You may not realize it, but breastfeeding over the holidays is more challenging than at other times of the year. If you’re not careful, it’s possible to accidentally wean over the holidays (whether you have a brand new baby or an older toddler).
Imagine: It’s after Thanksgiving dinner, and you’ve finished helping your family with dishes. You’re finally ready to relax in a chair with some coffee and pumpkin pie.
Your toddler sees you sitting down and makes a beeline for your chair. She climbs up in your lap and pulls down your shirt, and it’s super obvious what she’s going for.
Aunt Sally looks appalled. “If she’s old enough to ask for it, that means she’s too old to still nurse.”
You’re embarrassed, but your sweet little girl is undeterred. What do you do?
And on top of that, you’re thrown into doubt. Is Aunt Sally right? Should you wean your one year old (or two or three year old, for that matter)?
Spoiler alert: Aunt Sally is wrong. We’ll talk a little about why it’s great to keep nursing your child past the first year, and we’ll also talk about the special challenges that crop up over the holiday season. Let’s support you and your baby’s breastfeeding relationship during this fun but stressful time.
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Benefits of breastfeeding
You might already know this, but first things first, I want to remind you how helpful it is to breastfeed your baby, even past the first year. There are SO MANY lifelong benefits for your child, including lowering lifelong risk of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Several cancers
And several other chronic health issues.
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In addition, breastfeeding past the first year helps mom’s health too. Extended breastfeeding (I mean, we call it “extended,” but really it’s natural-term breastfeeding) decreases your chances of
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
And other metabolic issues. Breastfeeding is not just a preference thing; it’s a major public health benefit.
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Want to know all the fantastic benefits of breastfeeding your toddler? Sign up for my Extended Breastfeeding Benefits cheat sheet (and learn how you can use breastfeeding to make your life easier).
But of course, we’re not usually thinking about improving the lifetime health and quality of life of multiple generations when our child climbs up into our lap and pulls at our top. We’re just thinking about cuddling up and nursing.
While a large percentage of your toddler’s calories and nutrients may come from breastfeeding, the emotional benefits are more obvious to us. Your child may want to nurse before a nap or before bedtime, whenever they’re lonely or bored, or when they’re stressed.
And even though it’s exciting, you know what’s stressful for your child? The holidays.
Think about it – lots of unfamiliar people, some of whom think they’re owed hugs and kisses, maybe staying in a different home or in a hotel, disrupted routines… it’s a recipe for your toddler to feel super insecure.
For that reason, your toddler may want to nurse more over the holidays, and if you or some family members are uncomfortable with that, it may make things weird for you.
How to handle family members’ comments about breastfeeding
So what do you do when your nosy MIL makes a comment (Haven’t you weaned him yet?) or when your dad acts super uncomfortable about you nursing – running to a different room or demanding you cover up?
Honestly, that’s up to you. You can try covering up, but honestly, most babies don’t like it and will just throw a cover off (after all, do you want to eat Thanksgiving dinner under a blanket?). So you may prefer going to a different room.
Honestly, you and your child may appreciate getting away from the hubbub and getting some quiet time together. Not gonna lie, as an introvert, I’ve totally used my kids as an excuse to get away to ourselves when I’ve felt overwhelmed.
Another option: If you wear a nursing tank and then another shirt/sweater over it, you can pull up your shirt to breastfeed while the cami covers your your midsection.
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Even if your family is supportive and accepting of your older child breastfeeding, they may still say some kind of clueless things that throw you off. For example, my grandmother was visiting once, and the change in routine had my 22 month old nursing extra. He probably crawled in my lap and pulled my shirt down like 3 or 4 times in 20 minutes like a little barnacle baby.
Finally, my grandmother asked me in a concerned voice, “Are you not making enough milk for him?”
Even though I’ve been doing this for over 8 years, this is the fourth toddler I’ve nursed, I know that it’s just an emotional thing and a need for cuddles and security, I know my child is well fed, something in me freaked out a little bit.
I answered her that no, he was just nursing for comfort, but in my head, I thought:
Is my supply down? Is something wrong?
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I can only imagine that if I were newer at breastfeeding, her question could have really shaken me up and sabotaged our nursing relationship.
If you want to try to educate your family, have at it. But I’ve found that generally speaking, people have already made up their mind on things like this, and listing facts at them doesn’t change anything. The bottom line is, the family who supports you are the ones who will matter most as the years go by. And those who aren’t understanding? A little distance may be healthy anyways.
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How to make sure your infant nurses enough over the holidays
Like I said, some people (me included) need space for themselves and their toddler, and there’s nothing wrong with claiming that space for the two of you.
If on the other hand, you love the hustle and bustle of the holidays, your child needing this attention may make you feel stifled, like you’re being left out of the fun. That’s a totally valid feeling too.
Newborns and young infants need to be fed on demand, likely every 2-3 hours (older infants maybe can go 4 hours).
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Especially if your baby is around 4 months old, they may get easily distracted by everything going on (this is a real thing called the “four month fussies”). It’s harder to get baby to stay latched with all the distraction, so going to a quiet, dark room may help them focus.
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If you and your baby are up for it, though, wearing your baby is a great option to keep them close while still doing all your holiday fun. Plus, it gives you an easy way to look for hunger signals (smacking lips, gnawing on a fist, etc) so you can be ready when your baby wants to eat.
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Breastfeeding a toddler over the holidays
Breastfeeding a toddler over the holidays can be trickier, if only because it’s less socially accepted and you might feel a little nervous about it. However, it’s great to nurse your toddler as often as the two of you want, and with any luck, your example will help family change their mind.
Your toddler may want to nurse frequently because the change in routine has them feeling a need for extra security. If you’re okay with that, go for it.
On the other hand, it’s completely okay to tell a toddler or preschooler to wait for a little while if you need a break. “We’ll get na-na later at naptime. Go play with your cousins” (although you’ll probably have to help them get comfortable with others before you can settle in to hang out with your fam).
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And of course, breastfeeding is a great tool to help your little one go to sleep at nap time or bedtime. It’s a great chance for the two of you to escape and have some special time together.
Warning: If you and your child are both so busy that you forget to nurse all day, you might see a supply drop. While this might not be a big deal if your child is closer to two or older, for young toddlers, this could cause accidental early weaning. So especially if your child is only 13 or 14 months old, if breastfeeding is something you want to keep up, be intentional about remembering to nurse at least a time or two a day.
Closing thoughts on holiday breastfeeding
One thing to keep in mind – you’re only going to have one or two holiday seasons like this, with a baby or toddler who wants you all the time. So even if it’s not your favorite, try to keep perspective. Yes, acknowledge your disappointment or frustration, but also try to accept that you can handle these changes and look forward to future years.
Bottom line: Do what’s best for you and your child. Don’t let anyone pressure you to do any different. You’ll both be happiest that way, now and years later as you’ve made your relationship closer.
And if you want to learn more about how breastfeeding your toddler will actually make life easier for you, be sure to grab my Toddler Breastfeeding Benefits Cheat Sheet by clicking here.