This short time, the immediate postpartum, is a season of your life and won’t last forever. It’s really important, for the sake of your physical and mental health, to give yourself permission to not do All The Things right now. This is especially true during the holidays. Here are some tips and reminders to help yourself and your baby make it through the holidays with minimal upheaval.
1.) Don't try to do everything this year.
This is not a normal year. You know all of those traditions and gatherings that you like to do (or feel obligated to do)? Pick one or two this year (or none!), and put the others on the shelf. They’ll still be there next year when you have more of your Self to go around, and can actually enjoy them. When I was living in Honduras, I heard a saying that roughly translates to, “ A river, split in too many streams, runs dry and goes nowhere.” The meaning is obvious, but it can be extrapolated even further: it is a good idea to direct your limited amount of energy (just like a river has a limited amount of water and force) to a couple things to which you can commit fully, rather than trying to do too much and ending up frazzled and spread too thin. Remember, your baby also has limited amounts of stimulation and energy that he or she can handle in a day, so it’s important to tone things down for your baby, too.
2.) Modify where you can.
If there are things you really want to do, but know that it will be too much, ask yourself if there is a way to modify things to make them more manageable. For example, I usually host Christmas Eve dinner for my extended family. This is a marathon of cooking, cleaning, and gift preparing. To be clear, I do actually enjoy all of this. However, two years ago when I had a barely-three-month-old at Christmas time, I knew I couldn’t manage but I didn’t want to give up the tradition. Thankfully, my mother sensed that this was the case and offered to be the host (and the cook, etc.) but to do it at my house. This ended up being a perfect compromise. I sat in the kitchen, feeding my baby and chatting with my mom while she happily prepared everything. She handled everyone’s drink refills and wiped up all the spills. I was so grateful for her help but even more thankful that I didn’t have to miss out on my favorite holiday event.
3.) Set boundaries.
I’m a big supporter of boundaries. You will never harm someone by setting healthy boundaries. The boundary (not you, yourself) may cause some hurt feelings, but hurt does not equal harm. Boundaries are the sign of a successful relationship. Houses have property lines, highways have speed limits, countries have borders and laws. You can tell your cousin Sammy that no, she can’t hold the baby right now. You can require hand washing before touching the baby. You can cheerfully say “No, thank you!” to all the unwanted advice thrown at you. You can ban kissing the baby (it’s flu season!) You can visit some family and then leave after an hour because you’re tired. You can set a limit on how long people can visit you, too! And I forbid you to feel bad about any of this. This is real self-care; protecting yourself and enforcing your own boundaries. It doesn’t mean you love your family any less, it means you’re loving yourself also.
4.) Schedule down-time to relax
Speaking of self-care, as much as we are tempted to schedule every minute of our vacation or weekends during the holidays, it’s important to keep some free time open to recharge. We aren’t meant to be on the go all the time. Our brains are not wired to be able to handle that without developing an anxiety disorder (ask me how I know). In fact, studies show that being too busy and multi-tasking causes symptoms of anxiety even in people without an underlying tendency to be anxious. If you already know you have an anxiety disorder, it’s even more important to leave open spots in your calendar. This may feel strange at first, if you’re accustomed to doing the opposite, but try it, and then come back and tell me how much calmer you feel.
5.) Ask for and accept help.
This is not the season to try and be everything and everywhere for everyone. You are human. Your baby is human. No one is handing out awards for Newly Postpartum Mom Who Still Got Everything Done, or Baby Who Didn’t Fuss At All During Family Gathering. Do you have a sweet mother-in-law like mine who offers to do your dishes and laundry for you? Let her. If she’s not quite as prone to offer favors, just ask her. “It would be such a gift to my baby and I if I could get some help with household stuff right now. Can I ask you for a hand?” If you’re not close with your family, I’ve found that friends are more than willing to help out, even if they don’t necessarily think to offer. I never feel put-out when my friends reach out for help, in fact I am always flattered and honored that they trust me enough to be vulnerable. Give them the opportunity to feel like that.
6.) Be kind to yourself and your baby
Last of all, cut yourself some slack and repeat after me: I just had a baby. I’m still recovering from pregnancy and birth. My baby is brand new and still figuring things out, too. I am not sleeping as much as I normally do. Having a newborn is a huge transition even in the most uneventful time of year. I still love my family as much as I always have, but I can allow myself the space to focus on myself and my newborn this holiday season instead of everything else. This does not make me deficient, it makes me wise.
Miesha Vargas is a mother of 4, a professional birth doula of 8 years, a certified Lamaze childbirth educator, and the founder of Monarch Birth & Baby.