Having a baby near the holidays can be stressful for a number of reasons. With fall and winter comes not only the pressure of traveling and family expectations, but also germs and flu season—a potentially scary combo when it comes to newborns. Thanksgiving gatherings, Hanukkah celebrations and Christmas parties are just around the corner, and if you have had a baby recently or are expecting to give birth this season, this is likely a topic that has crossed your mind.
My first child was a summer baby, but even so, my pediatrician strongly advised against bringing him to the family reunion taking place a month after his birth. “Wait until his immune system is a little stronger,” he said. That advice was for a baby born in the middle of July, when respiratory illnesses are unlikely—so I already know what he’ll say about bringing my newborn daughter to family gatherings this season.
So, what’s a person to do when it comes to navigating holiday get-togethers with a newborn? Should we just barricade the door shut and refuse to see anyone until spring? Not necessarily (though I wouldn’t judge if you did this—just make sure you are able to move the barricade for pizza deliveries). If you ask my pediatrician, he would probably tell you to use this time as an excuse to stay home, cuddle your newborn, and put your feet up. If you do, you have my (and my pediatrician’s) full support. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you do need (or want) to bring your newborn to a large gathering, it’s best to be prepared. Here are a handful of tips I came across when researching this issue for myself. As with all parenting tips—take what works for you and leave what doesn’t.
- Remember that it’s okay to stay home.
Hey, it’s worth repeating: if you need a reason not to drag your tired postpartum body and your brand-new baby to a holiday event, just tell Aunt Sue that pediatricians do not advise taking newborns to family gatherings during flu season, and that you’ll be following the doctor’s orders. You can always compromise by inviting visitors over in smaller batches—it’s easier to make sure people wash their hands, aren’t sick when visiting, and respect boundaries when they come in groups of two or three, versus a large gathering.
- If you do go: baby wear
Let’s put it this way: baby wearing can save you a lot of awkward conversations. For newborns, I like wrap carriers—a type of carrier made of one long piece of fabric. Wrap carriers are great for keeping the baby close to your body and away from the wandering hands (and lips) of well-meaning (but germy) friends and family. Most people won’t ask to hold your baby if you are wearing her, but even if they do, a simple “she’s happy right now, so I don’t want to disturb her” should do the trick.
- Consider showing up late and leaving early.
A tip that I’ve found helpful is to arrive about 15 minutes before the food is served, and then use baby as an excuse to head out early. Arriving to an event hours before the food is served (or hanging around for hours after) greatly increases the likelihood that you and baby will be the center of attention—people who are waiting around are more likely to view your baby as the main attraction. Arriving just before the food means that people won’t have much time to stand around and fawn over your newborn, and will instead have their hands occupied with plates of delicious food. After the meal, make your rounds of pleasantries as you see fit, and then don’t feel bad about leaving early, with the excuse that you need to get baby to bed.
- Hold hygiene as #1 priority: ban kissing, and insist that people wash their hands.
A simple cold sore can be deadly for newborns, and the virus can be transmitted even if the infected person has no symptoms. This is just one of the many reasons why you shouldn’t feel bad about insisting that anyone who touches your baby thoroughly wash their hands first, and that they refrain from kissing baby altogether. If you feel too awkward about asking well-meaning family members to go wash their hands, you can carry around hand sanitizer with you, though soap and water is your best bet when it comes to warding off germs.
- Freely use the baby’s feeding and napping needs as an excuse to take a break.
Sometimes crowds of people can become overwhelming. If you need a break away from the crowd, use your baby’s feeding, napping, or changing needs as an excuse to slip away to a quiet room for a bit to decompress. Sometimes baby needs a break from all the noise and stimulation, too, so taking these breaks can be beneficial for both of you.
Of course, at the end of the day, you have to do what works best for you and your baby. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for your choices, whatever those may be. Cheers to a festive and fun holiday season—may all the moms get a chance to enjoy themselves, and maybe even fit in a glass of wine or two.