Breastfeeding in Winter

Oh the cuddles and coos and sweetness of a newborn baby! Snuggling in tight on a cold winter night in front of a warm fire brings such a soothing comfort. But what about those days when mom and baby must be out and about when the snow is on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail is lined with bare trees and frigid temperatures?

There are many reasons why breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby, but breastfeeding during the cold winter months presents unique challenges for moms. Cold winter months can mean an influx of germs and sickness, and breastfeeding is not only nurturing to mom and baby, but is protective of baby’s immune system. In the earliest days of life when baby is most susceptible to germs, mom’s colostrum (foremilk) has the highest concentration of antibodies, immune molecules that mom makes against illnesses that she has been exposed to that she then passes to the baby through her milk. Even more amazingly, if baby is exposed to germs that mom has not been, the baby passes these germs to mom at the next feed, mom makes antibodies, and passes them back to baby! As baby grows and mom’s milk matures, this natural immunity continues to pass between mom and infant; the baby may still get sick, but the illness will be less severe and less lengthy than would have been expected.

Tips for managing winter illness and breastfeeding:

  • If mom must take medications for an illness she has, be sure the doctor prescribes a medication that is safe for breastfeeding.
  • If buying an over the counter medication, check with the pharmacist to ensure the medicine is safe for baby.
  • As always, it’s important to practice good personal care and hygiene by washing hands frequently, coughing or sneezing away from baby, and getting plenty of rest.

Removing jackets or sweatshirts to allow babies access to mom’s breasts exposes moms to the cold winter temperatures. This can be minimized by mom layering her clothing or choosing a long sleeved nursing top, zip-up sweatshirt, or button-up sweater to wear. Babies can be kept warm in swaddling blankets, one piece, long-sleeved sleepers or sleep sacks, and a removable lightweight jacket in case the day warms up unexpectedly. A set of hat and mittens will keep baby warm in especially chilly weather. Skin-to-skin contact promoting bonding between baby and parents, facilitating breastfeeding and regulating baby’s temperature should be continued throughout the winter to keep baby warm and cozy in their moms’ loving embrace.

Some mothers have reported a higher incidence of plugged ducts during the winter months. This may be due to the restricting nature of tighter cold weather clothes or from the colder weather itself. Treatment for plugged ducts includes frequent feedings, breast massage, warm compresses, and wearing looser clothing. Some moms may experience nipple coldness, pain, or discoloration when exposed to cold temperatures for a long time. This can be prevented by warming the rooms where baby will be breastfeeding, wearing warm clothing, and using warming packs before nursing.

Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators
Janelle Webb & Wendy Phillips, Certified Lactation Educators

Consistent and frequent breastfeeding will help establish and maintain mom’s milk supply, promote bonding, stimulate oral motor development for baby, and ensure a healthy start to life. Remember, breastfeeding warms babies’ bodies and hearts during the cold winter months! Contact your local agency for the Women, Infants, and Children’s (WIC) program through the Virginia Department of Health (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/dcn/wic/) or your local La Leche League at http://lllvawv.org/ for support and resources if needed!

~Janelle Webb, MBA, CLE & Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND

Janelle and Wendy are both Certified Lactation Educators, working with moms to help them breastfeed their babies and helping worksites develop baby friendly processes. Wendy is VAND’s immediate past president.