Whether you’re traveling over the river and through the woods, or just driving across town to Grandma’s house this year, trying to manage Thanksgiving with a baby in tow can be stressful.
- You’ve got nap-time routines and feeding schedules to follow
- Everyone’s going to want their “turn” to hold the baby
- You have to make sure he’s not overwhelmed by all the extra people
- The noise level is going to be higher than what he’s used to
Feel your blood pressure rising already?
Well, stress no more, my friend! Let’s talk about a few ways to keep your little pilgrim happy this Thanksgiving, so YOU can focus more of your attention on that pumpkin pie…
Stick to a (Slightly Relaxed) Routine
First, make sure to keep your baby’s daily routine pretty close to normal.
Obviously, it’s not practical to keep EVERY aspect of the routine the same (“tummy time at 4:15pm with soft classical music playing” just ain’t gonna happen today), so aim for “the big three” – naptime, mealtimes, bedtime – to happen around same time as usual.
A well-rested baby with a full tummy is more ready to handle all the unfamiliarity and excitement that a holiday can bring – new surroundings, maybe some new faces, more noise than usual.
If your baby is going to expect dinner before the turkey is served, plan to feed her when she’s hungry. You can always put her in her high chair with some snacks and a few toys later so she can still be a part of the main event.
Don’t Give Up on Naps!
Sadly, I’m not talking about your post-turkey nap on the living room couch.
I’m talking about your baby’s naps. Nothing makes a holiday (or, let’s be honest, ANY day) more stressful than a baby that just. won’t. nap.
A holiday at Grandma’s house (which likely includes some rowdy cousins, a few uncles yelling at the TV, and LOADS of extra attention for your little one) can cause him to stage a nap protest faster than you can say “tryptophan”.
Arm Yourself with the Right Napping Gear
Arm yourself with the right napping gear and a solid napping plan, so that baby gets his much-needed rest.
- Portable Pack ‘n Play ~ using the bassinet insert helps even the littlest babies feel cozy.
- White Noise Maker ~ to drown out all the “holiday cheer” going on in the living room.
- Travel Blackout Curtains ~ make any room as dark as your little one’s nursery at home.
- Robotic Baby Monitor ~ with remote pan/tilt control so you can get the best view of your precious little napper. (Aren’t they the cutest when they’re asleep?)
- Toddler Travel Cot ~ Perfect size to slip into a dark corner when Uncle Joe and Grandpa are napping in all the beds! (Napping on the floor makes keeping him in the bed for a nap a zillion times harder.)
- Toddler Inflatable Mattress ~ Takes up almost no space, and has helpful little “barriers” to keep him from rolling off.
Arm Yourself with the Right Napping Plan
Like I mentioned above, keeping a familiar routine will help baby feel comfortable. So, if you always read Good Night, Moon three times and then sing a lullaby, do that at Grandma’s, too.
No matter what, plan on spending a bit of extra time in the room reading or playing quietly before the “official” routine, since it’s going to take him a bit longer to wind down.
One of the best things you can do for your napping plan, is to know what’s coming before he gets there. In other words, catch him and put him down before he’s overtired, cranky, and Napmare.
If you’re not confident about when it might be ready for nap, this article will help you find your baby’s “Waketime Window” so you can plan ahead.
Arm Yourself With a Good Backup Plan
Sometimes there’s just too much excitement for baby to settle down. The main concern here is making sure you baby gets a nap, so if you need to snuggle him in a baby carrier to get him to fall asleep, snuggle away!
Heather has a great post on baby wearing, so head over there to discover which wrap, sling, or carrier would be a good fit for you.
Pack Fast Baby-Friendly Dinner Options
While you may be singing, “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!” the whole way over, there are a few reasons your little one may not be as excited about the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Reason #1: She’d Rather be Sleeping.
Like I mentioned in Step #1, if the main attraction (i.e. dinner) is going to happen during your baby’s nap or after her bedtime, feed her at a different time.
Reason #2: She Doesn’t Like to Wait.
Maybe the family dinner won’t conflict with your little baby’s nap, but she is not going to be happy about waiting for all the dishes to be passed from left to right.
Reason #3: She’s Still New to Solid Foods.
Since many doctors recommend introducing solid foods gradually, you may not be sure which Thanksgiving dishes your little one can have. Or maybe you don’t want to introduce multiple new flavors at once.
A quick, no-fuss meal option for your baby will save you some headache come dinnertime. I love to travel with baby food pouches because they are super convenient for on-the-go feeding.
Here are a few options that even have a bit of a Thanksgiving flair, so pull up that high chair!
- Happy Baby Root Vegetables & Turkey with Quinoa (Quinoa is a super brain grain!)
- Earth’s Best Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Apple
- Plum Organics Sweet Potatoes
For extra-convenient feeding, check out this dispensing pouch spoon that screws right onto the top of the pouch. Easiest clean-up EVER! And for babies that can feed themselves but still might squirt the pouch all over the place, check out the ChooMee.
If you’re looking for a more economical and earth-friendly option, buy some reusable pouches (like these) and fill them with your own homemade creations.
Pack a Well-Stocked Goody Bag
Don’t just assume there will be activities there for your baby to play with. Be proactive and have a little Goody Bag of new and interesting activities ready to go.
Whether you need baby distractors for a long flight, boring drive, or when Uncle Henry has had the TV on for way too long, a bag with a few small toys, a favorite stuffed animal, and maybe a new book or two can really make a HUGE difference in helping your little one have a fuss-free afternoon.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Easily-Packed Thanksgiving Board Books
#1. Count down from five with Five Silly Turkeys ($6). Your baby will love to feel the shiny fabric “feathers”.
#2. Bright pictures help baby learn first words related to Thanksgiving in Bright Baby Happy Thanksgiving ($4).
#3. Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George ($6) is a great introduction to Thanksgiving traditions. (Has a Kindle option.)
#4. Your baby will love feeling the textures in Happy Thanksgiving Day ($7) and you’ll love the emphasis on being thankful!
#5. Prep for the parade being on the TV all morning by reading Thanksgiving Parade ($5) with Grandma. (Has a Kindle option.)
Toddler Homemade Busy Bags
A “busy bag” is a simple activity stored in a bag for a toddler or preschooler to do independently. They’re a great resource for quiet, on-the-go play.
You can easily find hundreds of options on Pinterest, but here are some Thanksgiving-themed DIY choices I thought you might like, if you have an older sibling to keep busy too:
Take a Fall Walk
An overstimulated baby is a cranky baby.
A cranky baby is an unhappy mama.
If you notice that your little one (or perhaps, YOU) needs a little break from the party, bundle up and grab the stroller. A brisk walk in the fresh air will be good for both of you!
Sometimes a short family hike can really help hit the reset button. Bethany wrote an excellent post on how to make hiking with small children actually FUN (and not an anxiety attack). Click here to read it!
A Thankful Perspective
Alright. So you’ve got your plan. You know when you’ll put baby down for a nap, and how you’re going to make that nap magic happen. You know what you’ll feed him. You’ve got a bag stocked with activities, and the stroller is on stand by.
- But then the baby gets sick.
- Or maybe no matter what you try he is NOT interested in all the new people around.
- Or maybe he has reflux and is just generally unhappy.
Sometimes, despite our best laid plans, we find ourselves with an unhappy baby.
This could ruin your holiday.
But you don’t have to let it.
While it’s still a good idea to prepare for some ways to keep your baby happy, the most important thing to bring to Grandma’s this Thanksgiving is a thankful perspective.
Thanksgiving is about reminding ourselves of both the big and small things in our lives for which we should be thankful. It’s about acknowledging the things we often take for granted – running water and a roof over our hands – as well as the more obvious blessings – the sweet baby you’re holding in your arms.
So leading up to the big day, try to reflect on the many ways you’ve been blessed.
You know the saying, “The best defense is a good offense”?
Take that to heart. Walk into baby’s first Thanksgiving with low expectations and a grateful heart. It will help you enjoy your holiday, despite what is swirling around you.
Besides, you’ll be more prepared for the inevitable “share something for which you’re thankful” that will get asked at the dinner table.
Why wait for the table?
Let us know in the comments what you’re thankful for this year!
Meet Kim Wendle
Kim is an American expat
sweating living in the Cayman Islands with her husband of six years and their two rambunctious little boys. She spends her days chasing her children around the park with sunscreen and avoiding the mound of laundry that needs to be folded (at least it's clean!).