When people ask if they can do anything, say yes, and be specific.
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.”
The following advice from savvy moms and experts can help you make it through the holidays with ease.
Merely taking a shower doesn’t qualify. Go for a walk, soak in a tub or take 10 minutes to do yoga. Or go whole hog, if you can: “I went to a day spa for a full massage and spent some time relaxing in the steam room, sauna and hot tub,” Igoe says.
Taking care of yourself can be as simple as letting family or friends help you. “I just sat in my rocking chair with my baby in my lap and allowed myself to be a queen,” says Veronica Gotway, a 28-year-old office manager from Dallas who arrived home from the hospital two days before Christmas with her second child, now 3. “My mother and mother-in-law did all of the cooking and cleaning for Christmas. All I had to worry about was feeding the baby every two hours.”
Ask For What You Need
In lieu of typical new-baby or holiday gifts (do you really want another fruitcake?), be creative and consider asking for items or services that you really need. “I liked to tell people that their entry fee for seeing our new baby was a casserole,” says Robert Sears, M.D., a pediatrician in San Clemente, Calif., and father of three.
When people ask if they can do anything, say yes, and be specific. “A co-worker hired a cleaning woman to come over just before Christmas to clean our house,’’ says Chris Schellpfeffer, 36, an account supervisor who lives in Sun Prairie, Wis., with her husband and 1-year-old son.
Gifts that encourage self-indulgence can be particularly helpful. “My husband bought me one of those foot baths so I could soak my feet at night after taking care of the baby all day,” Gotway says.
If you must travel with your new baby, it will surely go more smoothly if you prepare in advance. Bring diapers, a first-aid kit and an extra change of clothes for your baby and yourself. If you’re flying, carrying the baby in a front carrier or sling will leave your hands free to deal with a carry-on bag and tickets.
If traveling by car, you may want to bring a hand-held breast pump to squirrel away milk in the cooler for those times when you need to feed the baby with a bottle. For instance, you should never take your baby out of his car seat and nurse while the car is moving; this is extremely unsafe. Sit next to him and give him a bottle instead.
Keep Your Baby Healthy
“Taking a baby outside during the winter will not make him sick,” Sears says. “Sick people will make him sick.” This is why it’s a good idea to avoid crowded, closed-in places.
Sears also advises parents to ask people to wash their hands before holding the baby. And keep the baby away from sick kids, if possible. “Don’t get close to toddlers with runny noses,” he says.
While individual pediatricians may differ regarding whether to keep a newborn at home—and, if so, for how long—the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents do take their babies out for fresh air, weather permitting, during the first month.