Things to Know When You Have a Newborn in the Winter
My baby brought the blizzard.
There I was, officially 40 weeks, so desperately over being pregnant and having lost all hope of ever going into labor that I had given up. I somehow sat through The Devil Wears Prada twice in a row because I was so worn out from pregnancy that I couldn't be bothered to get myself up to change the channel.
As I tucked myself in that night, I had no idea that an hour later I would wake up in the worst pain of my entire life. As my husband walked me to the car, I took a moment to look up. The sky was basically falling. After weeks of steady cold air, here it was: the inevitable.
It did not let up. Not through my hours of contractions or hours of pushing. Not through the two days spent recovering under hospital sheets and new baby sounds, not even when the pizza guys refused anymore orders to my room because of ice.
And so was my foray into parenthood. The ride home, on a Wednesday, was probably the scariest hour of my life. Though we live about ten minutes from the hospital, the wind blew and whipped snow and ice so hard against the roads that we decided to crawl the back roads home as strangers passed us, throwing up their middle finger. I knew then what the term "mama bear" meant and wished it were June as I envisioned clawing myself through those driver's windshields and roaring at them. What I didn't know then though was that despite the white-knuckle ride home, wintertime would prove a perfect season to get to know my new baby. Here's what I learned in that winter about safety, recovery and self-care in the coldest, darkest season.
Wintertime Road Safety
Be Wise About Icy Roads
New parenthood is scary enough, adding icy roads to the mix is cruel.
If you can, stay home on especially treacherous days. I've nervously rescheduled pediatrician appointments and our newborn hearing test in the dead-of-winter only to be commended by the doctors and receptionists for being smart about my baby's safety.
But for those days where you just have to get out of the house keep these things in mind:
- Bring a fully charged phone.
- Keep a "ditch kit" in the back seat or trunk with stuff like non-perishable snacks, a flashlight, and blankets. As your baby grows into a kid, you'll probably need this stuff stashed close by on outings anyway.
- Grab a bottled water to take with you when you walk out the door since leaving one in the car will just cause it to freeze.
- Check your local 911 or sheriff's office Facebook page to see if there's any road closures, accidents or warnings. This is how I usually find out about bad roads as opposed to just checking the weather before I head out.
- Give yourself at least twenty extra minutes to get to wherever you're going, and never rush for fear of being late. It's just really not worth it.
Make Sure Your Car Seat Is Safe
Besides having your car seat properly placed (rear facing!) and installed (you can contact your local police department for a carseat specialist who will install it for you), you also need to make sure your baby is dressed safely for the car seat.
First off, avoid bulky coats, snow suits, and hats that will inhibit your baby from sitting properly in the seat. Basically, anything too clunky will keep the belts from performing safely during an accident and that includes those J.J. Cole Bundlemes or anything that doesn't come from the car seat manufacturer.
To keep my own blizzard baby warm, I dressed her in thin layers - her usual outfit and then made sure she had a warm, well-fitting winter hat on. It may not seem warm enough for those wintery car rides but you can blast the heat once you're in without compromising the integrity of the car seat's seatbelt fit.
When transporting your little one in the car seat just throw a sheer, muslin swaddle (like those from Aden + Anais) over the car seat for protection from wind and elements, taking it off once you have the car seat inside the car.
Keeping Baby Safe and Healthy
Here's a quick list of things to have on hand for your newborn in the winter:
- Gas drops or gripe water. Save yourself a 3 AM trip on bad roads and keep these on hand.
- NoseFrida and saline drops. Together these two congestion-fighting miracles will help keep your little one healthy through the season.
- Cool mist vaporizer. To keep the air clean and moist during those dry months so your baby doesn't get all boogery.
- Hand sanitizer for drop in guests.
Keep a basket of clean socks, booties, and winter hats next to the door for quick collecting on your way out to doctor's appointments and errand-running.
Taking Your Baby in Public During Cold and Flu Season
I wasn't the most adventurous new mom, but sometimes I just had to escape the house for a cup of gelato or to show my daughter off to old friends. Somehow, my winter baby didn't catch any bugs until her first summer. I think that following these tips wintertime germ tips helped us avoid major illnesses in her first few months:
- My husband and I washed our hands whenever we returned from going out.
- When I was out in public, I made sure to always carry my daughter in her car seat or ErgoBaby carrier to discourage strangers from touching her. If people got especially grabby I'd throw a sheer swaddle over her. Out of sight out of mind, I guess.
- Here's something we didn't do. We didn't regularly get our flu shots and we deeply regretted it when my husband and I caught the flu while I was pregnant with our second daughter just a year later. Nowadays, our whole household stays up-to-date on our vaccines including the flu shot. The CDC has also issued new guidelines for the whooping cough vaccines, recommending frequent boosters to ensure protection.
How to Handle the Holidays With a Newborn
If your little babe made his appearance before the holidays, you're probably feeling the pressure to show him off at family gatherings which understandably comes with a mix of pride and hesitation. Everyone is going to want to hold that baby! But in the first days of motherhood even the people you love most suddenly look like giant-germ-carriers. So if someone asks to hold the baby ask them to wash their hands first. I always kept a pump of anti-bacterial gel on the table nearest to wherever I was sitting with the baby to encourage people without having to ask them. Keep in mind though that hand sanitizer actually doesn't do as great of a job of de-germing people as good ol' fashioned soap and water does.
It's also important to limit how often baby is passed from person to person because babies get real tired of that after a while. So suggest after baby has made her first round that everyone else get a chance after dinner or dessert.
And remember, it's perfectly okay to ask those who appear sick to wait until another time to hold your little one.
If you want to make your baby completely off-limits to all just wear him to your gathering.
Taking Care of You
Handling Winter Blues When You're a New Mom
Honestly, I was pretty bummed after I had my baby. I know that may come off as ungrateful, but becoming a mother for the first time was a huge adjustment when it came to my daily schedule. Even if the weather was rough, before my baby came, I made it a point to get out every day and to stay in touch with friends and family, things that are hard with a new baby and even harder with a new baby in the wintertime.
If I could do it over again, I'd have been more proactive with my mental health, starting with putting down my tablet (I didn't have an iPhone back then...) when I wasn't in the middle of a marathon nursing session and taking more time for self-care (also not really a thing back then...). I know that term is different for everyone but for me that means doing my nails, getting some exercise or chatting with a friend.
Some other things you can do to stave off the winter blues when you're stuck inside with a newborn is to:
- Turn off your screens and sit in front of a window. It might seem obvious, but I'd get into such a rut browsing Pinterest and bingeing true-crime docuseries that I'd neglect to take a moment to soak in some of the rare daylight.
- Speaking of daylight, talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement along with your postnatal vitamin. I take vitamin D now every day during the fall and winter and it's been immensely helpful in regulating my mood during these dark, harsh months up north.
- Diffuse some citrusy scents like orange, lemon or grapefruit essential oil. Don't diffuse too close to your baby and some oils can be toxic to babies and children, but a few drops in a cool mist vaporizer set on your nightstand while you fall asleep can really boost your joy. I'm not someone who touts essential oils as the end-all-be-all, but I think that the power of scent and how it positively affects our mood is pretty universal!
- Get out sometimes. Between bad weather, new mom exhaustion, and the unpredictability of babies, making plans can be more stress than it's worth in those first couple of months with a new winter baby. But taking advantage of a warm night and a partner whose willing to take you on a quiet drive before bed or saying yes to your mom when she asks if you want to go out for an hour for a hot chocolate is a great way to remind yourself that there's a whole beautiful life outside your spit up soaked home.
- Plan for later. Like I said, making immediate plans when you have a new baby can be hard. But planning further out, like a year or so, to your goals and aspirations (Starting your blog? Taking a road trip?) can give you a lot of hope for what's to come once you're through these sunless days and sleepless nights.
Don't Skip Your Six Week Checkup
The last thing I really wanted to do after settling into motherhood was to have to head back to the midwife, omg. But I did and you should too. This is when you'll get the go ahead (or not) to begin having sex and exercising again.
Your OB will also make sure that everything is healing properly and that your uterus is back where it needs to be. They'll also assess you for postpartum mood disorders like anxiety, depression or OCD and help you out if you need access to resources like a lactation consultant, food programs or health insurance.
Guiltlessly Indulge in Time With Your Baby
I feel sad that I'm even typing this but if someone hasn't already told you this - it's okay to be lazy with your baby. This is the beauty of having your baby during a time where even the actual mama bears know to hibernate. While I often felt like I should be doing more - dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, showering - I usually just curled up with my baby girl and watched her or rocked her and I'm really glad I did. She turned five this winter and she's a busy bee who still stops for a cuddle but who isn't as compact and accessible as she once was. I'm so grateful for the time that her and I cuddled up for warmth and got to know each other. It's the best gift that winter gave me.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2015 Kierstin Gunsberg