A Pediatrician's Healthy Holiday Tips for Baby

Smiling baby wearing a furry white hat and sitting by a holiday lights

'Tis the season for staying healthy! Board-Certified Pediatrician Dr. Arthur Lavin is sharing insight on how to have a healthy holiday with your little one. You can hear more from Dr. Lavin on the ParentTalk Podcast.

Holidays bring great joy but also great intensity, and sometimes great challenges, too. From Thanksgiving and Christmas, to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, to New Year’s Day, there is a lot of travel and visiting with different circles of friends, colleagues and families. And, in many parts of the United States, this is all happening with cold, wet weather.

If you’re a new parent, you may be wondering: what about the holidays can affect your baby’s health? And, how can you protect them during the busy holiday season? In this post we will take a look at three major impacts on your baby during the holidays: sleep, relationships and infections. What a trio! Keep reading for some healthy holiday tips. 

Holidays, Sleep and Your Baby

Baby wrapped in a knit blanket and snuggling their parentBaby wrapped in a knit blanket and snuggling their parent

Holidays are one of the great disrupters of sleep. From 4 months of age onwards, healthy babies sleep in cycles and have the ability to sleep all night. What makes the holidays upset this blissful routine? 

Big changes to your baby’s routine or environment mean that when they come to an end of a sleep cycle, they are more likely to notice something is different and wake rather than repeat another sleep cycle. Common holiday sleep disruptors include:

  • Travel – Bumps on the road, the sound of the airplane, being carried in a car seat, anything can leave your baby at the end of any sleep cycle eager to wake up and find out why things are different.
  • Later bedtime – Staying up late visiting, particularly for toddlers, always shakes up sleep cycle routines. 
  • Shared sleep space – Don’t underestimate the power of everyone piling into a friend’s guest room or a hotel room. Babies have an uncanny ability to notice when you are nearby.

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Holiday Health Tips for Baby’s Sleep

If you’re able, stick to the normal sleep routine as closely as possible during the holidays. However, this is often not feasible, and you have to wait until the holiday is over to get your baby’s sleep back on track. In that instance, try to remember: 

  • If your baby was sleeping through the night before the holidays, they already know how to get themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night. You are not introducing a new skill, you are returning to an established ability.
  • Your action here is to simply give your baby the opportunity to find their own path to fall asleep after waking on their own.
  • Give them their usual bedtime routine, and let them fall asleep. If they wake up before wake-up time for the day, give them the chance to settle on their own. This space is a gift you’re giving to allow them to find their own way – and they will.

Holidays, Relationships and Your Baby

Toddler wearing a Santa hat and standing near a sofaToddler wearing a Santa hat and standing near a sofa

Sleep routines are so much simpler than relationships, aren’t they? The holidays are a time when our family relationships – parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc. – come to the forefront of our lives. When we get together, we tend to pick up exactly where we last left off, which sometimes means a place of hurt or stress.  

How Does Relationship Stress Affect Your Baby?

Since relationships are the central reality to all people’s lives, we are built to tune into them to an extraordinary degree. I will always remember seeing newborns held by an anxious or sad parent rapidly bursting into tears, or those held by a happy parent acting very happy. Even at birth, humans tune very finely to the emotions of others. 

If you or your partner are hurt or anxious at a holiday gathering, your baby will feel that, too. They may have no idea why their mom or dad is happy, sad or upset, but they feel it.

Holiday Health Tips for Relationship Stress

As the holidays approach, consider what you can do proactively to manage your relationship stress. This benefits both you and your baby. Some ideas include: 

  • Lean on friends – Have a cup of tea or coffee, grab a bite to eat, or schedule a Zoom call before the big get-together, and talk about the discomforts you anticipate for this holiday season.
  • Make a plan – Be honest about the discomforts you can rightly anticipate and then plan around how to establish boundaries and responses that keep you from being dragged into hurt.

Minimizing your stress is by far the most powerful way you can keep that stress from flowing to your baby. But let’s say some does – that’s what soothing a baby is all about. Rocking, reading or singing to your baby can soothe them, and it can help you, too. 

Holidays, Infections and Your Baby

Nurse preparing to give a vaccine to a babyNurse preparing to give a vaccine to a baby

Before COVID, we used to say, colds and flus will fly, let them fly, and proceed to go to large gatherings without a second thought. Then COVID hit, and a cold or a flu became a very dangerous possibility, and we avoided large gatherings or tested before going. Now, post COVID lockdowns, a lot of us have returned to letting the viruses fly with no concern … mostly.

During the pandemic, we learned we could stop the spread of viruses, but only by almost 100% complete isolation. During this time in my practice, we saw NO colds, there was NO annual flu epidemic, and it was stunning.

But the isolation was even more stunning, so when colds and flus stopped being quite so deadly, we gathered again. But, people started paying closer attention to respiratory illnesses, like:

  • SARS-CoV-2 the virus that causes COVID
  • Influenza viruses
  • RSV
  • Rhinoviruses

And, of course, the ancient four coronaviruses that still cause about 25% of all colds. All of these germs spread well and can cause infections with no symptoms, so asking all your family to stay away if ill has no impact when someone feels great and has no idea they’re contagious. And it is completely unworkable to keep an N-95 mask on your baby throughout the holidays!

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Holiday Health Tips for Germs

There is not much you can do to protect your baby from being exposed. But there is one thing you can do to help keep those infections mild for your baby (and your grandparents, who are also vulnerable) – immunize. There are three respiratory viruses that you can get your baby immunized for:

  • Influenza – Can be given at age 6 months and up
  • COVID – Can be given at age 6 months and up
  • RSV – Can be given at age 8 months and up, also recommended to the unimmunized mother as it delivers great protection to your newborn if you are immunized before birth

Beyond that, asking relatives and friends to wash hands before holding your baby, or not to if they are obviously ill, makes sense of course, too.

Dr. Lavin’s Bottom Lines on Healthy Holidays

  • Holidays are a special time of year when work recedes, gatherings happen and special times are shared.
  • All that intensity can disrupt sleep, revisit painful parts of many relationships and spread tons of colds. Luckily there are steps you can take for each
  • Sleep retraining is always easier than the first round of sleep training.
  • For relationship stress, prepare for your hurts with your partner and friends, protect and soothe yourself, and soothe your baby if they pick up on these stresses.
  • For virus protection, get your baby immunized for influenza, COVID and RSV if their age permits.
  • Nothing helps the full opportunities of celebrations succeed like knowing you are in a position to help keep your baby well-rested, calm and protected from the full blast of infections during the holiday season.

Happy, healthy holidays to all,

Arthur Lavin MD

Dr. Arthur Lavin, M.D.Dr. Arthur Lavin, M.D.

Arthur Lavin, M.D., is a pediatrician with 25+ years of experience. Dr. Lavin trained at Harvard, Ohio State University and MIT, earning board certifications as a general pediatrician and as a specialist in newborn medicine. He has served as president of the Northern Ohio Pediatric Society and on a number of national committees of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Lavin received international recognition from Microsoft for being a pioneer in the use of technology in medicine, and has been at the forefront of applying the lessons of brain science to helping families advance their children’s learning and coping needs. Dr. Lavin now co-hosts the ParentTalk podcast.