Just like the end-of-year holiday marathon, childbirth is action-packed, labor-intensive and messy. As if planning parties, preparing epic feasts and trekking through crowded shopping centers weren’t enough, some moms-to-be are managing the additional stresses and demands of a third-trimester pregnancy and impending delivery.
While first-time moms grapple with the many unknowns of labor and delivery, veteran mamas feel additional pressure to give their families a memorable celebration and a new baby. The stress of either scenario can take a toll.
To induce or not to induce
There are parties to attend, gifts to give and receive, and turkey dinners to enjoy. It’s no wonder a timely delivery looks tempting. Some health care providers might even drop some heavy-handed hints about scheduling baby’s arrival.
“The sense of being rushed to go into labor and delivery before Christmas so as to avoid inconveniencing my OB/GYN and hospital staff was very frustrating,” says Jennifer Mann, a new mom in Welland, Ontario, Canada. “At every weekly visit, my doctor asked if I wanted to ‘speed things along, so I wasn’t spending Christmas in the hospital.’ I wasn’t concerned about [that] at all, but it was obvious that she was.”
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About 23 percent of labors are induced, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though some are for medical emergencies while others are elective inductions. “There is a perception of ‘I want what I want, and I want it now,’” says Kelly Stuart, a registered midwife in Welland, Ontario, Canada. That goes for mothers-to-be and care providers.
But the convenience of induction comes at a cost, including upping the chances you’ll need a C-section. Findings published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggest women are twice as likely to give birth by cesarean after an elective induction. Other induction risks include a longer labor time, low heart rate for baby, more bleeding after delivery, and a greater risk of infection for both mother and child.
“There are doctors out there who would induce women at 37 weeks because they’re going on holiday,” says Stuart. “Then you end up with interventions like forceps, things not working, inductions taking days. … Labor is a rude awakening to how much you’re actually not in control.”
The increased possibility of intervention following induction is something hospitals are starting to take more seriously, with some instituting policies that restrict elective inductions before 41 weeks. (The CDC and March of Dimes campaign, “Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait,” encourages parents to delay elective deliveries until at least 39 weeks’ gestation.)
If you’re planning a natural delivery, getting the right support is crucial, and that includes your primary care provider and your family. “Thankfully, my husband supported my desire to go into labor naturally, and we both stuck to our guns,” says Mann, who eventually gave birth on her due date, December 20.
A holly jolly fourth trimester
For those who deliver over the holiday season, managing the postpartum parade presents a unique challenge. With party invitations rolling in and guests coming and going, the pressure to keep up a holiday schedule doesn’t necessarily stop for baby.
“For three days you go to the bathroom, you breastfeed, you eat, and that’s it,” says Stuart, who typically visits a new mother four times at home after her baby is born. “Women will call me and say, ‘Can you come before 3 p.m.? I’m going to my parents’ for Christmas dinner,’” says Stuart. “‘No, you just had a baby two days ago. You should be on the couch,’ I’ll say.”
Western culture, which often prizes busyness and a strong work ethic, isn’t always the best atmosphere for new mothers. Other cultures treat moms more delicately. For example, in India there is a traditional confinement period of about 40 days. Grandma is usually on hand to look after the baby and give the mother a special daily massage or maalish to help soothe and heal the body.
Postpartum holiday dinners would be laughable in China, where it’s believed even a gust of city air can disturb a new mother’s Qi and interfere with the healing process. Chinese mothers traditionally “sit the month.” They’re cared for by family, fed nourishing soups and are instructed not to leave the house. There’s even a new trend toward postnatal care centers, where mother and baby pay up to $20,000 to receive a month of round-the-clock attention from professionals trained in postpartum care.
“We’re very hard on ourselves. There’s too much expectation,” suggests Stuart. “We should be redefining that.” Setting aside some time for rest and self-care after your baby is born is a good place to start—holiday or no holiday.
More isn’t always merrier
With end-of-the-year babies, it’s critical to carve out time for relaxing and bonding with your newest family member. Creating that sacred space is something some moms- to-be worry will be doubly challenging during the holiday season, when family expects to spend time together and friends are off work and waiting by the phone.
“My biggest fear is that this baby decides to come on Christmas or New Year’s,” says Emily Reid, who is due January 5. “How am I going to feel being days postbirth, having family swarming my newborn, missing that critical bonding time?”
Running interference is a good job for your partner. Let people know ahead of time whether you’re open to visitors in the early days, and be firm. Almost everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule, but all those siblings, cousins, aunties and grandmothers add up fast. Limit yourself to low-maintenance guests, and don’t be shy to issue a blanket ban on visitors for a couple of days, if necessary.
The season of giving
If you do allow guests, take full advantage of that generous holiday spirit, and cash in on all the extra hands in your home. When people offer to help, don’t turn them down. Make sure they know how to make themselves useful—folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash can save you valuable time and energy.
Don’t hesitate to ask for a home-cooked meal, either. It’s a holiday tradition to share food, so eat your best friend’s potpie sans guilt. “Never say no,” instructs Kathleen Milligan, a family life coach in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. “If people are going to give you food, say yes … even if they’re already busy.”
For many, the holidays mean back-to-back family dinners, which (if you play your cards right) could translate into a tasty parade of leftovers. If you’re in the last few weeks of pregnancy, you’ll be grateful to forgo cooking. If you have a new baby at home, don’t be afraid to send dad to the door to collect the casseroles and thank your would-be guests.
Though it may be a bustling time of year, you still deserve your sacred moments with baby. They’re fleeting, and once they’re gone, you don’t get them back.
Things can either ramp up or slow down over the holidays, depending on how you play it. Try to find a balance between taking it easy and continuing to make plans, see family, bake cookies and exchange a few gifts. Your baby is a built-in excuse to turn down those lingering party invitations—or even show up unannounced and empty-handed. Everyone will be thrilled to meet your tiny party crasher.