Congratulations on your newborn – the best Christmas present ever! At this intense time of year, the festive season can throw up some unexpected issues. Here’s how to enjoy Christmas with your newborn.
Bonding and attachment
First of all, Christmas or no Christmas, your first priority is your baby. Period. Whatever else you do, make the time of getting to know your baby your top concern. There is so much pressure to get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that means!) and allow nothing to be different just because you have a baby. This is a media-fueled cultural lie. Don’t listen! Life will never be the same again, and that’s a good thing. It’s what you signed up for, right? Allow the world to carry on spinning round you while you soak up this new phase of parenthood.
Allow others to help (in the right way)
People love to offer to help with a newborn. They love holding your baby, they want to offer to take your baby out for a while, bath your baby, or feed your baby for you. Hold up…..it’s not their baby!
It’s great that people want to help, but actually, the best person to care for a newborn is their parent or parents. Being passed around from person to person can make a baby feel unsettled and fractious. They are very intuitive, and instinctively know and prefer their parent’s voices, smell and touch. So the moral of the story – pass the potatoes, not the baby. Here are some ways others can help:
- Bring all the ingredients to your home and cook the lunch!
- Take care of other children or pets
- Give you a ride if you’ve had a c-section
- Bring you drinks and snacks
- Run errands
- Clean up
- Cut up your food for you so that you can eat while holding or feeding your baby
- Sit down with you and listen or chat over a hot drink
Often people assume you would like to be able to put your baby down. It perhaps doesn’t occur to them that just as they enjoy those newborn snuggles, so do you! So, if they ask how they can help, thank them profusely and say what would mean the most to you is…… a hot drink/for them to walk the dog/could they peel some potatoes. Or whatever…..
If you’re bottle feeding, it’s equally important that you as the parent do the vast majority of feeds. Feeding is a relational experience, not a ‘task’ to outsource. Don’t let anyone steal your little one away!! Here’s some information I wrote a while back on how to bottle need responsively – just in case Great Aunt Mabel tries to do it ‘her way’ – subtly (or not!) print this out and leave it lying around…..
Don’t people please
Christmas is a time for giving. That means taking as well. Some people lack the awareness or the insight to know that they are a drain on your mental energy or physical reserves. So be kind to yourself. I’ll never forget our eldest daughter’s first Christmas. We drove all round the country trying to catch up with people. Our daughter hated car journeys so she cried for hours in the car on motorways. She cried being passed to people who weren’t her parents. When she wasn’t crying, she was vomiting, or being unsettled and refusing to sleep. If I could turn back time I would tell them all we’re bailing out this year.
People pleasing is a particular problem at Christmas. We want to keep things ‘normal’ or catch up with old family and friends. This can be lovely if it fills you up and lifts your mood. But if you’re a closet introvert then this is likely to feel claustrophobic and intense. Giving up your bed to Great Aunt Mabel and sleeping on an airbed in the lounge with a new baby is no fun. So, think long and hard before offering to host guests, parties or meals.
Christmas food, feasting and what to avoid
When most people think of Christmas, aside from any family or religious rituals or traditions, high up on the list is food! The great news is you can eat whatever you like now that you’re not pregnant! Yay! So go ahead and eat that smoked salmon, unpasteurized cheese, or rare steak. You’ll probably have heard about certain foods making babies windy. In general, there is NO truth in this. You can eat almost anything you like. Unless your baby has an actual sensitivity to something you’ve eaten, you should be fine to eat as many sprouts as you like. Personally, I’ll pass – I like my veggies, but sprouts……?!
The exception is a small number of herbs (parsley, sage, mint) which are known to decrease milk supply in some women. You’ll also need to be careful about decongestant medications such as Sudafed. Almost all medications (including antibiotics, most antidepressants, painkillers etc) are safe to take while breastfeeding, but if you’re not sure, check out this website where you can look up the medication you’ve been prescribed.
If you’re not exclusively breastfeeding, or your baby happens to be one of those highly unusual little people who sleeps for a long stretch then just be careful about contraception. Some women are very sensitive to their own hormone levels – it’s amazing how many babies arrive just a year after their older sibling…… you have been warned!
If you enjoy alcohol from time to time then you may have been looking forward to having a celebratory glass of fizz at Christmas, only to fret over whether this is ok if you’re breastfeeding. Well, the good news is that you would actually need to be over the legal limit for the alcohol to be present in your breastmilk. If you’re sober enough to drive a car, you’re sober enough to feed your baby.
There is no point in ‘pumping and dumping’ – just like blood alcohol levels, the amount of alcohol will gradually reduce as your liver metabolises and then excretes it. You do not need to give blood in order to sober up, and you do not need to remove milk with a pump to get it out of your milk. Most people reckon on your body taking about an hour to metabolise one unit of alcohol. So, the best time to have a drink is right after you’ve fed your baby, then the chances are by the time they need to feed again, you’ll have metabolized it. If you’re planning to drink more than a couple of drinks, best to wait until you know the baby will have a longer stretch without feeding. Here’s some more information about alcohol and breastfeeding.
Don’t get into debt
More and more people are talking about the importance of living within their means in these tricky financial times. Your baby will not care about a stocking or gifts. You are the only gift they need. So please don’t spend too much on them – there will be many years when they ask for more expensive items! (We are just entering this phase now with our eldest!). I vividly remember one of the best presents I ever gave our children when they were 7 and 3 respectively, was a giant cardboard box, filled with recycling, sellotape, glue, ribbons, toilet rolls and other boxes and packaging materials for them to use for crafting. They were delighted with it, and it kept them quiet for hours! It cost me about £3….
If people ask you for present ideas, ask for things you need for the baby – a stash of reusable nappies, a box of COOK frozen meals, a decent baby carrier, or set up a bank account for your baby with a direct debit. Especially if you are on parental leave, you’ll need to make the money stretch, so keep things simple this year.
During the Christmas season, look after yourself. Make sure you eat plenty of fruit and veg to keep your immune system healthy. (If you or your baby do succumb to a winter bug and become ill, then here’s some advice to get you through)
Also remember to limit stress (More practical suggestions here), and make plenty of time for exercise, fresh air, and staying positive. Taking charge of your mental health is one of the best gifts to yourself and your family. Use mindfulness, meditations, self-affirmations. Try thought journaling, write a letter to yourself to read on a bad day, write to your baby. Put limits on your social media time and try to get some rest. Resist the urge to stay up late to tidy up, talk late, or binge watch TV. Remember to nurture yourself and you’ll reap the rewards in good physical and mental health.
So, there you have it. The bottom line – enjoying Christmas with your newborn is more likely if you prioritise your new baby, avoid people pleasing, and accept help. You don’t have to be all things to all people. Trust me – your baby doesn’t care how good a host/hostess you are!
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC and holistic sleep and behaviour coach. She works privately at www.feedsleepbond.com as well as for the NHS and as an independent lecturer and trainer. She offers webinars and bespoke training for health professionals, childcare, sleep and maternity carers and parents.