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How to survive the Christmas holidays

Blog post | 01 Dec 2020

It’s Christmas – a time filled with fun, food, families and presents. But just as often, it can be a stressful time, with screaming kids, fighting relatives, having to cook food on a hot day or travel to visit family.

We recently spoke to our maternal child health nurses at Pregnancy, Birth and Baby with some of your questions on how to survive (and enjoy!) the Christmas holidays.

Family dramas

"My partner and I have 2 children each from our former partners. Christmas Day is a nightmare, trying to keep everybody happy and having to drive from pillar to post ferrying children all over the place. It ends up in arguments in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and Christmas Day is horrible."

Blended families and co-parenting are so hard at times. The key is communication and negotiation, and keeping discussions on a practical level, with the welfare of the children number one.

You, your partner and the parents of your children have to work out a fair and reasonable plan that can be used for Christmases to come, that is workable, and that makes everyone feel they have been accommodated. These parenting plans can be an outline that can be made to cover birthdays, holidays and special events, and reduce the stress that goes with sharing time with your children. Being able to communicate with your children’s other parents without emotions lets your children see that you all get on and can work things out between you – which also shows your children the best ways to behave.

"I just find the whole Christmas, family stuff really stressful and upsetting, and added to that I am expecting my first baby this time. I am worried that I will end up in tears and then everyone will get upset with me."

You need to plan ahead which functions you can attend and have an exit strategy if you feel yourself becoming tired and overwhelmed. Discuss this with your partner so that they can support you and understand that you may need to limit the number of functions and time spent at them depending on how you are feeling physically and emotionally. Don’t push yourself for the sake of others. Family members will understand that pregnancy is very taxing and you will need to pace yourself.

"My toddler is really hard to discipline. When you tell him not to do something, he ignores me. I’m worried that on Christmas Day we’ll be unpopular with the rest of the family because when he gets excited, he doesn’t play well with other children, and gets very silly. He’s likely to snatch all the new toys from his cousins on Christmas Day at present time."

Living with a toddler is both a delight and full of challenges. They have difficulty managing their emotions that they can’t explain so they act out, which is normal for their age. You can shape your toddler's behaviour by using strategies such as ‘positive parenting’. You want to encourage good behaviour and help your toddler to learn how to make good decisions.

When your toddler misbehaves, it is important to remain calm and be very consistent with your responses to the behaviour, explaining how you want him to behave and why. It won't happen overnight, but these strategies can help you plan how to manage behaviour on the day in a positive way.

Time for lunch

"My toddler has become quite fussy with her food and it can be a struggle to get her to eat without us both ending up in tears. And I am worried that this will get worse over Christmas, with family having their say, and with all the foods around that I don’t want her to eat."

This can be very hard for parents. They don’t want their child to go hungry so they become anxious about their fussy toddler. We recommend thinking about your toddler’s food intake over the week rather than day to day, since their appetite will vary. Rest assured, no toddler will refuse food if they are really hungry. The trick is to present the food you would like your child to eat, leave it with the child for 20 minutes, and then remove the food. You can cover the food and put it in the fridge to be offered again later. Resist the urge to cajole your child into eating because this sets up meal time as a battle ground. It is very important to be calm and consistent with this.

As for your relatives, listen politely, then simply and firmly state that your child is learning good food habits and you will decide what they will be offered to eat.

"I will be going to lots of outdoor BBQs over the summer period and I am 6 months pregnant. I have a bit of an idea about what I shouldn’t be eating, but how do I know what is safe in summer and outdoors?"

You can still enjoy yourself and participate in the festivities over summer. When going to these types of functions, employ the same food safety principles that you have been using throughout your pregnancy. For example, BBQ meat is OK to eat if it is well cooked and hot when served. Salad dishes should be made with freshly washed ingredients and kept chilled until served. If you are taking your own foods, use an esky with ice blocks to keep things cool and separate any raw meat from salad material.

Would you like a drink?

"I’m pregnant, and wondering about safe levels of alcohol since as I have a few functions to attend for end-of-year celebrations."

Unfortunately, there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption when you are pregnant. There is no research that shows an occasional drink will do little harm. So, not drinking at all when pregnant is the safest option. An alternative option is to have a mocktail, which looks like a cocktail but doesn’t have any alcohol.

"I am breastfeeding a new baby and at Christmas and New Year I would like to have a glass of champagne. I am wondering how I work this around breastfeeding?"

The safest option when breastfeeding is to avoid drinking alcohol all together. However, if you would like to have a glass with Christmas dinner or on New Year’s Eve, if you plan ahead you can express and store milk for the event. Your baby can have the stored milk while you have alcohol in your system or you are waiting for the level of alcohol in your milk to drop.

Are we there yet?

“I’m interested in tips for keeping my 6 month old cool in the car on long trips”.

It is important to keep your baby well hydrated during long trips. At 6 months, your baby can have water from a sippy cup, so keep one handy. Also, a wet flannel in a zip lock bag is useful for wiping your baby’s face and arms to keep them cool. A shade on the window next to your baby is a good idea to prevent the sun from streaming in. You will need to stop for a break at least every 2 hours during your trip. Take this opportunity to give your baby a milk feed or water and to change a nappy if needed. A little bit of time out of the baby capsule every couple of hours is advisable as they are very cramped and close. When you are getting ready to resume your trip, you may need to run the air-conditioning for a couple of minutes before you put your baby back in the car since cars very quickly become very hot when you stop.

"We’re driving from Melbourne to Sydney to visit friends in January. I have a 4-year-old and a 15-month-old. We haven’t taken a long trip with the kids before and are a bit worried about how to manage this".

Planning regular breaks along the way, toys to keep them occupied and healthy snacks and plenty of water are some of the things you can do to help make the trip easier. Take paper towels and hand sanitiser and all the things you need to have on hand.

Help and support

Support from Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is available over the Christmas period. You can speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436, 7 days a week.

You can also contact the following organisations for help and support:

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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