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Cocktail Hour with Contented Babies by Gina Ford

The invitation to your best friend's Christmas Eve Drinks Party sits unanswered on the mantelpiece. Of course you would love to go, but with a five-month-old baby who has been in a good routine for many weeks, this no longer seems quite so possible. Your friend will be most disappointed if you can't make it, but you can't bear the thought of ruining your little one's routine.

From my many conversations with new mums, I know that this is a common concern. It can take a few weeks to get your baby established in his routine, and as a result it seems vital to continue in exactly the same way every night, without instituting a single change, for fear of breaking the spell. This is all well and good most days, but not if it means you have to refuse all invitations and miss out on gatherings with friends and family. Having worked in the Far East, Middle East and Italy where it was common for babies to be taken to family gatherings in the evening, I know from personal experience that it is possible to adapt the routines when necessary, and the earlier that you learn to do this, the more confident you will become about accepting occasional evening invitations.

As a new parent you need the support of your family and friends. To strengthen and build these relationships, it is important that you don't foster resentment, as others may not initially understand your concern for your baby's routine, and will feel neglected if you turn down all their invitations. The key thing is compromise. Although there will be times when you do have to turn down an appealing invitation, there will be others when you decide it is more important to attend, for example, your Grandmother's ninetieth birthday party than to ensure your baby is put in his cot at 7pm.

Depending on the age of your baby, there are two ways to approach the possibility of taking your baby along with you to a party. If your baby is over six months and in a well-established routine, ask your hosts if you may arrive early to carry out your baby's bed and bath-time routine at their house. In this way, you will be able to settle the baby in a travel cot in a bedroom upstairs before the other guests arrive. However, if for any reason your baby does not settle as usual - perhaps because he senses that he is not in his usual environment - don't worry or become anxious. Accept the situation as it is and follow the advice below for younger babies.

If it is not an option to carry out your evening routine at the party venue, when, for example, the party is at a restaurant, it is still possible for you to accept the party invitation, as long as you acknowledge and understand that for this one evening your baby's routine will have to be altered, as outlined below. In this instance, the key thing to remember is that for the duration of the party, you treat your baby's feeds and sleeps as daytime ones, rather than as evening or night ones, and you don't carry out your usual bed and bath-time routine.

By following my guidelines, I hope you will begin to have the confidence to accept party invitations and learn how to adapt the routines, safe in the knowledge that your baby can come too, and will continue to be a contented little baby - and you will be a contented, relaxed mother!

Guidelines for successful socialising with contented babies:

  • During the afternoon of the party, try to take your baby out for a walk. I have always found that fresh air helps to settle babies - and it will energise you, putting a spring in your step, ready for the night ahead.
  • If your baby is on solids, feed him his tea as usual - or slightly earlier in order to give yourself time to get ready. If possible, ask your partner or a grandparent to feed him, whilst you shower and apply your make-up.
  • Before you leave for the party, offer him what would normally be his bedtime feed, but treat it like a daytime feed. It is important that you do not send out signals that it is time for bed.
  • Wrap your baby warmly to transport him to the party. Remember to pack a spare set of clothes, blanket and, if you are formula-feeding, everything you will need for two milk feeds.
  • Once at the party, your friends will be keen to say hello to your new baby. Try to keep him in his buggy or car seat, which will avoid him being passed around to too many people wanting to cuddle him. Explain that normally he is asleep at this time, and that you want to avoid him becoming over-stimulated which could result in him getting very upset, and you having to leave the party early.
  • If your baby had a short sleep in the car he will probably get a second wind and be happy to stay awake for one to two hours before he needs to sleep. If he did not sleep in the car it is important that you keep an eye on him so that you can encourage him to nap before he gets over-tired. You may have to offer him a small top-up feed to get him to sleep. Try to find a quiet spot where you can do this. After his feed, settle him in his buggy, in a quiet corner of the party, tucking him in with blankets as you would do in his cot.
  • As your baby may sense that he is not in his normal surroundings, you may need to jiggle the buggy a little to help him settle and go to sleep.
    With your baby asleep, choose one or two trusted friends who will take turns on 'buggy patrol' with you and your partner, every fifteen minutes. This way you will be able to mingle and chat without worrying about your baby all the time.
  • Be realistic about how long your baby will sleep for. If he sleeps soundly for two or three hours that is great, but he may only sleep for 30-40 minutes. In this case, you can try to settle him back by gently jiggling the buggy. If this doesn't work, treat the sleep like you would a short daytime nap, and accept that he may be awake for another hour or two. If he is irritable you may have to offer him another small feed.

Once back home, how you deal with settling him for the night will depend on how awake he has been at the party, and whether he gets a second wind when you arrive home. If he has fallen asleep in the car and is very sleepy I would advise that you quickly change his nappy and put him into his night clothes before settling him, so that he goes down sleepy yet aware that he is going into his cot. If he has got a second wind and seems quite awake, implementing his normal bed and bath-time routine should help settle him.

The important thing to remember is not to worry - whatever happens on this occasion, once back in his home environment your little one should pick up his routine again without too much trouble.

Of course, I am not suggesting that you take your baby out to parties every night, but I believe that it is vital that new parents are able to enjoy themselves and maintain links with friends, and do not build up resentment for a baby who they feel is tying them to the house.

So please enjoy this party season. You will definitely benefit from the chance to catch up with friends, and your baby will benefit from having a revitalised, happy mother.

Hope it goes some way to helping you have a stress-free happy Christmas.

Lots of love
Gina
xxx


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