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My most memorable holiday seasons didn’t involve expensive presents, exquisite decorations or extravagant meals. Instead, I survived on reheated lasagna and takeout, accessorized with burp rags and spent my time gazing at tiny fingers and toes. I was the mom of a newborn.

Having a baby during the holidays transforms the season from merely festive to utterly unforgettable. Sure, it can be exhausting and overwhelming, but it comes with built-in advantages. Friends and family are likely to have vacation time to spend with you, winter clothes make comfy, flattering postpartum wear, and future holiday celebrations will always be laced with memories of your baby’s first weeks.

For parents expecting a bundle of holiday joy, here’s how to make the most of this season:

Get busy while you can

Before my first daughter’s birth in early December, I was a model of holiday readiness. The house was sparkly clean, the gifts wrapped and the cards mailed. I was finishing my third batch of cookies when I went into labor.

Three years later, I welcomed our second holiday baby under decidedly different circumstances. The decorations were still in the basement, and there wasn’t a wrapped gift or Christmas cookie in sight. Yet my memories of that holiday season are every bit as great as the first.

Take a pass on perfection

Julie Gates, a Dallas radio host, remembers her first holiday season with her December baby: “Forget about Christmas cards and gifts. Everything was so out-of-whack and overwhelming with a new baby in the house, so I just took a pass on that year and didn’t send anything to anyone. The great thing is, no one minded one bit!”

Baby, it’s cold outside

Babies born during the winter months are more likely to catch a viral illness such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), so insist on healthy habits: Everyone should wash hands with soap and water before touching the baby. Family members should get a flu shot and a pertussis (whooping cough) booster. Skip big parties and germy public spaces during the early weeks. When you can’t stay home, arm yourself with alcohol-based hand sanitizer and limit the number of people touching and holding the baby.

Spend wisely

Being mindful of finances is good practice for future years, when you’ll be juggling birthday expenses and holiday costs at the same time. Pediatrician visits and hospital fees can pile up, adding financial strain to an already stressful season. Plan and stick to a holiday budget to keep spending in check.

Ask and you shall receive

Honesty is a new parent’s best policy, especially near the holidays. When friends and family ask if you need anything, speak up and tell them what you could really use, whether it’s dinner, help around the house, or an hour of babysitting so you can grab a nap and a shower. If they’re set on buying you something, request gift cards to put toward baby essentials.

Celebrate your way

Caring for a newborn may leave you too drained to carry out your favorite holiday rituals. It’s normal to feel disappointed, but skipping a cherished tradition for a year doesn’t mean abandoning it forever.

Keep holiday celebrations simple and flexible.

Manage gift chaos

New-baby gifts and holiday presents can threaten to take over your already-crowded living space. Stash a pad and pen nearby to jot down who gives what, so it’s easier to write thank-you notes later. Keep gift receipts handy, but wait to return or exchange things until after the holidays.

Treat yourself

“Eat whatever you want and enjoy it,” advises Kimberly Wyckoff, a mom of a holiday baby in Washington. “The diet and workouts can start after the New Year —and you have months before you have to get into a swimsuit.”

No matter how well you prepare, your holiday baby will probably throw you a few curve balls. Your baby is certain to scream during a holiday party, spit up on Grandma and have a blowout in her carefully-selected holiday outfit. So stock up on baby wipes, keep your camera nearby and get ready for your most exhausting, amazing, unforgettable holiday season yet.

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mom of two “holiday babies.”

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