I remember being quite intimidated by the holiday season after the birth of my first child. My son was born right before Halloween, so he was just a month old at Thanksgiving and two months old at Christmas.
I was in new parent survival mode. Breastfeeding was a struggle, so I was exhausted and running on fumes. Forming coherent sentences seemed like a pipe dream and carrying on full conversations with my relatives seemed impossible. I was eager to show off my new baby but terrified he would be exposed to germs, and even more terrified that everyone would see how unsure of myself I was.
I got through that first holiday season and learned a few valuable lessons. Eleven years and three more kids later, I’ve found a few more timeless tips that I wish my younger self knew. I’m going to share them with you and hope you can make the most of your first holiday season as a new parent.
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How to Survive the Holiday Season as a New Parent
1. Set a time limit but be flexible!
I found my limit with a newborn to be around three hours, but choose whatever number feels most comfortable for you. It’s also important that you allow yourself the grace to duck out early if the baby is fussy or you’re just plain exhausted.
Open communication is key around the holidays because, while it’s a joyous time, emotions and expectations are running high for everyone. So tell the host your plans to stay for three hours but let them know there’s a chance you may have to leave early - or, if things go well with the baby, you could stay longer! The point is to let them know of your need to be flexible.
2. Release ALL the expectations.
This ranges from cooking to hosting to saying goodbye. Nobody expects you to cook or host. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. If you’re a mom with young kids, just showing up is a gift.
In all honesty, the longer I’ve been a parent, the more I’ve let go of other people’s expectations for me and my kids. I used to require my children to say goodbye to every single person at the party as a show of respect and love, but my goodness that is a lot to put on a kid when there are 20 to 50 people to go through. Plus, the time it takes just to get out the door is insane.
Now, we shout our goodbyes as we walk out. If you’re not in the vicinity, oh well. If that offends someone, oh well. It’s easier on everyone and faster, which is a good thing because these parties are typically overstimulating and meltdown-inducing. So, exiting quickly helps avoid them.
3. Discuss with your partner who you’re visiting way in advance and stay firm. And no guilt-tripping!
We typically do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. Our families are both out of town, so visiting them both on a single holiday isn’t a possibility. However, even if it was, I don’t recommend trying to hit two parties in one day with a newborn.
4. Don’t be afraid to put travel limitations in place.
Driving with a newborn is challenging, especially if it’s a long distance. Anything over two hours is long distance with a baby since they need to eat and have their diapers changed frequently.
5. If you have young children in addition to your newborn, talk about behavioral expectations ahead of time.
Give your kids plenty of time to accept these expectations. For example, let’s use inside voices, say please and thank you, and so on. It’s also helpful to discuss time limits before you get there. For example, tell them, “We’re staying for three hours or the length of two Disney movies.” Then, give them a 10-minute warning and then five-minute countdowns of when you’re leaving. Offer them something fun to do when you get home to get them in the car.
6. Go prepared.
You’ll thank yourself later when you bring an extra change of clothes for baby and an extra shirt for yourself. Spit-up and blowouts happen. Do the same if you have toddlers. I also always bring things to entertain my toddlers and young children. Coloring books and a few toys can go a long way.
7. Don’t do all the things.
Pick just a few things that are the most important for your family during the holiday season. Remember, the holidays are meant to be fun. Trying to do too much and overwhelming and exhausting yourself is not fun. It’s better to say no and enjoy the important events than try to do all the things.
8. Baby wear.
Don’t pass your newborn around. Their immune systems are still immature and they’re at a greater risk of getting sick and developing more serious illnesses, such as RSV, at this time of the year. Don’t risk it. Show them off in the carrier and keep your relatives at arm’s length. People are also less likely to try to grab the baby out of your arms without asking if they’re strapped to your body. And, they’re certainly not going to lean in to kiss your baby if the baby is right up against your chest.
9. You do not need to pump and dump.
One drink directly after a nursing session will be metabolized in approximately two hours depending on your body weight and height. Therefore, if you nurse and then have one drink (two ounces of liquor, one eight-ounce glass of wine, or a beer) you should be safe to nurse at your infant’s next feeding time two to three hours later. I recommend reading this article on pumping and dumping and the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics before ingesting alcohol.
One extra bit of advice: keep communication with your partner open. Adjusting to becoming a new parent is a hurdle and when you add in the holiday season rush, it can be a recipe for burnt turkey, so to speak. Have regular check-ins so that you can be on the same page and support each other through this new and exciting chapter.