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Avoiding Accidental Weaning

Posted by Wendy Wright on

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … but it’s also the busiest. You’re shopping, cleaning, baking, visiting, traveling. You are still caring for your baby, but you can’t remember the last time he nursed.

Sometimes called holiday weaning, this is a time when accidentally nursing less and the attendant decrease in your milk supply may mean an end to your nursing relationship. This doesn’t always occur around a holiday, but has the potential to anytime that is especially busy (maybe a birthday or anniversary, a family vacation or business trip, or a big family event like moving to a new home). When your normal routine is disrupted you may nurse less often, and your baby may inadvertently wean. Even if baby doesn’t wean, your milk supply could suffer.

What can you do to keep this from happening?

  • Make conscious effort to nurse often. Aim for every few hours during the day, setting a timer if you need to!
  • Use nap times to your advantage. When your baby is sleeping, you may be able to get some holiday chores done without missing a feeding. Or use that time to get your online shopping done!
  • Wear your baby. A sling or a wrap will keep baby close to you when you’re busy with other tasks so you can notice hunger cues and keep baby from going too long between feedings.
  • Dress for success. That dress may look gorgeous on, but if you need to pull it up from the hem to feed your baby, it may be a bit inconvenient. Wearing two piece outfits is the best bet (so that your baby can easily nurse whenever he shows signs of being hungry).
  • Avoid overstimulation and missed feedings. Visiting with family who are eager to pass baby around and snuggle with your little bundle of joy may keep baby from showing signs of hunger. If it’s noisy or bright, baby may stay asleep longer than typical just to block out the stimulation. Remind Grandma that she should bring baby to you when he’s waking rather than shushing him back to sleep.
  • Plan for parties. Can you bring baby along? Will you need to pump? Will you be toasting the holiday? Keeping baby with you is, of course, the ideal. If baby isn’t with you to nurse, you may need to find a private place to pump. If you’re enjoying a single drink with dinner, nursing is fine. If you’ve had several adult beverages, be sure you’re not feeling the effects of the alcohol before you nurse again.
  • If you’re traveling … Plan for plenty of nursing breaks when driving. Nursing when traveling by plane is easy – and may even help your baby with the changes in altitude.
  • If you’re thinking of just pumping and bottle feeding over the holidays … While this might seem like an easy option, keep in mind you’ll need to pump as often as your baby is eating in order to maintain your milk supply. Any missed feedings can mean a dip in supply. And a bottle can mean nipple (or flow rate) preference for some babies.

If you find that your milk supply has diminished without your realizing it, nurse your baby more frequently. Or add pumping to your routine to try to get your supply back to a normal level. Sometimes this only takes a couple of days. But if the decrease has been happening for a while, it can take some time to get your supply back. Make sure you’re eating well and staying hydrated, and go back to basics as far as positioning and latching. It’s possible that your baby is the one who is simply distracted by all the activity, and isn’t signaling to nurse as often as normal. You may need to be proactive about setting aside time to nurse, rather than waiting for baby to tell you it’s time.

First time moms seem to be prone to this accidental weaning – after all, it’s the first time you have been through a major holiday with baby in tow. Consider how you can adapt your activities to keep your nursing schedule as normal as possible – even if this means missing the company Christmas party or staying in on New Year’s Eve.

Being prepared is the best way to avoid holiday weaning. Just knowing it might happen can make you more conscious of nursing. Enjoy your baby – and enjoy this wonderful time of the year!

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