Milk is quite good), a subscription to Netflix, a DVD of your favourite movie, a new erearder, some special bubble bath or body lotion, or maybe a membership to your local yoga studio?
Christmas and Baby
The holidays can be trying for a pumping mom—for any mom—with more responsibilities added to an already overwhelming schedule, but it can also be difficult for babies and older children. The varied schedules, lots of added excitement and new people, and plenty of activity can easily overwhelm both the very young and older babies. While it’s not always possible to maintain a “normal” schedule, keeping as close to normal as possible will make Christmas easier on both you and your baby. Protect your baby from over-stimulation and be watchful for signs that your baby has had enough. Younger babies can have a hard time transitioning between wakeful and sleep states, so just because a baby isn’t sleeping doesn’t mean they aren’t tired or haven’t had enough stimulation. Balancing the amount of excitement—and the number of people who hold and pass the baby around—with some quiet, soothing activities, will ultimately help your baby. You might consider wearing your baby in a wrap, sling, mei tai, or soft structured carrier such as the Ergo as a way to balance the amount of stimulation a baby receives. A baby carried in a carrier has the opportunity to turn away from the stimulation and towards mom, which adds a layer of protection and security.
Enjoy your holiday season as a pumping mom! With a bit of advanced planning, a few relaxed expectations, and a lot of love and laughter, you’ll be able to ensure your supply is maintained—and your sanity is maintained. Enjoy Christmas with your baby!