My most memorable holiday seasons didn’t involve expensive presents, exquisite decorations, or extravagant meals. I didn’t attend swanky cocktail parties or impress my friends with stylish gifts. I survived on reheated lasagna and takeout, accessorized with burp rags, and spent my time gazing at tiny fingers and toes. I was the mom of a newborn.
Having a baby over the holidays transforms the season from merely festive to utterly unforgettable. Sure, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. But it comes with built-in advantages. Friends and family are likely to have vacation time to spend with you. Winter clothes make comfy and flattering postpartum wear. And future holiday celebrations will always be laced with memories of baby’s miraculous first weeks.
For parents expecting a bundle of holiday joy, here’s how to make the most of this special season.
1. Get Busy While You Can
Holiday tasks can help pass the long late-pregnancy days while you wait for baby’s arrival. Before my first daughter’s birth in early December, I was a model of holiday readiness. The house was sparkly clean, the gifts wrapped and the cards mailed. I was finishing my third batch of Christmas cookies when I went into labor.
Three years later, I welcomed our second holiday baby under decidedly different circumstances. The decorations were still in the basement, and there wasn’t a wrapped gift or Christmas cookie in sight. Yet my memories of that holiday season are every bit as great at the first. So tackle your to-do list if you can, but don’t worry if you don’t get everything done. Your newborn won’t mind. And looking back, neither will you.
2. Baby, it’s Cold Outside
According to Dr. Dennis Cunningham, an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, parents of babies born near the holidays should take extra precautions to keep their infants healthy. Babies born during the winter months are more likely to catch a viral illness such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), so insist on healthy habits.
Parents, siblings, and guests should wash hands with soap and water before touching baby. Everyone in the family should get a flu shot and a Pertussis (whooping cough) booster. Skip big parties and germy public spaces during the early weeks. When you can’t stay home, arm yourself with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and limit the number of people touching and holding baby.
3. Take a Pass on Perfection
A baby changes everything, so don’t be surprised if your holiday priorities end up shifting. Easing up on the urge toward perfectionism can help you relax and enjoy the season. Julie Gates, co-host of the popular Gene & Julie morning radio show on KVIL in Dallas, remembers her first holiday season with December baby Sophia. “Forget about Christmas cards and gifts—everything was so out-of-whack and overwhelming with a new baby in the house. So I just took a pass on that year and didn’t send anything to anyone. The great thing is no one minded one bit!”
4. Spend Wisely
Pediatrician visits and hospital fees can pile up, adding financial strain to an already stressful season. Plan and stick to a holiday budget to keep spending in check. This is good practice for future years, when you’ll be juggling birthday expenses and holiday costs at the same time.
5. Ask, and You Shall Receive
Honesty is a new parent’s best policy, especially near the holidays. When friends and family ask if you need anything, speak up and tell then what you could really use, whether it’s dinner, help around the house, or an hour of babysitting so that you can grab a nap and a shower. If they’re set on buying you something, request gift cards to put toward baby essentials.
6. Celebrate Your Way
Caring for a newborn may leave you too drained to carry out your favorite holiday rituals, whether they involve decorating gingerbread houses, volunteering or making the perfect potato pancakes. It’s normal to feel disappointed, but skipping a cherished tradition for a year doesn’t mean abandoning it forever.
When you’re in new-baby mode, holiday celebrations should be simple and flexible. After our second daughter’s birth, many of our regular holiday traditions went out the window. So one late-December night, I filled thermoses with steaming hot chocolate while my husband loaded the kids in the car for an impromptu tour of our neighborhood’s holiday lights. Both kids dozed off and we enjoyed some much-needed adult conversation. It’s one of our favorite memories of that extremely busy season.
7. Manage Gift Chaos
Between new-baby gifts and holiday presents, packages will threaten to take over your already-crowded living space. Stash a pad and pen nearby to jot down who gives what, to make it easier to write thank-you notes later on. Keep gift receipts handy, but save any returning or exchanging until after the holidays, when you can take inventory of gifts and get it all done at once.
8. Treat Yourself
One of the best parts about having a holiday baby? You’re free to enjoy the tastes of the season without pregnancy-induced heartburn or a full-grown baby crowding your stomach. You have months before you have to get into a swimsuit.
No matter how carefully you prepare, your holiday baby will probably throw you a few curveballs. In my experience, it’s a near-certainty that they’ll scream during a long-awaited holiday party, spit up on Grandma and have a blowout in their carefully-selected holiday outfit. So stock up on baby wipes, keep your camera nearby and get ready for your most exhausting, amazing, unforgettable holiday season yet.
Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and the mom of two “holiday babies.”