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Family Vacation: Stressful to a Newborn?

QUESTION: My wife and I have a large extended family. We are planning a family vacation (approximately 20 people) and at that time our son will be two-months-old. Will it be stressful for our baby to experience this change in his environment?

ANSWER: Babies differ in their individual preferences, but regardless, your baby must adjust to you, too. Generally, young babies of this age are simply content to be wherever you are. Their home is in your arms.

When traveling, it may be necessary to hold your baby more than you would at home. In his own environment, he will come to know the familiarity of his bed, the room and even the smells of your family home. Other environments will be different. So he may want to be close to you and hear the sound of your voices, which he has known since inside the womb! Your voice and touch is soothing to him in any new situation. Singing to him, rocking him and taking walks will all be familiar activities, no matter where you go.

Establish a sleeping room that is quiet and safe in the vacation environment. Remember to keep pillows or other unsafe bedding away from him while sleeping. (These have been found to be associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.) You may even want to bring along his baby bassinet, which will assure even more familiarity -- and appropriate bedding -- on your trip. Be prepared with plenty of diapers and all other necessities for keeping him warm and dry. And be sure to keep yourselves well-fed and hydrated while traveling, especially if mom is breastfeeding!

Stay attuned to how your baby deals with external stimuli. Some babies will simply tune out noise and conversation when tired. They may fall asleep in your arms in the middle of a social situation. But others fuss and need help retreating from overstimulation from social interactions.

Be ready to withdraw to a quiet place, if needed, for your own or your baby's needs. Your baby will benefit from your sense of calm, so if you are getting frazzled, take a break and relax. Perhaps a nap with your son will help.

Sometimes use of a receiving blanket to shield your baby from visual stimulation will allow him to sleep peacefully in your arms, as you continue your conversations with relatives.

Observe how your baby responds to new relatives who will no doubt be interested to meet him. If your baby enjoys being held by others, allow it. But do not be surprised if he does not. A baby's sense of security comes from his capacity to attach and bond to his primary caregivers. If he fusses in other's arms, it is his instinctive way of keeping himself safe and secure. Honor his fusses by keeping him close instead of passing him around.

Consider your son's sleeping rhythms and try to anticipate his needs. If you can do so, schedule outings when he is newly awake and interested, rather than crabby. A baby front pack may prove extremely handy. And it may offer another way to shield your young baby from overstimulation.

Enjoy your relatives, but keep your baby away from smoke or unnecessary germs from those who have colds. And of course, common sense prevails in protecting him from mosquitos, excess sun and other environmental hazards.

Keep your baby close to your body, nestled on your chest or in your arms much of the time and he will likely fit in well with your family's vacation plans.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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