Christmas with your new baby is something special that most parents dream of, your chance to combine nostalgia for your old childhood traditions with the creation of new ones.
It can be the most magical time, but, on a practical level it can be fraught with complications and stresses that arise from coping with your baby, your friends, relatives, meals, shopping, cleaning etc all at the same time as being emotional, sleep deprived and unsure of your parenting abilities.
With a little thought and preparation, however, you can make life a lot easier for yourselves.
Firstly, if you have a partner, sit down and talk through exactly what you both think would make the perfect Christmas, then negotiate the most important things so that both parents wishes are considered equally. If you are on your own just run through it all in your head and write it down to help you focus.
Where Will You Spend Christmas Day ?
Consider where you will spend Christmas day, at home or at someone else’s house? There are pros and cons to both. If you stay home you have more control over who visits, at what time, and how long they stay, but you have to do all the preparation, cooking and cleaning up afterwards. If you visit someone else’s home you have a lot of that burden lifted from you, but you have less control over who else is there and what goes on, and you can’t always escape without causing offence if you find yourself or your baby are overwhelmed.
When making this and other arrangements think about which of your friends/relatives could possibly be drafted in to help you cope, either practically or emotionally. It is also worth think about those that may be less than helpful and make sure you have strategies or support in place for dealing with them.
Once the venue is decided there is planning to do to make things as easy and as much fun as possible.
If your baby is in a routine think about how you could either plan the dinner around their feeds, or adjust their routine so that parents get to enjoy the meal with everyone else. For example, this might involve starting the day an hour earlier, or delaying each of the morning feeds by 20 minutes, or giving an extra, short feed an hour before your meal time, and don’t forget to make sure that whoever is cooking the meals understand how important the timing is.
If your baby is not in a routine, try and arrange it so that you feed your baby about an hour before the dinner and make it what I call a ‘business feed’ and by this I mean keep waking baby up so they get a good feed, rather than snacking and dozing. Whenever baby stops strong feeding, stop them and wake them by spending 5 minutes winding before going back to feeding. You can also wake them up to feed by changing their nappy, changing them into their Christmas outfit, washing their faces e.g. feed, wind, feed, wind, nappy, feed, wind, clothes change, feed, wind…until they are full, well winded, and hopefully in a lovely ‘milk coma’ so they then sleep whilst you eat.
It happens too often that a breastfeeding mum has to miss the fun and go and feed on her own, either because she isn’t comfortable feeding in public, or because baby gets too distracted with other people around, but this is terribly unfair and shouldn’t have to be the case if you plan carefully. This is also where judicious use of a dummy/pacifier could be helpful to keep them calm if they do wake whilst you are eating because babies do seem to have an inbuilt radar that tells them when you are about eat !
I always advise my exclusively breastfeeding clients to make sure their baby is happy taking a bottle every now and again. This gives you flexibility and allows others to help with feeding but if you haven’t put this in place and your baby is more than 4 weeks old please practise giving bottles now. One bottle of expressed milk or formula a day is a good idea (at any time of the day) because baby then becomes comfortable drinking from a bottle, but it also means your partner can experience that lovely feeding feeling for themselves. Even 1 or 2 bottles a week can be sufficient to acclimatise baby to the bottle, and if they start seeming less comfortable with it, you can always increase the frequency of bottle feeds. It doesn’t even have to be a full feed, you can just give 1oz/30mls then finish the feed from the breast. After 4 weeks babies can start to have their own ‘opinions’ and things might not go as smoothly as you think when you offer a bottle Don’t leave it until Christmas day to hand baby over to mother-in-law to have their first bottle !
Having said that…there is something to be said for a bit of peace and quiet away from all the excitement, and your baby gives you the perfect excuse to retreat for a while !
Set up a safe haven somewhere in the house, and make it clear that when you are in there, you should be left alone with a simple ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door.
You can retreat to this room to feed, to help baby calm down if they get over tired or over stimulated, to settle them to sleep, or just to hide away and relax for a while but always make sure your retreat is well stocked with nibbles and drinks !
Ah…drinks. The question on a lot of nursing mothers minds…can I drink ? The simple answer is YES ! research has shown that such a tiny amount of alcohol gets in to the milk that it would have negligible effect on your baby, just be sensible and don’t overdo it. If you are worried, remember that it takes about 15 mins for alcohol to get in to your milk, so have a glass of whatever makes you happy straight after a feed, and it will have been metabolised out of the breastmilk by the time you next feed a couple of hours later.
Baby Meets Everyone
Family gatherings can be a great way to introduce your baby to those friends and relatives that haven’t met them yet, and everyone will be eager to hold baby for cuddles and photo opportunities but this can be pretty nerve wracking for new parents whose protective instinct are at their strongest, especially when you know some of those waiting with open arms have never held a baby before !
My advice would be to think very carefully about who will be wanting to hold baby, and how you feel about it. It may be that after the first one, you will feel more relaxed about allowing others to hold baby, and you may also find it more reassuring if you or your partner (or a trusted friend/relative) are the ones who place baby in peoples arms and claim them back, rather than allowing them to be passed from person to person.
If you feel it will be too stressful to deal with, or that there are one or two people who you really don’t want to hold baby but don’t want to offend, it can be useful to decide on a ‘no handling’ policy beforehand and warn everyone (perhaps via a tactful relative) that ‘you don’t want to disturb baby’ so its better if they are either held by parents or left in their crib/bed. Don’t worry about seeming overprotective or unfriendly…this is your baby, and your feelings are very important, there will be plenty of opportunities for cuddles as baby gets older and you get more relaxed.
Quick Tip – Swaddling your baby firmly makes them much easier for less experienced baby people to handle because they don’t have to worry about flailing arms and legs, and it will probably help your nerves too !
Keep Your Baby Safe.
On a more serious note, cot death is very rare and cases are falling, but there is one statistic that is rising.
Currently 1 in 6 babies lost to SIDS were found to have been asleep on an adult on a sofa. I know that snuggling up with baby in front of the TV is lovely, and that dads/partners often do this to give the mother a break but please make sure that whoever is holding the baby is not lying down, is not tired, and has not been drinking.
Merry Christmas !
I have been lucky enough to spend a few ‘First Christmases’ with clients and the memories are amongst my most treasured, perhaps because Christmas is such a traditional and special time within my own family and I know what wonderful times are ahead for the new family.
Helping these families through Christmas, and other big social events over the years has helped me learn many of the coping strategies and planning tips that I have been able to pass on to you here, so I hope this post helps in some small way, and I wish you all a very wonderful first Christmas with your new baby.
If you have any tips of your own please share them in the comments. I would love to hear them, and I’m sure they will help other new parents..and all stories of Christmas chaos equally welcome ! x
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.