Planes, Trains, and Car Seats

‘Do you have the Pack n’ Play? Did you remember the pacifier? The diapers?

Stop! We have to turn around, we forgot Pooh-Bear! She won’t be able to sleep at Aunt Sue’s without it!’

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year full of family, friends, and good cheer. But when families must travel, the holidays can be equally magical and stressful at the same time. Once at your destination and greeted with the nostalgia and warmth of familiar faces, food, and more, everything feels cozy and welcoming. But your baby, however, may be having a different experience.

From your baby’s point-of-view everything is new, and what brings comfort to parents, can be a lot for a baby to process. So how can parents help their baby with the excitement of the holidays?

In the first year of life we grow and develop rapidly, faster than any other time in our lives - ask any parent about their baby changing from week to week and they will share their awe and amazement. Within those first 12 months, there are three major developmental milestones that take place and when parents know about these developmental stages, they better understand what their baby is experiencing and, more importantly, how they can help.

As noted by Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D. and William J. Pieper, M.D., in Smart Love, “This is the start of an exciting process of getting to know your child and, thereby, becoming an expert at making her happy.”*

Around three months old parents will begin to notice the first major milestone: an engagement with their baby that differs from prior exchanges, and that is - when parents smile at their baby, their baby smiles back. This may seem like a simple and expected part of development, but something big is happening for your baby - she is consciously connecting with you and experiencing happiness - and it’s manifesting in the exchange of smiles. And the joy that this interaction generates through your relationship is what your baby learns to crave.

During this stage, infants are also absorbing a lot of information through their day - the lights, the sounds, the smells - their little and magnificent minds are constantly processing the world around them. Knowing this, it’s easy to see how the holidays can be overstimulating and your baby may act differently at Aunt Sue’s than at home. They may cry more than usual, be unusually ‘fussy’, their sleep may be irregular, or their feedings may be different. All of these behaviors are normal responses for infants when in a new environment. And because Aunt Sue’s home is new in every way, it can cause fatigue and even irritability for your baby. What helps soothe a baby at this age is providing familiarity - staying physically close so she can smell you, feel your familiar cuddles, hear your voice, and even exchange smiles. If your baby is overstimulated, consider going to a quiet room if Aunt Sue’s kitchen is noisy or full of people. When alone with your baby, try to recreate her home by providing her senses with familiar sights, sounds, smells, and objects. This may include a piece of your clothing to snuggle, providing familiar sounds like lullabies or white noise, a light projector, her favorite blanket, and of course your voice and cuddles. Through your actions you alleviate anxiety, deepen your bond, and help nurture their sense of well-being and self-esteem.

“When you soothe your baby, you show him that you want him to feel happy rather than sad.”*