Before I had my first child, I’ll admit it, I had very unrealistic expectations regarding baby’s first Christmas. I pictured our small family gathered around a beautifully decorated tree (snort), all wearing matching pajamas (of course), helping our six month old open a plethora of gifts (ha), after eating a delicious homemade breakfast, and of course, we’re smiling through the whole thing.
Three years later the second time around, I gave birth mid-December and had a better handle on what would be reasonable to expect during the holiday season. Or so I thought.
The thing is, expectations can get new parents into tricky situations during the holiday season. These expectations can come from the parents themselves – thinking they can do it all or placing an emphasis on things that aren’t that important. Other times these expectations are external, coming from well-meaning family members that are very excited to spend the holidays with your new little person.
Wherever you’re at – mom of a tiny newborn, crawler, or mini-toddler – in this article you’ll find practical tips for navigating baby’s first Christmas. Let’s get started!
Tips for New Moms During Baby’s First Christmas
Holidays with a baby, especially a newborn, can be difficult, even with the most seasoned of parents. Here are my best tips for staying sane AND making great memories during baby’s first Christmas.
1. Keep Things Simple and Lower Expectations
If new parents were to a) become aware of their expectations and b) lower them juuuuuust a bit, I believe they would have a more enjoyable holiday season.
Watch That Bucket List
Are you a holiday bucket list type of person? If so, watch out. When baby makes three, these fun bucket list activities can easily turn into stressors for parents and baby.
Even if you don’t actively create tangible to-do lists for the holidays, odds are you have a mental checklist of things families should do during Christmas. I challenge you and your partner to separately write down a list of holiday activities you would like to do (or think you should do). Compare notes and have a conversation about what’s most important to your new little family. Pick 1-2 of the most meaningful activities, and shoot for that. Anything you do above and beyond is a bonus.
“Have low expectations for yourself. When my daughter arrived on Thanksgiving, I tried to fulfill my holiday bucket list – things to do, baking, buying gifts, etc., instead of just chilling with my newborn. Enjoy the season and your new baby! Next year when you have a one year old, the holiday festivities will be more fun!” Hope B.
2. Limit Gifts for Baby
A quick google search of “baby’s first Christmas” will link parents to toys, ornaments, stocking stuffers, and Christmas outfits. The thing is, babies don’t need much nor do they care about Christmas presents. You’re off the hook!
For a baby 12 months and under, put effort into the wrapping. You could literally wrap any stuffed animal you already have and it would be just as much fun!
Also, don’t expect your baby to stay focused on “unwrapping” more than one present. Remember, a baby’s attention span is pretty limited. Babies are more interested in boxes and paper than the toys, are slow, and want to explore every piece.
Even as babies turn into toddlers and preschoolers, they still won’t be able to happily tolerate unwrapping a ton of toys in one sitting. 3-5 toys (depending on age) seems to be a common stopping point for kids under five. They just want to play!
When dealing with friends and family members, a good piece of advice is to create an Amazon wish list for them to pick from. Some parents even ask for toys baby can grow into, instead of baby toys that have a shorter shelf life. Check out this list of gifts for a one year old that don’t plug in for some good ideas.
“Don’t go too big! The holidays are for you, not them. You don’t want to blow a budget on something that they don’t even understand. Do things that hold tradition and meaning for baby’s first Christmas instead of expensive things.” Ashley K.
“Get them a few things and let that be it! Their first Christmas is more for the parents anyway. I’m amazed at the pictures I see of the pile of gifts for a baby around 12 months old or younger. We never got that much growing up even when we were older, and we weren’t poor!” Bethany W.
3. Prepare in Advance
If you know you’ll have a baby during the holiday season, anything you can do ahead of time to prepare in advance will serve you well.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
One of the first things to consider in advance is any potential travel plans. In my very humble yet experienced opinion, I would NOT recommend traveling with a newborn. The exposure to germs in itself is enough to warrant a cozy holiday season at home.
However, once baby is a little older, in the right circumstances, traveling for the holidays could be potentially fun. When my first was six months old I flew with him to Texas and spent Christmas with in-laws. I only had one kid, had my own bedroom/space, and was OK spending time by myself. With the right accommodations, planning, and attitude, I think many families should go for it!
If you do travel and need to bring Christmas gifts, consider shipping gifts to your final destination to travel with less bulk. Amazon makes this really easy. Free two day shipping for the win!
PRO TIP: The one thing that I absolutely refuse to travel without is a white noise machine. (This is the one my family has used for almost 10 years now.) The thing is, when traveling you usually don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when it comes to the place your baby will sleep. A white noise machine helps make most spaces calm and peaceful, even when everywhere else is all hustle and bustle. Get a white noise machine. Trust me.
Flexibility is Critical
However, some things just won’t go as planned. And that’s ok. An important part of preparing in advance to enjoy the holidays is to expect some things to not go the way you thought and to remain flexible. Generally, parents that have high expectations and are inflexible struggle the most. Let some things go out the window and I promise, you’ll have a better time!
Consider Freezer Cooking
With the holidays comes the expectation of a grand meal. However, the ability to plan for, purchase the ingredients, cook, and even eat said meal is pretty limited.
Ideally, new families should drive ten minutes to their extended family’s home, immediately eat a delicious meal, and then go home soon after. If this sounds more like a fantasy than a reality, you may need to think outside the box. Enter freezer cooking.
With freezer cooking parents are able to cook food as time allows leading up to the main event. For example, if green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, ham, a salad, and rolls are what’s on this year’s holiday menu, the casseroles could be made weeks in advance and kept frozen until the day prior. The other remaining three items are pretty easy, assuming you buy everything pre-cooked and and don’t try to make anything from scratch.
This isn’t the year to cook things from scratch.
For more great ideas about freezer cooking, meal planning, and how to use these tools to make that first year postpartum (including the holidays!) a little bit easier, head on over to Once a Month Meals.
Plan for Others’ Gifts
Another way to make baby’s first Christmas a more enjoyable season is to simplifying gift giving. Two ways to make things more simple is to give small, meaningful gifts to friends and family, but to also purchase and complete gifts in advance.
When I was expecting a baby smack dab in the middle of December, I knew that if I wanted to give gifts to friends and family I had to finish the task by November. I also knew that because of budget constraints (having a baby isn’t free!) that gifts from our family would look very simple that year.
What I decided to do was to make my own vanilla extract in 4 ounce glass bottles, and put a personalized sticker on each. It was thoughtful, useful, simple, and inexpensive. Come December I was happy to have something like that to give to everyone. Vanilla extract all around!
Some of my friends have also given holiday family photo cards as a gifts and it was well received (even when they arrived late).
Remember, the holidays and baby’s first Christmas are not about giving and receiving lots of gifts to and from friends and family. Becoming a parent is quite a gift all by itself! For baby’s first Christmas, enjoy the true gifts in your lives – the things that are unable to be bought or sold.
4. Practice Boundaries with Family
Guess what? Becoming a parent for the first time changes the dynamic of other relationships and nothing magnifies it more than Christmas with extended family. For the first time, parents may need to say “no” to family and friends when making plans and they offer help or suggestions. Fun, huh?
If you are hoping for a stressful and upsetting baby’s first Christmas, a surefire way to make that happen is to be a boundary-less parent and at the mercy of other peoples’ priorities and desires.
If having boundaries is a new concept to you, I strongly recommend reading the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud or John Townsend. Or, you could just dip your toe in the water and read a short blog post about boundaries I wrote to doulas on the subject matter. Boundaries is a topic that’s applicable to all!
“I try to remember that family isn’t trying to be cruel or demanding they just want to help because being a new mother, or even just adding a new addition can be so overwhelming. I try to just take their advice and say “I think we are ok right now but I’ll remember that for if we need it”. They really do mean well, it’s just a different time – we know more things now. But some of the old advice (the safe stuff) can actually be really helpful, so I never turn any away. I just make my choices with the information I want to use.” Ashley K.
An excellent time to practice boundaries is when protecting your new little one from the germs of well-meaning family and friends. Babies are ridiculously cute and cuddly, so it makes sense that everyone wants to kiss, hold, and touch them. However, invisible germs coupled with a baby’s inexperienced immune system has the potential to make baby sick. Sick babies are sad and believe me, you want to avoid a sick baby if at all possible.
If you are not comfortable with passing baby around, simply say “no”. If saying “no” is gets old, consider using a newborn baby carrier. People tend to touch less when using a carrier.
If your baby is very new and the gathering is quite large, consider staying home. Sometimes staying home is what’s best for a new family, and that’s ok.
“Trust your mommy gut. Babywear if you don’t want hands on family. But once you get to the third kid….. you may look forward to holidays where you’re not holding the baby.” Julie D.
5. Expect to Feel Isolated and Other Big Emotions
I think it’s important for new parents to expect to feel isolation (and other tough emotions) at some point during the holidays. Whether you’re not attending the big annual family get-together, or maybe you’re in a adjacent quiet room with a fussy baby, at some point you may feel isolated, sad, disappointed, and like you’re missing out.
It’s ok, and totally normal to feel this way. If you find yourself in the middle of that right now, know that if I could, I’d reach out and give you a big hug. It gets better. Promise.
As an introvert, I don’t think this phenomenon effects me as much as it does others. For example, I relished the opportunity to hole up in a room and read an entire book from cover to cover while my family watched my big kids. It was amazing! However, I can see how this situation, especially for first time parents, could be extremely difficult.
“My baby was born 2 days before thanksgiving. Then, with the various birth complications, we blew past Christmas, too. The holidays are my favorite time of year and I was surprised at how I felt like I missed it and how isolated I felt (though I was thrilled to be holding my sweet one, don’t get me wrong). My husband realized what was happening and totally surprised me with a Christmas tree one afternoon. :-).” Kimberly H.
“My only advice would be to surround new mommies at the holidays! Having kids is hard and having your first is reallllly hard! My family left me in the living room while I fed the cranky baby and they enjoyed a delicious lunch or dinner! That was so awful for me because I just wanted a hot meal!”
6. Prioritize Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding during the holidays is something to consider when planning for baby’s first Christmas. The holidays can be hectic for anyone, and are especially so for babies that thrive with simple routines and flexible parents. When routines are interrupted and parents distracted, breastfeeding can be impacted as well.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that is caused by obstruction, infection and/or allergy. (SOURCE) But have you ever heard of holiday mastitis? It’s a thing.
Holiday mastitis happens when a mom is so frazzled and stressed that she nurses less frequently and not on her normal routine during the holidays. Come January, she ends up with mastitis. Ugh.
If weaning, mastitis, and antibiotics are not part of your breastfeeding goals, nurse as you normally would during the holidays whether or not it is time to stuff the turkey, wrap presents, go caroling, etc. You and your baby will be much happier for it!
Some mothers breastfeed in public no matter what is happening or who is around. Other women may find themselves retreating to a quiet spot to nurse. And others may do a mixture of both.
For those that find themselves separated from holiday activities, know that it’s pretty normal to feel feelings of isolation, disappointment, and sadness, etc. These feelings are real, challenging, and understandable, but at the same time very circumstantial. Hold on to the fact that holidays won’t always be this challenging.
On the other hand, however, some moms see breastfeeding as a perfect moment to disappear for chunks of time to nurse baby and reconnect. Both mom and baby may come back feeling happier, more rested, and ready for holiday fun.
Opinions of Others
Another aspect of breastfeeding during baby’s first Christmas is you will inevitably hear a myriad of opinions, advice, and stories regarding breastfeeding. Brace yourself.
For some women, it’s helpful to have a short list of canned responses to these interactions. For other women, however, a verbal response isn’t enough to fend off certain people.
Please know that if visiting the home of a family or friend is too stressful, volatile, or unsafe in any way, it’s ok to stay home. You and your family are worth it.
7. Keep Little Ones Safe
Finally, for baby’s first Christmas, plan to keep things safe for the little ones, especially for those that have discovered mobility.
Babies are curious creatures and want to explore the ins and outs of whatever they can get their hands on. Christmas trees, decorations, lights, and holiday foods are not off limits in the mind of a baby. However, Christmas trees, decorations, lights, and holiday foods are defnitely not for babies.
Christmas trees fall down, decorations go in the mouth, and food falls on the floor. Do what you can to keep baby away from these things unless under supervision of a responsible adult. Having an accident is not a memory you want to make during baby’s first Christmas!
Tips for New Moms During Baby’s First Christmas
Just to recap, the following are things parents can do to have a more enjoyable baby’s first Christmas.
- Lower Expectations
- Limit Gifts for Baby
- Prepare in Advance
- Practice Boundaries
- Expect Isolation
- Prioritize Breastfeeding
- Keep Little Ones Safe
Leave a comment with your favorite piece of holiday advice and wisdom for new parents. I’d love to hear from you on how to make baby’s first Christmas a more enjoyable experience!