Even under the best of circumstances, the holidays can be notoriously nerve-wracking. Add pregnancy or new motherhood to the mix, and the activities that are supposed to make the season warm and fun can simply turn into sources of more pressure.
It's a time when all the traditional images--from glowing Madonna to holiday Superwoman--set up a double-whammy of expectations that can lead to stress, sleep deprivation, poor diet and sometimes even depression, explains Danville, Calif.-based Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in perinatal mood disorders and co-author of Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression (Moodswings Press, 2003). However, many women don't even notice the toll until the holidays are over. "They are so distracted with doing everything just so, that it's often afterward when they crash," Bennett says.
Whether you're in your first trimester and feeling queasy and tired, in your eighth month and expecting the stork to arrive at the same time as Santa, a brand-new mom or one who's anticipating her child's first holiday, this is the year to relax, renew and concentrate on you and your baby. Here's how to take the season's madness down a notch.
Define what the holidays mean
Start by spending a little time with your partner and older children, if you have any, to decide what you want from this holiday season. Do you want to celebrate your faith? Reconnect with family or friends? Spend quiet time at home? Take one last pre-baby vacation? Defining the holidays makes it easier to decide which activities to participate in--or bow out of.
Learn to say "no" to unnecessary obligations, and don't feel guilty about it; martyrdom becomes no one. Example: The Anthes family in Arlington, Va., usually has a huge Christmas card list, but at seven months pregnant, Sheryn Anthes didn't have the time or energy for the task. "We sent cards to a very small group that year and made up for it two months later by sending baby announcements to everyone," she recalls.
Break the mold
You don't have to keep doing the same things in the same way at the same time because it's "tradition." Some "holiday" activities easily can be done at a different time of year when you may be under less pressure. Charities need volunteers and donations year-round, rather than being deluged at the holidays and then ignored, and many people would appreciate receiving presents more on their birthdays. Perhaps your extended family would enjoy a Christmas get-together in July, when the weather is warmer and travel is cheaper.