How to Gracefully Handle the Holidays with a New Baby

Having a new baby adds a fresh element of challenge to the holiday season. While an infant provides all the more reason for joy and celebration, it can also complicate things.

Suddenly, the little five hour jaunt to your parents’ house becomes a daunting journey with numerous stops along the way.

You have to decide whether holidays will be a private affair within your own home for you and your children, or how you’ll divide your time amongst other family members.

And when you do partake in gatherings with your family and friends, you’ve got a whole other little person to juggle and care for.

All of this and more can lead a new mama to feel stressed and frazzled and detract from Baby’s first holidays. That was me last year. Because I know how it feels, and have learned a lot since then, I’m writing this post to give you some tips and encouragement so that you can handle the holidays with the grace, poise, and confidence of a seasoned mom.

Enjoying Your New Baby During the Holidays

How a New Baby Changes the Holidays

Having a baby adds another level of challenge to each little detail that used to be really simple. If you wanted to travel, you just requested off work, packed your bags, and hopped in the car.

But now, you have to take into consideration baby’s happy, hungry, and sleepy times, pack for baby’s every predictable need, and continually shift your plans once you’re actually on the road because things rarely go as planned with a baby.

In your not-so-distant previous lives, you could celebrate with hardly a care in the world. Restaurant meals were relaxed and you could eat and talk at your own pace. Attending the festivities, you could operate on your own timeline, wear whatever made you feel put together and chic, and you certainly weren’t thinking about anything called a “pump-and-dump.”

But now, you have to weigh the pros and cons of anything happening past Baby’s bedtime, and a restaurant meal means doing your best to get two bites in while your food is still warm, maybe even performing a one armed diaper change in mid-air because the restroom lacks a changing table.

You might lament how simple things used to be, and believe me, you aren’t alone. I completely took for granted little luxuries like being able to hold a fork and knife at the same time, wearing clothing that didn’t have sneaky boob-access flaps, driving with little concern other than how long before I would pee my pants, and leaving the house after 7 pm.

But like I said, that was another life. We have new lives now, and as convenient as it was only having myself to worry about, I much prefer the person I am today. You may definitely be in for some rude awakenings this fall and winter, but you’ll get the swing of things. All the extra details will become second nature, so accept that these first months will be a learning process and try not to stress too much.

Holiday Commitments with a New Baby

Declining invitations

First and foremost, do not feel guilty about declining invitations. Your newly expanded family is your top priority right now, and you guys have a lot to adjust to (besides the fact that you might still be healing from childbirth)! Most people will understand that, but those without children of their own may not.

Try to be gracious and recognize that they are at a different place in life. Remember, not too long ago, you probably didn’t get it either. Be prepared for the fact that declining invitations may step on some toes. Nevertheless, stand firm on your boundaries, and don’t let anyone pressure you into any plans, big or small, that you feel would detract from or burden your first holiday season with a new baby.

You don’t just have to worry about yourselves anymore; you also have to protect your baby from things you feel would overstimulate or overtire them, or expose them to illness too early.

Traveling with a baby

If you do decide to take a trip with your new baby, you’ve got to do your best to keep things relaxed. If you’re driving, babies need a lot of breaks from their seats and the car, especially high-need babies. Be prepared to take it slow and stop often.

Don’t be worried about the timeline, and make sure to give yourself 1.5-2x longer than you think you need. (Last year we turned a 3 hour drive into 6 hours, but our baby was happy which meant we were happy.)

I wrote an entire post on traveling with a baby, from roadtrips to flying, to hotel stays to camping if you want to check that out, so I’ll leave you with just a couple of tips on driving:

  • If you can, ride in the back to keep Baby company and provide comfort, entertainment, and bottles
  • Give Baby’s cries the benefit of the doubt and err on the side of frequent breaks
  • Come prepared with music specifically for Baby (it really can make a HUGE difference)
  • If breastfeeding, a Haakaa is WAY more convenient than an electric pump and will totally do the job in the car (assuming your baby will take a bottle)
  • Make sure Baby’s carseat is comfortable (here’s a guide to help you pick the right car seat). Once we got our baby a more comfortable seat, driving became a lot easier.

BONUS TIP: If your baby has zero interest in bottles (as mine did), but you’re not at a place you can stop to safely nurse, try feeding breastmilk with a different vehicle (pun intended). If the road isn’t too bumpy, you can try using a spoon (which actually worked for us!), and you can also try a plastic syringe (carefully, so as not to force feed Baby). I have even heard of women leaning over the baby’s carseat so that they could nurse without unbuckling baby, but it’s not something I recommend personally!

Celebrate privately

Make sure that even if you are sharing some celebrations with others, you stake out some private time for yourselves. You don’t want to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyone else’s agendas that you don’t get a chance to slow down and enjoy the family that you’ve become.

We’ve set Christmas morning aside as off-limits to everyone else. We don’t go anywhere, we don’t host anyone, it’s just ours. As an added benefit, it means we don’t have to juggle which side of the family gets us for Christmas each year.

Christmas cards

I know that with a new baby, there’s a lot of pressure to put out a family Christmas card, especially if you didn’t mail a birth announcement. If that’s something you reeeeally want to do, by all means, go for it.

But don’t stress about it. If you’re only doing it because you feel like it’s what people expect of you, don’t bother with it. It’s taking time away from your family, which is far more important than any silly cards.

As a compromise, consider an email or digital card instead. Not only will you save a gazillion hours you would have spent designing a card and stuffing and addressing envelopes, you’ll also save A LOT of money. A lot

How to Handle Family Gatherings with Your New Baby

Pass the Potato

If you want to stay close to your baby, that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with that. But, a family gathering is the perfect opportunity to get a little bit of a break and even enjoy a meal. Everyone will be so excited to get to know the newest addition that it’ll be all you can do to get your baby back

The first Thanksgiving after my baby was born, I was gifted an entire, uninterrupted meal (probably the first one up to that point) because my baby was being passed around the dining room. Everyone loves a new baby. Embrace it, and enjoy the break!

Don’t let anyone rush your meal

If you don’t engage in a game of pass the potato, or for whatever reason are still responsible for your little turkey, it will probably take you longer to eat than everyone else. Don’t sweat it, and don’t let anyone rush you. Taking full advantage of the holiday feast is important for your milk supply (wink, wink)!

Don’t get flustered (your baby isn’t misbehaving)

If your baby is particularly fussy and seems to want to make a public scene, you might feel flustered and embarrassed. DON’T. Your baby is a baby. Anyone who has had kids or spent a lot of time with them will know that, and anyone who doesn’t can be forgiven as ignorant.

Your infant is not misbehaving, or trying to manipulate you, and he’s certainly not trying to embarrass you. He might be feeling a little extra insecure with everything that’s going on, or have tired more quickly. Regardless of the reason, trust your baby’s cries and don’t worry about what anyone else might think.

Breastfeed discreetly

An intimate gathering is probably not the time or place you want to “whip it out” in support of women’s rights to shamelessly breastfeed in public, especially in front of family. If that’s your thing, go for it, but I have found that I prefer to nurse more privately and discreetly.

Older folks may find it particularly awkward and distracting if you nurse in front of them, even modestly, so you may want to remove yourself from the fray out of respect for them.

If your baby is easily distracted, you may be able to nurse more effectively in private, or in a quiet corner.

In addition, nursing is a great excuse to withdraw and have a few minutes to unwind. You might even be able to sneak a little nap, and your baby will probably appreciate a break from the stimulation.

Feel free to excuse yourself

On a similar note, don’t be afraid to step out for any reason. When I was newly postpartum, I was tuckered out much more easily, quickly overstimulated, vastly more introverted, and very sensitive…in many ways like my baby, perhaps a built-in mechanism to help us be more aware of their needs and feelings.

If you need a break, you should absolutely take one. If you need someone’s permission, I give you mine.

Feel free NOT to excuse yourself

But also, feel free NOT to excuse yourself. Just because your baby is fussing, or hungry, or fidgety, or anything else does not mean that you have to leave the festivities. Both you and your baby have as much right to be there as anyone else.

Now, take this with a grain of salt and be sensitive to what’s appropriate. If you’re at a more formal work event for your husband where it really isn’t customary to bring babies/children in the first place, you may need to step out quickly if your baby fusses.

But in general, don’t use other people’s opinions or agitation as the barometer for whether you belong somewhere. There will always be someone annoyed by a baby, especially in public. They can get over themselves.

Again, though, this is an area you have to judge for yourself. If your baby starts screaming inconsolably in a quieter restaurant, you should probably make an exit if you know you can’t calm your baby pretty quickly.

Don’t be afraid to take your baby somewhere busy

As an introverted breastfeeding mom, I was intimidated early on by the idea of taking my ravenous, insatiable, soul-sucking, round-the-clock feeder anywhere public, especially if it was going to be busy. I will confess I still am at times.

However, I have found that loud, busy places are sometimes the easiest to have a baby in. There’s so much going on, no one is paying attention to you if you need to nurse, there’s enough noise that a sleepy baby rests easier, but enough bustle that a wakeful baby has plenty to look at and watch.

Don’t worry about others’ opinions or comments

My family and friends have always been very polite and supportive of my little family and our parenting decisions. If they have opinions (as I’m sure everyone does), they’ve never really said anything. I am very, very fortunate in this regard and I know it.

Even the times where someone nearby has made an innocent comment or observation, my sensitive postpartum self has been deeply affected by it. In no way do I mean to suggest there’s a switch inside you can just turn on and off to be able to ignore rude or insensitive things people say about your parenting style or baby because I know it’s not that simple.

But I don’t want you to take it to heart. Always trust your parenting instincts because no one knows what’s right for your child more than you do.

Just because someone thinks your baby is feeding often does not mean your baby isn’t hungry that frequently.

Just because someone thinks you hold your baby a lot does not mean your baby doesn’t need to be held.

Other people’s opinions never negate your baby or family’s needs. Remember that.

It’s ok to say no to someone who wants to hold your baby

People always love to hold new babies, and a lot of people aren’t shy about asking to. While I personally think it’s kind to indulge people and healthy for my baby to become accustomed to being held by others, you should never feel obligated to let someone to hold your baby. If you aren’t comfortable with it, just say that it isn’t a good time! They might be disappointed, but you are well within your rights to refuse.

RELATED: How to ask someone to give your baby back

Final Thoughts

If you takeaway anything from this post, leave with these three things.

  1. While being respectful of everyone around you, never consider your baby an annoyance or inconvenience. Your baby has not yet learned social manners (but I’d hazard to guess at least a few of the people around you haven’t either).
  2. Your new little family is your top priority this holiday season. You don’t exist to fulfill other people’s expectations. You need to do what’s best for the new mama and new baby, and not worry about offending anyone else.
  3. Stand firm by your parenting decisions. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or accounting of your choices. YOU are the best parent for your child, so don’t let anyone shake your confidence.

With that in mind, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

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