Holiday Stressbusters for Parents and Parents-to-Be

by Ann Douglas

Holiday Stress Busters'Tis the season to be merry-or stressed out, depending on how you pace yourself during the upcoming weeks.

While partying until the wee hours of the morning and dragging yourself into the office the next day was probably no big deal back in your pre-baby days, you may find that you want to limit the number of social engagements you say yes to at this already crazy time of year.

After all, your parenting responsibilities don't disappear just because it's rum and eggnog season: you're still as likely as ever to get a 3:00 a.m. visit from a hungry baby or nightwaking toddler!

Make Your Holidays Stress-Free!

If you're pregnant during the holiday season, try to time your shopping expeditions so that you can avoid the crowds.

That means shopping at off-peak hours (e.g. 10:30 a.m.) or -- even better -- wrapping up your shopping a few weeks ahead of time. Not only is battling the holiday crowds stressful, standing in one place for prolonged periods of time can cause the blood to pool in your lower body, something that could cause you to keel over while you're waiting in line to pay for your purchases. The problem will be one hundred times worse if you're overheated, by the way, so don't make the mistake of shopping with your winter coat zipped up.

If you're pregnant and you're planning to head out of town over the holidays, make sure you ask your doctor or midwife for a copy of your prenatal record. That way, if you run into a health problem while you're on the road, you'll have full details about your medical and obstetrical history with you. It's also important to make sure that you have adequate health insurance in place if you will be traveling out of state. (Note: Most travel insurance policies don't cover women who are more than seven months pregnant, so this is an issue you'll need to discuss with your travel insurance provider.)

Rather than attempting to do a lot of traveling with a young baby -- something that can be both stressful and exhausting -- invite friends and family members to visit you over the holiday season. Just make sure that potential house guests understand up-front that you're not in a position to wait on people hand and foot this year: after all, you're already playing servant to the most demanding of masters, your new baby!

Give some serious thought to which holiday decorations you're uncrating if you've got a crawling baby on the loose.

It's best to leave breakable ornaments with tremendous sentimental value in storage -- or ensure that they're placed well out of the reach of your roving explorer. Ditto for strings of Christmas lights that could result in burns or cuts, if chewed. After all, the last thing you want to do is spend Christmas Eve in the hospital emergency room.

Accept the fact that visiting other people is likely to be stressful if you've got a toddler in tow, and limit the length of your visits accordingly. While you might be up to a one-hour visit at Great Aunt Mildred's, an entire afternoon of trying to keep her Royal Doulton figurines away from your increasingly determined toddler might be a bit much for all concerned. (Personally, I feel that people who refuse to toddler-proof their homes when they're playing host to a toddler deserve to lose the odd Royal Doulton figurine, but that's just a bit of mean-spiritedness on my part!)

Don't expect your toddler to give up his picky eating patterns in honor of the holiday season.

If the only thing he's willing to eat for lunch these days is a plain cheese sandwich, don't expect him to whoop with joy when whatever relative you're visiting plunks a turkey-and-stuffing sandwich down in front of him instead. You can avoid an intergenerational crisis by keeping a backup sandwich in a cooler in the trunk of the car: that way, if your toddler balks at the idea of eating whatever Grandma's dished up, you'll have an easy out. (Of course, Grandma will then be convinced that you're mercilessly spoiling the child, but that's a whole other issue!)