Five Tips for Surviving Christmas with a Newborn

So you’ve just had a baby! Congratulations. I hope you’re doing OK and getting some (any?!) much-needed rest. You might be too sleep-deprived to have noticed it yet, but the holiday season is upon us! Christmas is just a couple of weeks away, and you might be feeling the pressure to “do” certain things to make this a special holiday season for you and your little bundle of joy.

I’m here to let you in on a secret: it really is OK not to celebrate Christmas this year, or to celebrate it any way that makes sense for you right now. You don’t get a medal for making salt dough ornaments with an impression of your newborn’s tiny hand. (Trust me, I’ve done it, and I just panicked that I hadn’t wiped his little hand *enough* to clean off any residue.) When you’re in survival mode, it’s OK to pass on the extras and focus on what is happening right in front of you.

In 2020, my son wasn’t yet two months old on Christmas. As I sit here contemplating which gifts to wrap and which traditions to scrap for an active one-year-old with seemingly boundless energy, I want to share five tips for surviving the holidays with a newborn.

1. Lower Your Expectations

Sure, some people feel great right away and fall into a natural rhythm with their newborn baby. But if that’s not you, that’s OK. Normal, even! We were still very much in survival mode at the six-week mark. Though we managed to drag out our Christmas tree and decorate for the holidays, looking back it was a colossal waste of energy. Our son didn’t notice, and we certainly didn’t have the chance to enjoy our decorations as we had in previous years. What’s more, come January, we’d had two months of almost no sleep and had zero energy to take the ornaments down again.

It’s 100% OK to skip putting up your tree or strip back your usual efforts to compensate for the fact that you have a new baby in the house. If a family member or close friend offers to do something to help, take the opportunity to ask them to decorate your dining table, a small tree, or the mantle for you to enjoy.

Similarly, despite what the baby book you’re so diligently filling out says, no one is expecting you to take your newborn to see Santa, to a holiday parade, or out for family photos. Ditto: making ornaments, sending out Christmas cards, or leaving cookies for Santa. (I also did all of these. Heck, I am Santa. And I ate all of his cookies during night feedings.) If you feel moved to do any of these things, amazing! But they are not necessary, and no one will judge you if you don’t.

2. Say No

It’s equally OK—and important—to be able to say no to visitors over the holiday season. I get it. Everyone is off work and school, and people want to get together. But you really don’t want your home to become a revolving door of visitors, nor should you feel you have to keep everything tidy in case someone wants to come over. The important work for you right now is resting and looking after your new baby.

If you are happy to have family visit, get comfortable with delegating tasks. Filling your freezer with hearty meals for after they have departed; stocking up on food, diapers, and other necessary items; and letting you and your baby rest while they clean/look after your older children or pets (if you have them) are the Christmas gifts every new parent wants.

Don’t feel the pressure to host the holidays, either, just because you’d rather be at home than go to someone else’s house. It’s just one holiday season, and everyone will forgive you if you want to stay home in your PJs watching Home Alone for the 8,000th time.

3. Cater, Cater, Cater

There’s no time of the year when catering services are more freely available than the holidays. And what do new parents need the most? Food!

From fully-catered holiday meals to prepared sides, appetizers, charcuterie and cheese boards (yes, please!), holiday pies, desserts, cookie boxes, and more, there are a whole host of options. Exploit their easy availability at this festive time of year! Some local businesses may offer porch delivery, while grocery stores offer drive-up collections. ‘Tis the season for eating well, and you don’t have to miss out just because you want to stay home.

COVID-19 may have a lot to answer for, but it did force/encourage more restaurants than ever before to provide great food to-go. If the idea of heating up a whole host of holiday sides doesn’t appeal, skip straight to the good stuff and collect hot food from your favorite restaurant (or get it delivered). My husband and I have zero shame in admitting we probably had food from a different eatery every night for a month in the weeks after our son was born.

4. Establish a Tradition

I know I said to lower your expectations, but I also think it’s important to recognize that your future self will be grateful and happy for whatever small thing you did to mark your perfect little bundle’s first Christmas.

We decided to start a collection of silver bells (produced annually by a long-established company that won’t stop doing so) for our son and purchased our first in November 2020 very soon after he was born. Even if you decide not to have a tree this year, buying a special Christmas ornament is an easy and low effort tradition to start.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Buy a stocking for your newborn and take a picture of them in it! We did this with our adorable tiny bundle and it’s probably my very favorite picture of him ever. If you’d like to have matching stockings but have only just started your family, go for a classic timeless style so that you can always find the same stocking (and embroidery) later on.
  • Take handprints (or footprints) of your newborn. Whether you use a mess-free ink pad (highly recommend!), a pre-made ornament kit, air dry clay, or make your own salt-dough, this will be a tradition you can replicate each year in various formats. Though I was absolutely insane to do it with a six-week-old last year, the salt dough ornaments on my tree mean so much to me now. We also gifted them to family members.
  • Stay cozy at home in matching family PJs. Sure, it’s not necessary, but you may as well enjoy those newborn snuggles in festive style.

5. Remind Yourself That This is a Season

Next year, your toddler still won’t really know what is happening at Christmas, but life will feel easier. I found it really hard to let go of my need to celebrate and honor the Christmas season, which is my favorite time of year. I wanted to put up my Christmas tree, to make a wonderful meal for my family, to give beautifully-wrapped gifts, and to establish a whole host of traditions to show my son what we’d “always done” when he was older. But what I really, really needed was rest.

Those long newborn days (and nights) are a relatively short season in the life of you and your baby. They are unspeakably hard and long and sometimes boring. For some, they are a golden time of rest and relief, but for many, they are a time of real anxiety and exhaustion. It’s totally OK to feel any of those, but it’s equally important not to heap extra pressure onto yourself.

Finally, and most importantly, keep your postpartum and pediatric appointments. It’s tempting for providers to push things into the long grass because they want to celebrate the holidays too. I get it, but you deserve the same level of great care, whenever you deliver. Advocate for yourself, your baby, and your physical and mental health. Those things can’t be put on the back burner for Christmas.

With that, I want to wish you and your gorgeous bundle of joy a very Merry Christmas. The days are long, but the years are short. Soon enough, it’ll be time to queue for a picture with Santa before going home to watch Christmas movies together. There’s so much to look forward to in all of the Christmases still to come, but for now, it’s OK to treat it like just another day.

Natalie is a proud Brit, but moved to Texas at the end of 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian. Their son was born in late October 2020, so her entire experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum has been under the cloud of Covid-19. She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching students. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, but currently has her academic pursuits on hold while she focuses on her son. Despite being in San Antonio for a few years now, she still considers herself a newbie. She loves to find out more about the history and culture of the city, explore new places, and find local businesses to support. A fastidious researcher and lover of lists, she’s always excited to share her finds and experiences with others. Favorite Restaurant: Dough Favorite Landmark: World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights