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Giving birth just before or during the holidays might seem like unfortunate timing. There is the crushing pressure to buy gifts and send greeting cards, the whirl of holiday parties and, for some of us, that inexplicable drive to make elaborately festive confections. I was so afflicted one year: I mixed butter cookies with one hand while nursing my 2-month-old in the other. Good for developing my right bicep, bad for my baby, who kept slipping from position.
Suffice to say that the mix of magic and madness spikes people’s stress levels and sucks up the day’s hours like an industrial-strength vacuum. But you can relish the holidays without compromising your own well-being or that of your new baby. You just have to set limits for yourself and others. If you’re used to creating the perfect Martha Stewart holiday, try to lower your expectations; think “less is more” and do exactly as much as you want.
“We had a quiet Hanukkah eating latkes and lighting the candles,” says Kira Stein, M.D., a psychiatrist in Encino, Calif., who came home from the hospital with her newborn daughter on the sixth day of Hanukkah last year. “It was an extraordinary time. Our first family photo is of me, the baby and my husband lighting the menorah candles.”
The key to a peaceful holiday is to keep things calm, with some semblance of a routine. “Holidays are great, but not necessarily for mothers of newborns,” says Vivien K. Burt, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and director of The Women’s Life Center at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital. “There’s no routine, the very thing a new mother needs.” As an antidote, you may have to institute your own routine.
If friends are pressuring you to make an appearance at holiday open houses and you feel like Our Lady of Raging Hormones but can’t seem to muster a “no,” use the husband-as-buffer method. “A father can tell people that this holiday season you are going to try to keep a calm and structured routine at home,” Burt says. “He can say that visits will be limited and if you do stop by with the baby, it will be just for dessert.”
Also feel free to reject the idea of going out. “People came to us,” says Shanna Igoe, 33, an actress who lives with her husband and 13-month-old daughter in Glendale, Calif. “All our friends came over on New Year’s Eve, and we hung out and ordered food in. Then they left, and we went to bed early.”
Along with not going out comes not buying presents. This year, send photos of your beautiful new baby as gifts. “We picked out Christmas cards in advance, pre-signed them, then put a picture of my daughter inside,” says Vanessa Carnes, 32, a lawyer in Scituate, Mass., who gave birth to her daughter, now almost 2, a week before Christmas. “I took care of holiday logistics before I even went into the hospital.”