The holidays are almost here. The upcoming months will be filled with twinkling lights, delicious food and, yes, still a global pandemic.
This is supposed to be a joyous time—even more so if someone in your life has recently become a parent and you were hoping to spend time with the new baby. While vaccinations have certainly changed the landscape (especially as compared to where we were this time last year), kids under 5 aren't yet eligible for vaccination, and babies, of course, can't wear masks. Keeping our most vulnerable family and friends safe while navigating our new normal can be tricky.
I know you love the new parents and baby and want the absolute best for them. It's just that when there's a new baby, extra precautions are always necessary—but especially during a pandemic.
Here are 13 rules to remember when considering spending time with newborns for the holidays during a pandemic.
1. Get vaccinated
If you haven't yet, vaccinating yourself against Covid and flu (and Tdap if you're a grandparent or caregiver with frequent access to the baby) is the best method for preventing illness in a newborn. Because infants aren't eligible to get a flu shot until 6 months of age (and a Covid vaccine hasn't been approved for this age group yet), it'll provide a baseline of safety that I'm sure the parents will be ever-grateful for.
It's also important to remember that you're not fully vaccinated against Covid (or flu) until two weeks after your final dose, so making an appointment now can mean you'll be ready once the holidays roll around.
2. Wear a mask
Yep, even if you're fully vaccinated—and especially if you're holding the baby. Babies and kids can get seriously ill with Covid, or some may contract the virus even if they aren't showing symptoms. In the early months of the pandemic, it seemed as though children were not largely affected by the virus, but now thanks to this past summer's surge of the Delta variant, case numbers among kids are increasing rapidly.
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. Wearing a mask adds an extra layer of protection to help keep everyone healthy.
3. Consider an outdoor visit
An outdoor sip-and-see to welcome the little one is the absolute safest way to say hi at this time—yes, even if you're vaccinated. While case numbers are still decreasing, the virus is still very present. As of Nov. 2021, the U.S. is still averaging about 75,000 new cases each day. This means that community transmission rates are still very high.
Because the virus can pass more easily indoors, an outdoor visit is your best bet. If you do decide to head indoors, wear a mask!
4. Take a rapid test
Though they're not a substitute for getting a vaccine, taking a rapid test before visiting or hosting can help assuage some fears about the virus. Stock up on a few over-the-counter rapid tests to take at home before any larger family gatherings this season or before visiting someone who is unable to get vaccinated (like a newborn). Rapid tests are not 100% accurate, but the newer versions do detect the virus in up to 98% of cases when infectious.
5. Follow the guidelines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) most recent recommendations for travel during the holidays state that domestic travel should be delayed until you are fully vaccinated. If you're traveling with young kids who have not been vaccinated (and even if you're traveling alone), masks should be worn in all public places to prevent the spread of Covid.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 feeding. Instant family hero.
9. 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 giving them 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 style 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."
10. 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.
11. 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 their registry. If the baby was born recently, there's a good chance there are still un-purchased 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 adorable-but-not-super-necessary blanket, text the new parents 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).
12. Give the new baby & 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, recharged and ready for more attention.
13. Remember her
A good friend spent her first Christmas as a mama at her in-laws. She had a great time, but after she went upstairs to nurse the baby and 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 mama.
A version of this post was originally published on Nov. 16, 2020. It has been updated.