Now you’re a mum, Christmas has never been more magical! Here’s how to make the most of every moment...
What is it about Christmas that turns us mums into wannabe superwomen who can manage everything by ourselves? Accept those offers of help! You and your baby are the priority this year, and you get to call the shots. So if your mum offers to move Christmas lunch to fit in with your child’s nap, say, ‘Yes please’. If a friend asks if she can pick up the shopping for you, say, ‘Yes, please.’ Go on, get practising!
Make the month of December extra special with some brilliant Christmas children's books. We've rounded up some of our favourites here.
Lights twinkling? Bells ringing? Scented candle wafting? While these seasonal shenanigans are all wonderfully familiar to you, your baby will be oh-so-busy processing the brand-new sights, smells and sounds. It makes for a fabulous sensory experience, but it can be overwhelming. The best thing you can do to counteract the over-stimulation is to give her your attention – and let her stay close to you. It might be a good time to try baby-wearing, as the closeness you feel gives you both regular doses of the love hormone, oxytocin. Or take her into an unlit room and give her a cuddle as you sway from side to side – it will soothe her like nothing else.
Decorating the tree
Yes we all want the gorgeous, Insta-worthy tree, but if you’ve got a mobile baby or toddler, you might need to reconsider your plans. Could the tree go in the hallway, to make a dramatic entrance? Or be the perfect centrepiece in your dining room, with a stair-gate across the doorway? If that simply won’t do, and it just has to be in the thick of things, think about fencing it off. An unfolding play pen works well, or, if your baby is crawling but not climbing, try putting large boxes, weighed down with books placed inside and wrapped in festive paper, around the foot of the tree. Put the tree in a sturdy stand and test that it can’t be pulled over by yanking on the lower branches. Many mums swear by a wall hook and strong fishing line, too.
Choose child-proof, shatter- proof decorations, and hang them out of her reach, with ribbon rather than metal hooks. To create an early warning system that your baby has made it through to the tree, loop ribbon through jumbo jingle bells that are large enough not to pose a choking hazard (try 5cm jingle bells, £1.99 each, ebay.co.uk) and hang on the lower branches to alert you. Check the small print on your decorations: if it says ‘This is a decoration, not a toy’ or similar, the item is not subject to toy requirements and might not be safe. Even if it looks like it’s made for a child, don’t let her play with it.
If you’ve got an energetic toddler to look after, you might find yourself faced with a pile of gifts that urgently need wrapping on Christmas Eve. Try to win your time back by wrapping just one gift each day after your little one has settled, so even if you don’t get them all done, your pile is significantly smaller. That way, you avoid frayed tempers and a late night, and get to enjoy your mince pies, repeats of Gavin and Stacey, and a cheeky glass of something mulled with a clear conscience.
... or Santa, or Saint Nick. Whatever you call him, the big man in the red suit takes a bit of getting used to.
Having grown up knowing all about old beardy, you’re probably pretty comfortable with him, but your toddler may not be so sure. So, before you spend ages queuing to see him, then thrust her into his arms, take a bit of time to give her some background information. Explain who Santa is, where he lives and what his job is. The more normal you make it, the more reassuring she’ll find it. Give her a good reason why Santa looks like he does: ‘His suit is red because that helps the reindeers find him in all the snow at the North Pole. And his beard and bushy eyebrows keep him warm because it’s so cold.’
When you encounter Santa, keep your child in your arms or hold her hand, and let her choose how much she has to do with him. There will be many years of her jumping all over him when she’s older. For now, maybe just let her say a brief hello!
Gift wrap with a difference
Let your child ‘help’ wrap some presents. If your baby is young, she’ll be fascinated by the crinkling and rustling sounds as you scrunch the paper. To involve a toddler, make your own wrapping paper using a Christmassy cookie-cutter dipped in paint as a stamp.
Or wrap the presents in brown paper, give her some crayons, and put her in charge of decorating them. Instead of writing gift tags, print photos of the recipient so she can see who they’re for. Play a memory game by asking her if she can remember what’s in the parcels after you’ve wrapped them up.
... and the ivy, and mistletoe look amazing in pictures on Pinterest, but they’re all poisonous, and if any of those pretty, shiny berries were to end up in an inquisitive toddler’s mouth, Christmas certainly won’t be so merry! Stick
to baby-friendly materials for your decorations.
Unless you’re an uber- influencer, focus on the big day for what it is, rather than for the social- media photo opps. If you do want to take more pics to enjoy the memories, then focus on what’s really special to you and will mean more in years to come – like getting four generations of your family together – rather than what will get you most ‘likes’ today.
Travelling here, there and everywhere over Christmas, your baby is likely to spend more time than usual in her car seat. Sitting in a semi- upright position can put pressure on her developing spine, and it’s not the best position for helping her breathe well. This is why most manufacturers recommend babies spend no longer than two hours in this type of car seat – from the moment you put your child in the seat, not just when you put the key in the ignition. New research suggests this period might be too long for very young babies, too. So a lie-flat car seat is a worthwhile investment. Laying down in this position means it’s easier for your baby to get the oxygen she needs.
Most modern homes lack Santa’s favourite method of entry – a chimney – and while you might know that won’t stop gifts appearing on Christmas morning, your inquisitive toddler might not. Reassure her with Santa’s magic key – whether you make one or buy one, hanging it outside together will soon become a Christmas-Eve tradition.
Christmas is a magical sensory time, so make the most of it. A tiny baby will enjoy being laid at your side near your tree, with the rest of the lights dimmed, while a toddler will love a walk outdoors to find the sparkliest decorations in your area. Give her a torch to flash on the way round!
Whether it comes from the breast or the bottle, the chances are you’re usually the one who gives your baby her milk. But over Christmas you might need a bit more flexibility. Spend time now getting your baby happy to accept milk in a bottle from other people. If you breastfeed, pumping your milk is a good option, but be aware your baby may not instantly take to the bottle – you might need to try a few to find one she’s happy to take.
Naps on the go
If your baby snoozes in the car, there are guidelines you need to follow. Firstly, don’t overdress her: she needs to be at a comfortable temperature when the car has heated up, so remove her outer layers. This also means the harness will fit snugly. If you’re concerned she’s too warm, stop the car and wriggle a finger down her back to feel. Don’t be misled by cool hands or feet, as that’s normal for a baby. Attach a mirror to the rear-seat headrest, so you can watch her. If her head flops forwards, stop and reposition it. Her neck muscles need support for her heavy head, and this position may restrict her breathing. Watch, too, she doesn’t slump down in the seat.
When you have a houseful of relatives, or you’re at a family do, plan in at least 10 minutes every hour to give your baby one-on-one time out. Take her upstairs for a peaceful feed, add a mini massage or a game of blowing raspberries on her tummy to a nappy change or head out into the garden for a little walk just the two of you. It will feed her need for your attention, so she’ll stay calmer and more content. And you’ll feel better for it, too.
The secret to a happy Christmas? Before you wrap your toddler’s present, remove all the packaging and put it together, so it’s ready to play with straight away. Yes, it might mean staying up late in the run-up to the big day, but it means much more fun on Christmas morning!
Duck instead of turkey for Christmas dinner? Opening a present on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning? Sausage dog-shaped cookies for Christmas morning breakfast? When your child grows up, as well as the usual traditions, your child will revel in the quirky activities that only your family enjoys, so don’t stick to the script – embrace your imaginative side!
If you can keep your baby or toddler in her routine – or thereabouts – she’ll manage the madness far better, and you’ll all enjoy a happier Christmas. As a general rule, you can get away with going off-piste for one day, as long as you stick to your routine for the two following days.
Atchoo! Should your child’s sneezing coincide with the arrival of your tree, she could be having an allergic reaction to mould spores growing on its trunk and needles. Thirty-five per cent of people report hay-fever-like symptoms over Christmas in the UK, and it even has a name: Christmas Tree Syndrome. The answer is to hose down the tree and thoroughly dry it before bringing it inside or, if she already has known allergies, play it safe with an artificial tree.
There’s an inexplicable force that attracts a crawling baby to whatever she shouldn’t have, so be proactive to keep your home safe (and extra tidy!) when you have visitors. Whisk Aunt Sue’s handbag off the carpet when she sits down to eat her mince pie, and tell her, ‘I’ll pop your bag up here so Isabel doesn’t rummage through it.’ Put drinks on the windowsills rather than the coffee table. And wrap up a big cardboard box – too tall for your child to reach into – in festive paper and sit it in the corner on Christmas Day, so there’s a safe place to stash gifts and the remnants of unwrapping.
Your baby’s first Christmas is a time to treasure, so try to buy at least one unique, personalised item that she will be able to look at and remember for all the years to come. Whether it’s a gorgeous engraved gold bangle or a beautiful wooden toy painted with her name on, it will be the one gift you both love.
Even if you only snatch a few seconds here and there, your baby will love watching herself open her presents or enjoy cuddles with Daddy on her first Christmas in years to come, and you’ll treasure it too!
If you want to avoid waking up to a room full of toys you’re not very keen on your baby playing with on Boxing Day, consider starting a wish-list for your baby.
Toddlers love mark-making, so even if she’s not yet ready to write her name, you might be able to show her how to make a ‘x’, and explain to her that it means a kiss. She ll be more than happy to decorate granny’s (or even your) card with a few. It might not sound a lot now, but when you look back in years to come, her early efforts will give you real Christmas joy.
Feeling frisky as well as festive? The extra time together with your partner, all the feel-good hormones flying around, and perhaps the odd extra glass of wine make this a time when even if you’ve not been that bothered about sex for a while, you might suddenly find you’re interested again. Just be careful if you’re not ready for number two yet – there’s probably a reason that September 26 is the most popular day of the year to have babies! It’s exactly nine months after Christmas after all...
It’s completely normal for your baby’s routine to get knocked out over the Christmas period, and when that’s added to all the excitement, it can mean sleep becomes a bit of a challenge. At this point, it’s important to make sure she doesn’t become too overtired, as this just makes any sleep issue worse. Encourage her to nap when she looks sleepy, and keep her sleep tank well topped up. And take Christmas as an excuse for you to enjoy the odd post-lunch nap, too!