Enjoying your Baby's First Holiday - Essential Tried and True Tips
Posted on 20 November 2016
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, due on December 10, I immediately began fantasizing about our first holiday season as a family: hanging "Baby's First Christmas Ornaments," matching pajamas on Christmas morning, a beautiful meal that I would cook during nap time, and a picture perfect family gathering that everyone would remember for the rest of their lives.
In reality, there was a massive blizzard that snowed my family in and my husband's family out. It still hurt to sit for long periods, thanks to a nasty episiotomy that was still healing. I was far from picture perfect with bags under my eyes, wearing pajamas 24/7, and leaking breastmilk everywhere. I don't even remember if I managed to order takeout, let alone that home cooked meal, because my baby never slept. In fact, I distinctly remember crying to my mother on Christmas morning, exhausted and thinking that something was wrong with my baby because he was up crying all night, more hysterically than usual. Maybe it was the caffeine in all the peppermint fudge I ate?
I have so many fond memories of all of my baby's first holidays. More importantly, I have so much advice for surviving your baby's first holiday season.
Traveling to your destination
If you have a brand new baby, consider having a small gathering at your home instead of traveling to a family party. Caring for a new baby isn't easy, and it's much more difficult when you're not in your own home. It's hard to miss out on family gatherings, but it's really important to take care of yourself and your baby right after birth. Also consider that it's cold and flu season and your newborn has a very immature immune system.
Long Car Trips
If you are driving to your destination, allow yourself extra time to make plenty of pit stops. I clearly remember thinking I was supermom for breastfeeding my baby while my husband drove so we didn't have to stop every 20 minutes. Leaning over to breastfeed your baby in a moving car is actually extremely dangerous for both mother and baby and could be fatal to both in the event of an accident. Make the stops. If possible, plan to drive when your baby is usually sleeping. My babies hated the car and refused to sleep in their car seats, so I always sat in the back of the car to try to comfort, distract, and entertain them when they were upset.
Flying with Baby
Whenever possible, book a direct flight - it's faster, less stressful and definitely worth the extra money if you can afford it. Scheduling flights during your baby's usual sleeping times is ideal. Although children under two can travel for free as lap children, it is safest to buy your baby their own seat on the plane and have them sit in their carseat, especially during take off, landing, and whenever the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign is on.
Packing for Travel
Whether you are driving or flying to your destination, careful packing for the actual traveling portion of your trip is essential. Bring a change of clothes (or two, or three...) for you and your baby. Blowouts and spitting up seem to happen more frequently on the road. Dress your baby in layers in case it is too hot or too cold. Bring a favorite blanket. If your baby is eating solid food, bring snacks for your baby. Have more snacks and water for yourself than you think is necessary, especially if you are breastfeeding.
When entertaining your baby in a car or on a plane, it is important to work your way up your bag of tricks from simplest to most elaborate. If you jump right in with a heavy hitter, you'll have nowhere to go when things escalate. Start with a familiar but simple toy or book to look at. Touch and feel books were always great for my kids while traveling. Next, pull out a brand new book that you bought specifically for this trip. Then come the more interactive and potentially louder toys. After that, try a brand new toy. If your baby is still upset, try a change of scenery. Walk the aisle with your baby if you're flying, or pull over at a rest stop if you're driving. When all else fails, try a screen. My personal thought is that if your child is screaming while traveling, they're not going to be learning anyways, and when saved as a last resort, screen time in a car or on a plane does not count!
Breastfeeding While Flying
You are legally allowed to breastfeed anywhere in an airport or on an airplane with or without a cover. That being said, do what feels best for you and your baby. When traveling with my babies, all of whom hated covers, I preferred to sit in a window seat for a little more privacy. If you need special accommodations, feel free to ask your flight attendant, who may be able to help. Breastfeeding at take off and landing can help protect your baby's ears, as swallowing helps their ears “pop” as the air pressure changes.
If you are traveling with a breast pump, carry it onto the plane, as stowed luggage can easily get lost. Moms are allowed to carry on breast pumps and breastmilk, whether or not they are with their child. While going through airport security, take your pump out of your carry-on bag, put it in a separate bin for screening, and tell the agent that it's a breast pump. Stored breastmilk is not subject to the 3 oz rule, and also goes in a separate bin during screening. Agents may swab the outside of milk bags, but if they want to open a bag and test the milk, ask to speak to a supervisor. If you need to pump during the flight, you are allowed to do so at your seat or in the bathroom if you are more comfortable there. Feel free to ask your flight attendant for suggestions if you want more options.
Worst Case Scenario
When my oldest son was 9 months old, we took an overnight flight to Ireland. He didn't sleep a wink. He screamed and cried hysterically the entire flight while everyone else was trying to sleep. As I was walking the aisles, bouncing him up and down trying to settle him for the 99th time, trying to avoid the glares of angry fellow passengers, a flight attendant offered to help. I declined. She insisted. I handed her my baby and rested my arms for a glorious 60 seconds, feeling guilty as I heard his screaming intensify as she walked down the aisle toward the back of the plane. As this poor, sweet flight attendant came back into sight, I saw a horrified look on her face. My son had gotten so upset that he puked all over himself, the flight attendant, and the entire back of the plane aisle. If you are having a bad flight, remember that “this too shall pass,” think back on this story, and have a good laugh at my expense.
Family Holiday Gatherings
As much as we want celebrations and traditions to stay exactly the same, holidays can change drastically once you have a baby. Make sure you and your family have realistic expectations and enjoy this moment in time for what it is instead of comparing it to what it used to be or what it could be. For baby's first holiday, try to keep things as low key and intimate as possible.
Schedule Around Sleep and Take Breaks
Babies tend to thrive on schedules and routine, all of which are thrown out the window during holiday celebrations, especially if you're traveling. If you are in charge of the holiday festivities, schedule get togethers for your baby's best times. Try to protect sleeping times as much as possible.
If you are traveling for the holidays, figure out where your baby will sleep. Consider bringing a portable crib or pack and play or asking your hotel if they have cribs available. If your baby co-sleeps or is taking a nap on someone's bed during a celebration, make sure the mattress is firm and remove pillows and bulky blankets. Bring a baby monitor or stay close by, especially if your baby rolls and the bed is not against a wall. Consider traveling with a white noise machine to help drown out all the holiday cheer.
The holidays are overwhelming and exhausting for babies and parents – don't be afraid to do what you need to do, not only for your baby, but for yourself. If your baby is overwhelmed by all the new places and faces, step outside and take a break. If your baby will only sleep with you, don't be afraid to lay down with your baby. I have found that no matter what parenting choices you make, someone will have a comment or judgement. I have found that a simple explanation of my parenting choices work with some family members. A joke can help alleviate tense situations with other family members - “If we need to be roommates in college, maybe we can get a discount!” For a select few, no amount of explanation will protect you from differing opinions and judgements. Remember that you know what's best for your baby, remain calm and confident, and simply disengage.
Eating and Seating
People freaking love to feed babies. Make your baby's feeding restrictions known as soon as food is presented. Either casually work it into conversation with anyone who may hold your baby, or make an actual announcement for everyone to hear. If people persist in trying to feed your baby something he's not allowed to eat, stay firm and don't be afraid to take your baby away. If you feel bad, blame your doctor: “I wish you could feed him that, but the doctor said he's not ready.”
If your older baby is eating solids, plan ahead for where he will sit, whether it's in your lap or in a portable high chair. Babies are messy – try to have your baby sit away from others in case of projectile potatoes. Make sure you know everyone's expectation of dinner and whether or not you can meet them. If your family is used to fancy dining with quiet conversation, let them know ahead of time that your baby can't comply.
Before I had children, I was at a party with a new mom. I walked into a quiet room and saw that she was breastfeeding her baby. Never having been around a breastfeeding mom before, I didn't know what to do. I didn't mind, but I didn't want to make her uncomfortable either. She sweetly smiled at me, letting me know it was OK for me to be there and to see that, and started a conversation with me. This simple moment was potentially life-changing for me as a future mom and confident breastfeeder.
When it comes to breastfeeding at a gathering, do what is best for you and your baby. I personally will breastfeed anytime, anywhere, completely uncovered – unless it's in front of my grandparents, because it makes me uncomfortable to make them uncomfortable. If I am with my grandparents, I make sure I wear something that allows for more discreet breastfeeding. Our entire Holiday Collection has been designed not only to be festive, but to provide easy and discreet breastfeeding access - your prudish grandparents may not even know you're nursing! If you are concerned with breastfeeding in front of others, speak to the host before the party, either to let them know that you will be breastfeeding or to make special arrangements for a private place to nurse your baby. If there are other children at the party who may have questions about seeing you breastfeed, I find that a simple "The baby's having milk," usually satisfies their curiosity.
If your baby is super interested in everything that's going on, he may nurse less frequently than usual. Take breaks from all the action to make time for breastfeeding, especially with young babies. Conversely, if your baby is completely overwhelmed, he may nurse more frequently than usual for comfort and breaks from all the action.
As previously mentioned, family members tend to love giving unsolicited advice, especially about breastfeeding. If you feel like discussing or explaining your decision to breastfeed, go for it. If you don't, just give a short answer, such as “My doctor agrees that this is the healthiest choice for my baby,” or simply disengage the conversation.
Alcohol is often prevalent during holiday celebrations, and the general rule of thumb is that if you're OK to drive, you're OK to breastfeed. One or two drinks are fine, and “pumping and dumping” is absolutely unnecessary. The newest studies show that very little alcohol actually passes to your breastmilk, and as your blood-alcohol level decreases, the amount of alcohol in your breastmilk also decreases. If you are concerned, nurse your baby right before you have a drink and wait two hours to breastfeed again.
Your baby's first holiday season is an exciting time, but when reality doesn't match up with your expectations, it can also be difficult. Remember, now that you have a baby, you may not be able to do all of the things you used to do during the holiday season. It can be hard to adjust to changes and limitations, but instead of dwelling on the things you may be missing this year, try to relax, savor this special time with your baby, start your own family traditions, and take lots of pictures. No matter how hard this feels now, you will look back at these memories fondly for the rest of your life.