Nursing in the Cold
Winter has come, and boy are we feeling it! If you live in a place with colder winters (we're dealing with single digit weather right now), this season can come with extra obstacles (in addition to those extra layers), especially if you're breastfeeding.
To help ease the icy season, we've gone ahead and put together some tips for nursing in colder weather, especially when you're on-the-go. Do you have any favorite tips for breastfeeding during the blistery cold? Let us know in the comments below!
Plan your attire. This may seem obvious, but making sure you and baby are appropriately dressed for the weather will help immensely. We recommend lots of loose layers or layers with buttons/zipper for easy access, a scarf and a coat that can be wrapped around baby (especially if you're babywearing). Also remember, babies typically need one extra layer of clothing than you do.
During the cold months, there are ways to stay extra warm while nursing - you may consider using the "two shirt method" for extra coverage where you have an undershirt that can be pulled down to expose the breast and keeps you warm and a looser top layer that can be pulled up. Cardigans or jackets with zippers are another option that work great as a layer under a coat that you can pull to the side and access the breast easily. You can also keep a warm scarf close by that can double as a blanket for you and baby while breastfeeding.
We absolutely love the ingenious Booker coat and Booker vest from B&me, because it's specifically made to be worn while babywearing (or while pregnant!) through the use of zippers that allow for size adjustments, and that can really come in handy (especially if you're nursing while babywearing)!
Note: If you have nipple pains during or in between breastfeeding and notice that your nipples change to white, blue or purple after feeding, you may be experiencing vasospasms (constrictions in blood vessels). Vasospasms essentially mean you may have poor blood circulation (a pre-pregnancy condition known as Reynaud's phenomenon) or they can be caused by nipple damage (4). If this sounds like you, staying warm while nursing outdoors is extra important as cold can trigger discomfort vasospasms so you'll want to make sure you have layers that can cover your exposed breast while nursing and you may even find it helpful to use warming packs before/during nursing to stay more comfortable.
Travel in a pack. It's no mystery why animals tend to sleep in packs, especially in the winter month. Aside from strength, there is warmth in numbers. (Remember when you were pregnant and always hot? You had a built-in heater!) Babywearing during the winter months is not only practical (who wants to push a stroller around in the ice and slush?), but it offers a way to keep both you and baby warm through body heat. An added bonus is that you can nurse while baby is in the carrier for an uncomplicated, fuss-free meal to-go. Side note: Don't worry if nursing in a carrier does not come easily at first. Just like anything with breastfeeding, it takes practice. In time, it will become second nature.
Amp up your D. With short days, shorter hours of sunlight and staying inside more, we are most vulnerable to a vitamin D deficiency in the wintertime. A 2008 report by the CDC recommends a daily intake of vitamin D of 400 IU/day for all infants beginning in the first few days of life (1). Humans in modern society are typically deficient to some degree in vitamin D regardless of the season and as a result, human milk on average contains a low vitamin D concentration of 25 IU per liter or less, so it is recommended that breastfed infants receive a supplementation of 400 IU of vitamin D per day (1). As an alternative to supplementing baby with vitamin D, breastfeeding mothers can supplement their diets with 6400 IU of vitamin D per day, which will boost mom's vitamin D and safely pass an adequate amount of vitamin D to the breastmilk to satisfy her nursing infant's requirements (2).
Maintain routine. Maintaining your routine throughout the winter months - specifically through nursing on-demand and taking care of your breasts - can help ensure that the effects of winter don't cause unnecessary breastfeeding issues. During the winter, there can be more challenges to breastfeeding on-the-go, which may prevent baby from nursing as frequently as she needs. It is important for baby to empty your breast on-demand - for a variety of reasons - but we're most concerned about 1. maintaining supply (which is always important to ensure through on-demand feeding) and 2. avoiding any plugged ducts that can lead to mastitis, a painful breast infection. Did you know that plugged ducts occur more frequently in the colder months (3)? This is possibly due to more restrictive clothing or perhaps because the cold weather causes more restriction on our blood vessels but, if left untreated, plugged can quickly lead to mastitis so we want to ensure we're doing what we can to avoid them (3).
Practing self-care and making sure you're taking care of your breasts and nipples during the winter is also important, as cracked or bleeding nipples can create an opportunity for bacteria to enter, which can cause further nipple damage or breast infections like thrush or mastitis. So in addition to making sure baby is latched properly, you may consider using a nipple balm or oil to remedy any nipple damage and changing your breast pads frequently to prevent bacterial growth.
Combat germs. The winter is often a time when we are more inclined to get sick from the common cold or flu. There are a few important things to note if you or your baby end up catching an illness. First, it is generally safe to continue breastfeeding while you are sick. Though it might not be the best feeling to breastfeed while exhausted and sick yourself, your body has already begun to develop immunities to whatever you've got, which will be passed along to baby through your breastmilk. So, in fact, breastfeeding while you are sick is the best way to avoid baby getting sick and help them recover faster if they do get sick.
To help avoid spreading what you've got, wash your hands frequently and avoid any mucosa to mucosa contact. If you need or want to take a medication, make sure you check with your pharmacist or a resource like LactMed to make sure your OTC or prescription medication is compatible with breastfeeding. Many medications are safe to take while nursing however, some - specifically cold medications - contain ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, which can reduce milk supply so always double check before starting a medicine regimen. And of course, take care of yourself by staying hydrated, eating well and getting as much rest as possible (we know, easier said than done!).
We hope you Stay warm and comfortable this winter season, mamas. Please comment below if you have additional tips for nursing in the winter that you'd like to share!
(1) Centers for Disease Control. (2015). Vitamin D Supplementation. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/vitamin_d.htm
(2) Hollis et al. (2015). Maternal versus infant vitamin d supplementation during lactation: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 136(4), 625-634.
(3) Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2016). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
(4) Lauwers, J. & Swisher, A. (2015). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultants Guide. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.