Surviving Holiday Visits With Baby

Cute as he may be, your new baby can create stress when it comes to celebrating the holidays with family. No worries! Our mom-tested solutions for the car, the plane, and dinner at Grandma's guarantee magical memories.

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Holiday Hitch: Your baby tries out her new parrot shriek on the plane.

Travel is nerve-racking to begin with -- and that's before you throw in a squirmy 9-month-old with healthy lungs. If you're flying, move heaven and earth for a direct flight, "even if it costs more," suggests Jenny Smith, of Madison, Wisconsin (mom to said wriggling infant).

No matter how you're getting there, bring baby's familiar items, such as a blanket, stuffed animals, and spare pacis to proffer when she tosses one into the next row. Along with baby's mainstays, take a stash of toys to present when the tears start, and pack twice as many snacks as you think you'll need. And don't forget: Babies enjoy reading material as much as you do. Tote a slew of books for your little one.

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Heather Weston

Holiday Hitch: Your tot is totally stir-crazy.

Hours of kibitzing around the cheese platter can make anyone nutty, especially a little person who doesn't talk (and may not even eat cheese) yet. The fix: fresh air. "Bundle your baby up at dusk and enjoy a festive stroll together," says Katherine Bunker, a mom of three in Fort Collins, Colorado. "He'll be fascinated by the twinkling lights, and you can have a romantic walk with your partner." Also "check out local baby gyms," says Denise Fields, coauthor of Baby 411. Better for your tot to blow off steam in the foam-ball pit than in Grandma's living room!

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Heather Weston

Holiday Hitch: Great Aunt Nancy is antsy to feed your 6-month-old her favorite dish.

She means well ("I just want to see my nephew's reaction!"), but heavy new foods can overwhelm a baby's system or even cause an allergic reaction. If you're uncomfortable, you can always blame your doctor, says Fields. "In a case where it's a wholly inappropriate food, simply tell her that your pediatrician won't allow it," she suggests. "Of course, babies younger than 6 months shouldn't really be eating solids anyway."

Or try the foolproof method Bunker devised, which has proved successful in warding off many a relative wielding forkfuls of tasty holiday treats. "Politely decline and slip in a quick, 'Rich foods give her explosive diarrhea,'" she says. "Your family won't pressure you again anytime soon! Horrifying relatives is often less painful than having to explain that you're waiting until baby's first birthday before giving her sugar."

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Holiday Hitch: Your infant refuses to nap when visiting Grandpa.

"Routine is king," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin. "Babies thrive in predictable situations. When they know what comes next, they're more likely to be happy. So keep things as consistent as you can." However, the holidays are not a good time to sleep-train your baby (and wake the whole family with his wails). For better sleep in unfamiliar homes, introduce him to a white-noise machine now. During the festivities, it will drown out high-spirited friends (shushing them won't make you very popular) and provide baby with a comforting cue that it's time to doze. Baby still won't nap while on the holiday circuit? He may need a break. While at her in-laws, Smith ducked out of the mayhem for a long drive to help her son snooze. "It was worthwhile," she says, "because his Mimi and Grandad got to experience Gavin for who he is, rather than as a sleep-deprived maniac."

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Lucas Tiedge/ Jupiter

Holiday Hitch: Grandma insists on displaying her crystal Santa figurines on the glass coffee table.

As much as jittery parents would love to have their hosts' entire house babyproofed before a visit, it's not realistic, says Michael Mikulski, a father of two girls in El Vista, California. "Protect a small area for the baby," he says, "not the whole house."

See if Grandma will let you scoot the coffee table against the wall in the room where you'll be most often. Move breakables in heavy-traffic rooms as well. If there's an unsafe area that baby can't resist, block it off with a gate or close the door. Most relatives are fairly good-natured about stepping over barriers, and they can also help with zone defense -- around stairs, swinging doors, and sharp-cornered tables.

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Sarah Kehoe

Holiday Hitch: It's time to nurse. Again.

At home you may happily breastfeed au naturel, but during holiday visits a blanket will help you avoid unwanted comments and Aunt Margaret's raised eyebrows. "Bring a couple of elegant pashminas to cover up with," says Leslie Tucker, of Leesburg, Virginia. Lillian Kim, of Boston, used to feel lonely when her hungry 2-month-old kept the two of them confined to the bedroom for feedings. Then she found a way to avoid feeling left out of the fun: "When I had to nurse, I'd grab a relative to join me," she says. "I had a lot of significant conversations, which don't always happen at the dinner table, where everyone's gabbing at once."

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Heather Weston

Holiday Hitch: Cousins are eager to play with their new "dolly."

Rambunctious big kids don't always know how to interact gently with a newborn. Kim hit on a fail-safe way to tame her rowdy relatives. "Assign an older child to be the minder," she says. "I told my oldest niece that I'd be totally grateful if she would tell the other children not to be too loud or rough around Travis, or touch his face." It worked like a charm, she says: "My niece loved having the authority and was proud to help. I was finally able to relax and enjoy myself."

Even if younger family members are careful, it's best to be protective. "Seasoned parents may smile and nod at the newbies who try to shield their infants from germ-laden older kids," Dr. Brown says, "but there's some real logic to doing so. Babies younger than 3 months can end up at the emergency room if they get a fever from a simple cold or flu virus. I don't blame parents of infants for being cautious." So insist on hand-washing -- there's no need to feel self-conscious about it.

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Heather Weston

Holiday Hitch: You're the one craving a nap and a bottle.

There's no way around it: Holidays with a baby can be a challenge. But you're much better off, says Bunker, "if you realize that you might not be able to shop for hours, stay out as late, or visit everyone you used to pre-baby. But you will be able to create new traditions for your new family that will be just as special and memorable." So try, as much as you can, to relax and savor this special time.

Newell sums up this time of year with perhaps the best advice of all. "Don't put so much pressure on yourself to have a "perfect holiday," she says with a laugh. "Because there is no such thing."

Originally published in the November 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.

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