Holiday mastitis is simply mastitis that is more likely to occur during the holidays due to the busy and hectic nature of life towards the end of the year.
What is Mastitis?
Mastitis is an inflammation in a milk duct that is caused by an obstruction or infection. According to KellyMom, symptoms of mastitis are the same as a plugged duct, but the pain, heat, and swelling is usually more intense. There may also be red streaks extending outward from the affected area. Typical mastitis symptoms include a fever of 101.3°F (38.5°C) or greater, chills, flu-like aching, body aches, malaise, and systemic illness.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor and a lactation consultant as soon as possible! (And if people tell you to stop breastfeeding, seek another opinion! (SOURCE) )
Mastitis Risk Factors
According to KellyMom, you are more likely to develop mastitis if you’ve experienced:
- A plugged duct
- Skipped feedings
- Not emptying breast during feedings
- A hospital stay
- Sore nipples, cracked nipples, or bleeding nipples
- Nipple infection
- A previous history of mastitis
How to Avoid Holiday Mastitis (Like the Plague)
As we enter this festive season, it’s important to discuss how to better support breastfeeding parents. Travel, stress, change in routine, sleep disruptions, etc., can be a challenge to anyone, but especially those with very young children.
The following tips will help parents avoid holiday mastitis and preserve the breastfeeding relationship beyond the new year.
1. Prioritize Feedings
The holidays are a busy, exciting, and yet demanding season. It is easy for the breastfeeding relationship to take a back seat to getting “one more thing done”. Remember, the more a baby nurses (demand) the more your body will make breastmilk (supply). As much as possible, try to keep your nursing schedule and behaviors consistent, despite Santa’s schedule at the mall.
Feed on Demand
One of the first ways parents can prioritize feedings is to keep baby near and breastfeed on demand. When baby is close it’s easy for mothers to see and respond to early hunger cues. Remember, crying is one of the last ways a baby communicates hunger!
TIP: Consider using a baby carrier to keep your hands free, but baby close to you. Babies are happier and busy moms are better able to respond to hunger cues.
NOTE: When using a pacifier make sure to use it only as a tool and not a crutch. If you find yourself using a pacifier to delay a feeding in order to accomplish the next task, know that you’re putting your milk supply at risk, and increasing the risk of holiday mastitis.
Take Nursing Breaks
During the holidays, it’s not uncommon for a nursing mother to separate herself from the group to breastfeed her baby. For some this happens because of an unsupportive breastfeeding environment, but other times it’s because baby (and mom?) is fussy, distracted, and needs a break.
I have fond memories of slipping away for hours at a time in a back bedroom at my mother’s house during my family’s Christmas gatherings. Not only was baby able to breastfeed and take a much needed nap, but I was able to read a WHOLE BOOK over the course of a few days.
It’s ok to take a break, or leave events early. Remember, you, your baby, and your breastfeeding relationship is top priority!
NOTE: If you are an extrovert, an isolated nursing break may sound like a nightmare. Consider taking time away with a sister, aunt, cousin, or mother, etc., in tow instead of flying solo. That way you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be. ❤
Feed by the Clock
If, for whatever reason, baby is not on your body or near you during family get-togethers or all-day cooking marathons, consider setting alarms and timers on your phone to make feedings and re-connecting happen. If baby doesn’t have a way to communicate directly to mom, make it easy for mom to seek out baby every 1-2 hours.
By using a timer or a clock as a reminder to feed baby as usual, parents may decrease their chances of developing holiday mastitis.
Breastfeed and Chill
If you think your breastfeeding relationship is lowering in priority, consider scheduling a whole day to “breastfeed and chill”. There may or may not be Netflix involved, but as you can imagine, a day like this revolves around relaxing and breastfeeding. That’s it.
Sometimes when life is very busy and stress levels are high, it’s difficult for a woman to be aware of her body and bodily sensations. She may not realize her breasts are full until she feels pain in her breast tissue. She may not notice a plugged duct until the affected breast is swollen and everything feels hot to the touch.
A day to breastfeed and chill will help mom become more aware of her body, restore feeding priorities, allow mom and baby to re-connect, and keep holiday mastitis at bay. Remember, a day to breastfeed and chill while healthy and well is much more pleasant than a day in bed on a round of antibiotics all because of mastitis.
2. Lower Holiday Stress
The holidays, albeit fun and exciting, can also be quite stressful. Calendars are full, out-of-town guests come and go, and long gift lists grow even longer. Because the mother baby breastfeeding relationship is more sensitive to stress, one way to avoid holiday mastitis is to reduce stressors wherever possible.
One way to reduce stress during the holidays is to abstain from hosting holiday parties and get-togethers. For some, the idea of not hosting during the holidays is a no brainer, but for other parents this sounds like no fun and perhaps complicates things even more!
The thing is, hosting typically requires some sort of cleaning, shopping, food preparation, and change of schedule, which is a lot for any person, breastfeeding or not. Be honest with yourself and others about your limitations. Even if you still decide to host, make sure your breastfeeding goals remain priority number one and let others help with the rest!
NOTE: For those with complicated family dynamics, please read (or listen to) the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This resource gives parents the wisdom to know when to say yes and when to say no, and the courage to make it happen.
Even when families aren’t hosting holiday events, calendars may still be too full. Remember, breastfeeding babies and mothers need routine and built-in downtime.
Make a list of everything on your calendar and one by one, go down the list and ask yourself if this event or commitment will help or hurt the nursing relationship. Sometimes saying yes to your breastfeeding relationship may mean saying no to a holiday commitment. And sometimes it won’t!
Simplify Gift Lists
Another thing to consider to reduce holiday stress is the topic of gift giving. In 2012 I was due the 13th of December and I knew it would be wise to plan ahead and set reasonable expectations for myself and others when it came to giving gifts. If I didn’t I thought I would be setting myself up for a whole lot of disappointment and heartache.
I came to the conclusion that it was unreasonable for me to plan for, purchase, wrap and give presents to our extremely large extended family. Not only could I not fit it my very busy life, but I couldn’t afford it! The expenses of having a baby on top of Christmas were too much for us that particular year.
What I ended up doing was making individual bottles of homemade vanilla extract and gifting those to everybody. All my people, including my midwife and those who attended my birth, got a bottle! It seemed to be well received and hey, it was better than nothing.
Also, it may be helpful to consider online shopping. Amazon makes it pretty simple to “do Christmas”.
TIP: If it’s the wrapping that feels overwhelming, think about hiring a teenager or college student to wrap all your gifts. They’re likely looking for ways to earn extra money! In the end, all of your gifts will be nice and tidy under the tree, making more time for you and baby to enjoy each other’s company.
JUST FOR FUN: Here’s a great post with a list of 20 Christmas gifts for new moms that you’ll love! Did you know that many moms buy themselves Christmas presents every year? Make sure there’s something for you underneath the tree and in your stocking!
How to Avoid Holiday Mastitis (Like the Plague)
Just to recap, here are my best tips to avoid holiday mastitis.
- Prioritize Feedings
- Feed on Demand
- Take Nursing Breaks
- Feed by the Clock
- Breastfeed and Chill
- Lower Holiday Stress
- Don’t Host
- Reduce Commitments
- Simplify Gift Lit
Leave a Comment
Have you ever had holiday mastitis? What about plain ‘ol regular mastitis? What do you wish you would have known? Leave a comment and share your experience.