The winter holidays are here with all their bustle and excitement. It is a fun season, but it can also be stressful—especially for women, who often feel responsible for orchestrating the events that make family celebrations special.
When the holidays coincide with the birth of a baby, some new mothers quickly become overwhelmed. Fatigue and stress can make these mothers vulnerable to mastitis, an infection of the breast. The baby can be affected, too. Over-stimulation and interrupted feedings can lead to a nursing strike. Breastfeeding hot lines have so many seasonal crisis calls that they have named the phenomenon "holiday weaning."
Postpartum Versus the Holidays
The early postpartum period is supposed to be restful. Mother and baby are advised to nest for about six weeks. Frequent nursing during this time stimulates the milk supply. All the cuddling helps the mother and baby get to know one another and to fall in love.
Because newborns feed around the clock, experts recommend that tired new moms nap whenever the baby sleeps. Ideally, grandmothers or other family members are available to help by taking over some of the normal chores, errands, and care of older children. A lighter work load and staying out of crowds protects mom and baby from infections as they recover from childbirth.
As sensible as this advice may be, it frequently flies out the window during the holidays. Perhaps mothers overestimate their own energy. Perhaps they succumb to pressures to be Super Mom. Perhaps family members who want the holidays to be the same as usual place unreasonable expectations on the new mother. Whatever the reasons, instead of resting and recovering, mothers who deliver babies in November and December often find themselves shopping, cleaning, decorating, cooking, and entertaining.
Stress and Fatigue Can Lead to Plugged Ducts and Breast Infection
Breastfeeding is affected in a number of ways when new moms take on too much too soon. Newborns feed frequently. Their feeding schedules prevent the breasts from becoming overly full. When feedings are interrupted or delayed, the breasts may become engorged. If engorgement is coupled with fatigue, an inflammatory condition called "plugged ducts" can occur. A woman may notice that part of her breast has become especially tender. The skin over the plugged area may redden. Mothers with these symptoms need to get off their feet immediately. They should encourage the baby to nurse frequently until the breast softens and thoroughly empties. Comfort measures include ibuprofen and the use of warm, moist compresses before nursing. Cold compresses between feeds help reduce swelling. Most of the time, rest and good breast emptying will prevent progression to mastitis.