Be straightforward with your kids about how you're feeling. When you're feeling tired or sick, explain that it takes lots of energy to grow a baby. Talk about the foods the baby needs to grow strong. Apologize for bad days and reassure them that it wasn't their fault. Engage them in the pregnancy by letting them feel the baby kick, looking at illustrations of growing babies (our favourite fetal development animation is this one), and talking about how big the baby is in comparison to fruit or other tangible objects. The more involved they are in the pregnancy, the greater their cooperation and understanding is likely to be.
Find engaging activities that you can do from the couch. Some of our favourites include puzzles, card games, board games that take up little space (The Kids of Carcassonne is our newest favourite), and catch with a soft indoor-friendly ball. A small portable end table, card table, or TV tray has big value here. When I'm feeling up to it, the three of us will snuggled together with blankets and pile of books for some out-loud reading time.
Teach skills that will increase their independent activity. While this is an ongoing activity throughout childhood, pregnancy is a common time to take stock of what skills your child is able to learn to do on his or her own. Depending on the age of the child, this may include cleaning up spills, tidying toys, using the toilet, increasing their bathroom independence, setting out breakfast dishes and utensils, getting water, preparing basic snacks and breakfasts (buttering toast, putting yogurt in a bowl, washing an apple), putting clothes in the hamper, and so on. Be cautious, however, about pushing too hard. It is easy, particularly once the new baby has arrived, to see your bigger children as older, more mature, and more capable than they really are.
Nap. These may not be the long, solid, whenever-you-feel-like-it naps of a first pregnancy, but nap when you can. If your children still nap, ignore the dirty dishes in the sink and sleep at the same time they do. If they don't nap, you still have options:
- Settle them into a self-directed activity (don't rule out the TV) and lay down on the couch to close your eyes for a while.
- Replace child naps with a family quiet time. Depending on what works best for your family, either have each child spend quiet time on their own or have everyone pile into your bedroom with a stack of books and a few small toys. The kids can play quietly, look at books, or nap while you rest.
- Take a pre-dinner nap while your partner cares for the kids (even better if they cook dinner, too!)
- Let yourself fall asleep while putting the kids to bed in the evening. Getting up again is optional! An early bedtime can make a big difference the next day.
Don't neglect your own needs. The challenges of parenting while pregnant greatly increase if you allow yourself to get too tired, too hungry, or too worn down. Keep easy-to-grab foods on hand, such as almonds, hard-boiled eggs, apples, and yogurt. Combine carbohydrates with protein and fruit with fat to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Be sure to eat iron-rich foods; nothing saps energy quite like an iron deficiency. Make time for chiropractic visits or prenatal massages if needed. Along with caring for yourself:
- Let it go. Simplify your daily life, prioritize your responsibilities, and reduce your expectations.
- Minimize obligations. This is very much a season in which to say no; you cannot be all things to all people.
- Accept help. Whether from your partner, friends, family, a mother's helper, or a cleaning service, accept help when offered or seek it when needed.
Prepare for morning the night before. Slice strawberries to go with the morning's yogurt, make a batch of waffles to quickly reheat in the morning, or prepare a crock-pot breakfast. If you will be going somewhere the following day, lay out clothing and have snacks and supplies ready to go. Do, however, take into account your own individual pregnancy. If evenings are your rough time of the day, then do some extra prep in the earlier hours instead - put dinner in the crock-pot, lay out bedtime supplies, prepare bedtime snacks, and so on.
Take advantage of bursts of energy. Use this time to do spurts of housework, bigger activities with the kids, or preparations for low-supervision-required activities. Then when those bad days hit, you can rest without feeling stressed about falling behind, and the kids can enjoy the self-directed activities you have prepared.
What did you find helpful in getting through pregnancy with a toddler or young child?