How to Keep Baby Calm & Happy During the Holidays

Baby in car seat with ninni pacifier

The holidays are a time for celebrating timeless traditions and making happy memories.

And this year may feel extra special if you’ve got a new baby in the family.

But in between shopping for presents, decking the halls and rushing off to all those parties, it can be a stressful time for you and baby. And if you’re traveling long distances to visit relatives, things get even more hectic.

The good news is there are ways to make things go more smoothly for you and your kiddos. From planning ahead to simply going with the flow, here are some ways to keep the season merry and bright for everyone this year!

Yes, Overstimulation Is a Thing!

Did you know 90% of your child’s brain development happens by age 5? During the first few years, babies and young kids add up to 1 million neural connections every second!

Believe it or not, celebrating holidays can be an exciting learning experience that promotes healthy social and cognitive development. It’s a time when baby gets to meet new people and experience new sights, sounds and textures. 

But too much of a good thing leaves young kids feeling stressed out. Overstimulation happens when the brain tries to absorb too much information all at once. That’s why a Christmas party filled with lots of talking, loud music and blinking lights can be upsetting and exhausting. 

Signs of overstimulation in babies include

  • Muscle tension
  • Clenched fists
  • Jerky movements
  • Kicking
  • Waving arms
  • Crying
  • Turning away from people

Overstimulated toddlers may exhibit the following behaviors: 

  • Meltdowns or tantrums
  • Difficulty expressing feelings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Refusal to perform simple tasks
  • Aggressive behaviors such as kicking or hitting

Low-Stress Holidays for Babies & Toddlers

With a little pre-planning, you and your baby can enjoy a happy holiday and reduce overstimulation. Here are some things to do before and during any upcoming Christmas parties your child will be attending.

Prepare Ahead of Time 

Remember, you know your baby’s needs and temperament better than anyone. Decide ahead of time whether your child is ready for parties and how many they should attend this year. 

Also, keep in mind that crowded gatherings increase the risk of illnesses like Covid, flu or strep. For a newborn, it may be best to limit your baby to small gatherings - and have a trusted adult care for them if you’ll be attending any larger events.

Pack a few essentials like formula, diapers, blankets and pacifiers. Play some Christmas music at home so it sounds familiar when your baby hears it at the party. 

For toddlers and preschoolers, describe what they can expect while driving to the party. Show them pictures of new people they may meet before you leave. This is also a good time to teach simple ways to express their needs. Your child may feel more confident if they know words like “tired” or “break.” 

Offer Support During Events 

Pay close attention to your child’s behavior during a party. Notice if they are feeling tired or overwhelmed. Move to a quiet space at the first sign of overstimulation. The sooner you respond, the less likely your child will have a meltdown. 

When your child is in a good mood, you can use the occasion as a learning opportunity. Describe what is happening as the event progresses:

  • When you arrive, say “Let’s go ring the doorbell and say hi to Grandma!”
  • Name the foods that are being served and the songs that are played.
  • If there is a gift exchange, name and describe the items as they are opened.

It’s a good idea to bring a small toy if your child needs some time to themselves. You can also help baby self-soothe by offering the super-soft Ninni pacifier, especially after feeding. The Ninni mimics the natural movements of breastfeeding, which reduces stress for babies and moms alike!

Maintain Familiar Routines 

One of the biggest challenges at holiday time is maintaining your child’s daily routine. Plan to let them wake up, feed and go to bed as close to the same time as possible. If they’ll be getting up early to see what Santa brought, or staying up late on New Year’s Eve, plan some extra nap time in advance. 

A consistent routine makes it easier for baby to get good quality sleep and feel hungry when it’s time to feed. Odd schedules, crowded rooms and unfamiliar spaces may disrupt these patterns. Before bringing baby to a Christmas party, discreetly ask the host if there’ll be a quiet space for feeding, diapering and napping. 

Expect the Unexpected 

Keep in mind that mishaps will probably happen no matter how carefully you plan things in advance. The occasional spill or tantrum is part of life. Instead of acting embarrassed or shaming your child, it’s better to stay calm, have a sense of humor and offer comfort.

Taking Baby on a Road Trip

Baby sleeping peacefully in car seat with ninni pacifier

You may be nervous about what to do if you’ll be traveling long distances over the holidays. This is especially true if it’s baby’s first long trip. Whether you’re traveling by car or by plane, planning ahead and expecting the unexpected are key.

Pack Enough Essentials 

A good rule of thumb is to pack twice as many baby supplies as you think you need. For example, if you’re planning a 3-day trip, pack enough for 6 days. In addition to formula, diapers, blankets and a set of Ninni pacifiers, bring along a few small toys to help baby stay calm during the trip. Keep a set of supplies close at hand in a tote bag during the trip. The last thing you want is to be frantically digging through your suitcase on the side of the road trying to find the baby wipes! 

Plan Routes for Convenience 

For road trips, take the shortest route possible and save the scenic route for when your child is old enough to appreciate it. When traveling with a baby, you need easy access to food, restrooms, gas stations and other amenities along the way. Try to plan pit stops and hotel stays in advance. 

Make Plenty of Stops 

A great way to cut down on meltdowns is to give baby lots of breaks from riding in the car. A good rule of thumb when traveling with infants or toddlers is to stop at least once an hour. Study a map of your route ahead of time to find good places for feeding, diaper changing or just walking around in the fresh air. 

Create a Relaxing Car Environment 

If another adult is traveling with you - such as a spouse or grandparent - take turns between driving and infant care. The non-driving adult can sit on the back seat to handle feeding, diaper changes and playing games to keep baby company. 

Babies and young kids should get plenty of exercise during rest stops. Gently walking around, dancing or playing peek-a-boo offers positive stimulation. These activities will help your child relax when it’s time to get back in the car seat. Offer the Ninni pacifier to help baby stay calm as you travel down the highway.

Traveling by Plane with Baby

As with traveling by car, keep a few essential items close to you while flying on a plane. Ask the cabin crew for assistance if you need help getting baby safely strapped in. 

Offer baby a bottle or pacifier during takeoff and landing. Sucking and swallowing movements help to relieve ear discomfort. 

If you’re allowed to do so, gently walking up and down the aisle helps to keep baby calm. If your child starts to cry, consider taking them to the back of the plane where the hum of the engine may mask the sound. Have a small toy within easy reach to keep baby occupied during the flight. 

Taking Care of You!

Finally, another great way to take care of your child this holiday season is to take good care of you!

We know this time of year can be super-stressful for parents and kids alike. So go easy on yourself, and allow plenty of time for shopping and getting ready for events. Eat plenty of healthy foods you like, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. 

And just like babies sometimes need a break from the commotion, grown-ups do, too. In between rushing around, allow yourself some quiet time to take a hot bath, read a book or sneak in a nap before a party. Let go of perfectionism and focus on the chance to celebrate and create special memories with loved ones. 

When you treat yourself, you’ll be better able to give your family a holiday they’ll treasure for years to come!