Your first Christmas with your little one is likely to be a very special time, filled with laughter and precious memories. Your baby will be the focus of much spoiling and indulgence; after all, it truly is a time for children. The silly season is upon us and holidays and festivals are the flavour of the month. For most of us our routined and mundane life will be upended by a series of business functions, parties or trips to relaxing destinations.
All the variety is just what we need to relax at the end of the year, but with baby in tow, the definition of relax has changed somewhat. Knowing that babies function best with boundaries, routine and their familiar environment, it’s not surprising that all the excitement and the frenetic tone of silly season can result in a very unsettled and miserable little baby.
Here are tips to surviving the long, exciting days
Changes to routine: Babies do better with flexible routines and for many mums having some structure to the day is a life-line, which is why Baby Sense advocates a flexible routine. However, there are times when family commitments and life in general make flexibility essential. When rushing around and fitting in parties, try to watch your baby’s awake times and make sure your baby can settle in a quiet space to limit the risk of over tiredness. For instance, if your baby sleeps easily in the car, drive to the party during a sleep time and be sure your baby has the opportunity to sleep before the event. On the other hand a quiet space in the house you are visiting can help you to settle your baby. Once your baby is a little older and in a good routine, you will find you can disrupt the schedule and happily return to it a few days later.
Bedtimes: The only solution for a tired and over stimulated baby is sleep. Ironically it’s the one thing they fight the most when routines and environments change.
- Be sure to keep quite rigidly to your baby’s evening bedtime. Your baby won’t remember or benefit from late nights of carolling or ‘kuiering’ and at the end of the day, you will enjoy your social life more knowing your little one is asleep.
- Find a spare bed where you are or hire a baby sitter to listen while your little sleeps.
- If you must take her with you, put her in the Baby Sense Bunting – a sleeping bag with a hole for her car seat straps, so that she can travel safely in her car seat without being unwrapped from the warm blankets.
Busy spaces: During the holidays you are bound to find yourself dragging your little one into baby unfriendly and over stimulating spaces, such as shopping centres and airports. To cope in these environments, shield your baby from the busy, noisy, brightly coloured space by creating a quiet zone.
- You can do this by covering your baby’s pram with a blanket and letting him play with a few toys in this zone.
- For the young baby – under 6 months, carry him in a sling, which creates a quiet zone against your body.
- Spend the minimum amount of time possible in these spaces by leaving your baby with a friend when you go shopping for gifts.
- If your flight is delayed or you have extra time before takeoff, you should make your way to the Premier Club at the airport. This lounge offers a quiet space, kids play space and free drinks and snacks to certain bank card holders, such as American Express, Investec, etc. For the rest of us there is an entrance fee – a small price to pay if you have a long delay and need a quiet space with your baby.
Overstimulation: High levels of social interaction and stimulation can cause babies to become fractious.
- For small babies – less than three months old, do be cautious and prevent your baby from being too exposed to stimuli. This is her first December and in reality she will not remember if she saw Father Christmas or was awake for present opening. On Christmas day or any other big family gathering, find a quiet space you can retreat to with your baby when you notice his subtle signals of over stimulation.
- On the other hand older babies can cope with much more stimulation without being disrupted and so let him enjoy all the bright colours and fun interactions. Your baby will love the process of unwrapping lots of pressies and it’s probably the paper and boxes he loves the most! A good idea is to then hide away all but two of the new toys to bring out one a week over the next few months. In this way your baby always has something new and exciting to explore and learn from. He also won’t suffer the overstimulation associated with too much of a good thing.
- Remember every baby is an individual and by now you will know if your baby is easily upset and more sensitive or chilled and easy going. Tailor the amount of interactions to your baby’s capacity for stimulation.
New sleep spaces: You may just have got your baby into a good sleep and bedtime routine and feel anxious about going away on holiday and disrupting your baby’s sleep habits. A familiar sleep zone is one of the best sleep triggers we know and we all sleep best tucked up in our own beds.
- If you are staying away from home, try to recreate your baby’s sleep zone as much as possible by using his own bedding, and placing his cot is a quiet space that becomes ‘his sleep zone’.
- Don’t forget to take his doodoo blanky or Taglet or whatever he uses at night to self-sooth to sleep.
- If you are travelling to the Cape, remember the sun sets later and so a dark area, preferably with block out curtains will help you in the evenings.
- If you are going to be sharing a sleep space with your baby take along the white noise CD so your baby won’t hear you at night and you will be less likely to be disturbed by the little baby sleep noises.
Travelling with baby: Going on holiday often means travelling a distance with a small baby which can be stressful.
If you are travelling by airplane,
- Use a sling or baby carrier. In a sling your baby can sleep without being disturbed between boarding and take off.
- A two-hour flight is the perfect length for the midday sleep and many babies are lulled to sleep by the noise of the airplane. Be sure that you don’t keep your baby awake especially for the flight, as an overtired baby is more likely to fuss on the plane than fall easily to sleep.
- An international haul is best taken at night so your baby can sleep the whole way over.
If you are travelling by car,
- Pack two boxes of tricks: one for toys and the other for food and snacks. Put in sufficient healthy sugar free and fruit snacks to keep your finger feeder occupied. If breastfeeding, plan stops for feeds into your road plan as having your baby out of his car seat is dangerous. In the second box of tricks, pack a few activities for your baby:
- A brightly coloured interactive book, such as a lift the flap books or textured books.
- A mirror attached to the back of the seat in front of your baby so he can see you (if still rear facing) or himself.
- A noisy toy such as a rattle or push-button toy
- Textured toy such as a puppet or feely toy
- For older toddlers an activity book and crayons
- CD’s for the car
- If your road trip is long, take frequent breaks that coincide with your baby’s awake time. Drive while she is asleep as far as possible or shortly after waking when she will be content to sit in her car chair.
Snacks: A hungry baby is a miserable baby. In all the rush and socialisation of the holidays don’t feel like the worst mother if you forget a mealtime or a feed sneaks up on you and you find yourself unprepared. Make a big batch of healthy home cooked veggies and a chicken stew that you purée. Then freeze the veggies and chicken in ice trays. When you are going out over lunchtime, pack 3 – 6 frozen cubes in a sealed container and it will defrost slowly while you travel and be ready to be heated for the mealtime.
Slow down: The frenetic pace of the festive season eventually takes its toll on the calmest of us. But for the young baby, susceptible to overstimulation, it can be torture. Your baby will begin to show signs of sensory over load, such as weepiness, fighting sleep and general irritability. And as we know when baby is unsettled we all feel the pain.
- The best you can do is to slow down and have a quiet day with her.
- Take her to a calming spot, such as a botanical garden or just stay at home for a day getting her back into her routine.
- Take a deep breath and extricate yourself from family commitments or busy environments and take a day out with your baby.
Social pressure: Almost every mom feels the pressure to socialise and get her baby out over the festive season. If this is stressful for you, ask your family to understand that you are not ready to go out with your newborn. Your partner can help protect you from all the focus and demands of a busy social time. Toddlers likewise have a tough time managing too much socialising and can’t be expected to ‘behave’ once they are over stimulated. Limit toddler interactions and stimulation to 1 hour stretches per year of their life – in other words a party for a two year old can be two hours long; a visit to cousins an hour for a one year old. Thereafter give your toddler a break from interactions and some quiet down time.
Above all enjoy making memories and spending quality time with friends and family and remember to be sense-able with your baby and he will also love this time together.
By Meg Faure