6. Don't kiss the baby.
The holidays are almost here. The next months will be filled with twinkling lights, delicious food and perhaps the biggest plot twist we could ever imagine—a pandemic.
This is supposed to be a joyous time—especially if someone in your life has recently become a parent and you were hoping to spend time with the new baby right now. COVID-19 has upended everything in its path, and unfortunately the holidays were not spared.
I know you love the new parents and baby and want the absolute best for them. It's just that sometimes when there's a new baby, it's hard to remember what we should or shouldn't do—especially during an unprecedented event like a pandemic; because #allthesnuggles.
Don't worry, we've got you.
Here are 14 rules to remember when considering spending time with newborns for the holidays during a pandemic:
1. Strongly consider not doing it.
I know, and I'm sorry. This isn't what you wanted to see in the number one spot. In a year when so much has been lost, the potential to visit a new baby over the holidays was the beacon of light you were clinging to. It stinks and your disappointment is totally valid.
But here's the thing: The virus is raging right now—I don't use the term lightly. In parts of the country, COVID positivity cases are higher than they were in April when the pandemic was first surging in the United States. This means that the likelihood of transmission is as high as it's ever been.
We've also learned that children are not immune. In the early months of the pandemic, it seemed as though children were not huge transmitters of the virus, but we are learning that that's not actually the case. Kids (and babies) can get COVID-19 and transmit it (even if they aren't showing symptoms).
Of note, if the baby you'd like to visit was born prematurely or is immunocompromised, they may have a higher risk for severe illness if they get COVID.
Not only do you need to consider the risk to the new family, you also need to consider the risk to yourself. It is possible that the new parents and baby were just in a hospital or medical office, meaning that they may have been exposed to the virus.
Lastly, beyond the immediate risk to you and the people you love, there are the public health implications of all of this. We need to get COVID-19 under control—we need to save lives, number one. But we also need to save businesses that are failing, schools that are closing, mental health that is suffering and so much more. We need this pandemic to end, full stop. And this will involve personal sacrifice. This means making really uncomfortable, sad decisions like not visiting family right now.
Please know that when you make these decisions for the greater good, it matters. Making these choices could very well be the reason someone is still alive today. And if we all do our part, perhaps our next holiday season won't be fraught with the need to make these same decisions.
2. Honor the parents' wishes.
If you decide that you are comfortable visiting someone, remember that the decision does not stop at you—you absolutely must consider and honor the wishes of the people you are visiting. I'll be blunt: If you feel comfortable but they don't, they win.
Please understand how hard it must be for them to be in this position, and try not to make it harder. Don't guilt them or pressure them. If they say that they can't have an in person visit right now, try saying, "I am disappointed, but I understand and respect your decision. We love you and we will find a way to make the season feel festive from afar." I promise you that this level of understanding will be remembered and appreciated for a long time.
3. Quarantine for 2 weeks.
Many experts recommend that if people are planning to visit others for the holidays, they strictly quarantine for 2 weeks prior to the travel. You can also get a COVID test prior to traveling but keep in mind that they are not 100% accurate—false negative test rates are as much as 30% (this means that a person gets a negative test result, but they actually do have COVID).
4. Follow the guidelines.
The CDC has outlined a number of guidelines for people that do travel for the holidays. These include factors to consider such as positivity numbers in your geographical area, what to do if you are sick and more.
5. Wash your hands.
This is always important but even more so now. Beyond COVID, the holidays are smack in the middle of the cold and flu season. And new babies are particularly susceptible to illnesses—they likely haven't had vaccines yet, and their tiny immune systems are just firing up.
Combine all of these factors, and you get parents who are anxious about germs.
Reduce their stress level by washing your hands (without them having to ask). A simple, "let me just wash my hands before I pick up the baby" will show them that you are aware of the concern and doing your part—and that means they'll be more willing to give you plenty of baby-snuggle time.
And now to be the real Scrooge: If you're sick, please stay home (even if it's not COVID). Passing an infection to an adult is one thing, but it can genuinely be life-threatening to a newborn.
6. Don't kiss the baby.
Pediatricians tell new parents not to let other people kiss their newborns. Kissing is one of the easiest ways to pass an illness on to a baby (even when you don't have any symptoms yet). The parents are likely feeling awkward about this—they do not want to ask you not to kiss the baby. So, do them a favor and say, "I won't kiss them, I promise." If they do ask or need to remind you (we get it, the baby is SO kissable!), please try not to be offended. It's not you at all.
7. Respect the sleep schedule—yes, it really is that important.
It can be tempting to want to throw schedules and routines to the wind during the holidays. But for parents of new babies, it may not be a possibility. These new parents know all too well that skipping that nap and delaying bedtime (by even 20 minutes) can wreak total havoc on their baby's sleep and the parents' well-being.
Support new parents as they hold firm to their routine. Don't ask them to "relax" or "break the rules just this once." Instead, offer to help them in their routine! Maybe you can assist with the baby's bath, or even take a middle of the night feeding. Instant family hero.
8. Don't comment on how she feeds her baby.
The way a mama chooses to feed her baby is a personal, often very involved decision. Trust that she has made the best decision for her baby, herself and her family, and avoid commenting. If she brings it up, by all means, engage—please just do so without criticizing.
Here are a few comments to avoid:
- "Why aren't you breastfeeding?"
- "You're not going to breastfeed until they're a toddler, are you?"
- "Are you sure you're making enough milk? The baby looks small."
Here are a few great comments (if she brings it up first):
- "Oh, my baby had colic too! We loved this brand of bottles for that."
- "Where would you feel most comfortable feeding the baby? There's a comfy chair right here, or you can use my bedroom upstairs."
9. Anticipate last-minute changes.
Babies and unpredictability go hand-in-hand. Feeds, diaper blow-outs, fussiness and the inevitable "wait, I thought you packed the diaper bag" moments are bound to happen.
Keep in mind that there's a good chance that new parents will be late, or have to leave early; or both. They may also need to escape for bits of time throughout the event. Remember that this is stressful for a new parent, so do your best to respond with understanding and grace. They will appreciate your compassion.
10. Consider your gifts.
I know, I KNOW! There is nothing more fun than shopping for a new baby. By all means, go for it, with a few considerations.
- Check her registry. If the baby was born recently, there's a good chance there are still unpurchased items on the registry. Check there first so you can be sure to get a gift that they really need.
- Size-up. You are not the only person who has been excited to shop for this new baby! She may have drawers full of clothing with the tags still on them. If you want to buy sweet baby clothes, buy a few sizes too big so that the baby can grow into them.
- Ask. Surprises are such fun, but new parents are often pretty strapped for cash—there may be something they really need but can't afford. So instead of going for that totally-adorable-but-not-super-necessary blanket (they already have five of them, by the way), call the new parents up and ask what they might need.
- Consider the parents. Let's be honest, the baby has no idea when you've given them a gift. Do you know who does? The parents. Instead of buying the baby something, what about getting the parents something that they may not treat themselves to? Let them know you're thinking about them too, and that they are still important (albeit not as cute as the baby).
11. Avoid commenting on what she's eating.
If mama is breastfeeding, you might find that you are inadvertently paying more attention to what she is eating. It's because you love her and the baby, I get it! But, do your best not to comment.
There's actually very little scientific evidence that says women need to restrict their diet in any way while breastfeeding. If there is a severe allergy or issue, she might need to, but she'll be well-aware of what she needs to change. This goes for alcohol consumption, too. Let her enjoy her meal—and then bring her seconds. Favorite relative status granted.
12. Share the baby.
Are you tempted to retreat into the corner with the baby all night long? We hear you! But, remember that everyone there wants to love on the baby, too, so make sure you're giving everyone their turn.
Psst: And then tell her that you want to babysit soon. She gets an evening to herself, and you get an evening of uninterrupted solo time with the baby.
13. Give the new baby + new mama some space.
Some new mamas may want to be in a constant cocoon of love and support. Others may feel a bit overstimulated and crave some downtime. If you notice that the new mom and her baby have separated from the group, you can definitely check on them (in fact, it would be a nice gesture to do so). But then, give them some space.
The new mom may need a few moments of quiet, or she may be trying to give her baby a break from the noise and stimulation. They'll come back to join you soon, and be recharged and ready for more attention.
14. Remember her.
A good friend spent her first Christmas as a mama at her in-laws. She had a great time, but she went upstairs to nurse the baby, and when she came back down, she found that they had opened almost all of the presents without her.
No one wants to eat cold food and delaying present opening can be tough. But remember that new moms often feel invisible, so do what you can to make sure the new mom feels included. Wait a few extra minutes so that she can be involved with as much of the festivity as possible. Ask her questions about her, not just the baby.
Let her know that she's still important, as a person, not just the baby's mom.
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