6 challenges of being pregnant while parenting, plus tips for making it work
There’s nothing easy about being pregnant. And there’s nothing easy about parenting. Doing both at the same time? Well, some days, it feels downright impossible. Currently 14 weeks pregnant with baby No. 2, I’ve been struck by just how difficult this pregnancy has felt compared to my first one.
According to Dr. Arielle Ornstein, a mother of two and pediatrician with the Northeast Medical Group Pediatrics in Rye Brook, New York, it’s not just me.
“Being pregnant with your second (or third or fourth or fifth child) is going to be significantly harder both physically and mentally,” she says. “Physically, you are dealing with all the pregnancy symptoms, including fatigue and nausea, while still having to care for your other children. There is no break or rest time that you may have had as a luxury the first time.”
In addition, it can be very difficult for young children to understand your new limitations, according to Ornstein.
“The farther along in your pregnancy you are, the harder it is to play, chase, carry and keep up with your toddler,” she says.
Below, moms of two or more share what challenged them the most about parenting while they were pregnant, and Ornstein offers tips to get through it.
1. Morning sickness
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nausea and vomiting usually starts before nine weeks of pregnancy. While it’s not harmful to you or your pregnancy, it’s definitely not fun — especially when you’re caring for a toddler.
Suzanne Brown, a mom of two from Austin, Texas, says her sense of smell shot through the roof with both of her pregnancies.
“Try putting bug spray on your toddler when you're about to throw up from the smell!” she says.
What was the worst part of parenting while pregnant for Judy Mollen Walters, a mom of two from Kendall Park, New Jersey?
“Throwing up while you’re preparing food for your first child,” she says.
Expert advice: Take it day by day.
“Try to remember that these symptoms will usually get better at the start of the second trimester or around 12 weeks,” Ornstein says. “For now, just get through each day.”
She recommends moms try to eat small, frequent meals composed of bland, dry foods (such as crackers or toast) while eliminating coffee and spicy, odorous, high-fat, acidic or very sweet foods.
If diet is not enough, Ornstein adds, there are lots of great natural remedies for nausea and vomiting that can help pregnant moms, including peppermint tea or candies and foods containing ginger. And if symptoms are severe, “There are, of course, medication options,” she says.
As if you haven’t been exhausted since the arrival of your first child, fatigue is another early symptom of pregnancy. Like morning sickness, the American Pregnancy Association says fatigue can return in the third trimester — or, even worse, it can continue nonstop from conception to birth.
Tarah Chieffi, a mom from New Albany, Indiana, says the most challenging part of parenting while pregnant for her was not being able to nap.
“When I was pregnant with my first, I napped every day after work,” Chieffi says. “With my second and third, it was very difficult to find downtime to rest, even though I was staying home by that point.”
For Peyton Roberts, a mom from Virginia Beach, Virginia, pregnancy insomnia made her fatigue even worse.
“Being awake in the middle of the night for hours … and only being able to drink so much caffeine [led to] complete exhaustion,” she says.
Expert advice: Rest when you can.
“Try to maintain your sleep routine by going to bed on time and practice good sleep hygiene including not having your cell phone in bed and avoiding stimulants close to bedtime,” Ornstein says.
Additionally, she says, give yourself a break.
“You may not be able to do everything you could do before pregnancy,” Ornstein says — and that’s OK.
3. Mental load
When you’re suffering from morning sickness and fatigue, just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. So having to perform what experts like Gemma Hartley calls “mental load”— dealing with tantrums, negotiating with your partner and all the rest of the unpaid, invisible emotional labor that often comes with being a mom — can really take a toll.
For Laura Richards, a mom of four from Boston, the worst part of parenting while pregnant was the exhaustion of having to "be on” 24/7.
“I found it to be profoundly challenging, much more than the teen years, hands down!” she says. “Older kids, older problems, yes, but you can rely on them to do things. When I was pregnant with my fourth, who was much younger than my three older [kids], they could do simple things around the house and I could lie down on occasion. That wasn't happening when my twins were 3 and I had a newborn!”
Louisa Rachel Solomon, of Brooklyn, New York, can commiserate. As the mother of a toddler and currently pregnant with baby No. 2, she says the hardest part is “all the willpower it takes to be engaged and loving with my kid and partner instead of succumbing to grumpiness when I feel crappy.”
“With my first pregnancy, my partner and I had all the time in the world to talk about the transitions we were both going through, and everything that was about to change [when we became parents],” she says. “With a toddler, it’s hard to stay up to speed on each other’s struggles and thoughts and feelings. Without that, parenting suffers, too.”
Expert advice: Lighten your load.
With lack of sleep and physical discomfort, it’s not unusual for moms to become less emotionally available to their children and partners.
“Don't be afraid to ask your significant other for help so you can get that extra hour of sleep in the morning or rest while they take the kids out,” Ornstein says. “Try to enlist extra help from willing family members to allow you to get that extra rest.”
4. Reduced mobility
Your back aches. Your ankles are swollen and your feet hurt. You have heartburn. You’re racing to the bathroom every five minutes. These third trimester pregnancy symptoms can make it hard to move around. Try explaining that to a toddler who insists on being carried.
Sarah Tretter, a mom of two from Portland, Oregon, says that as her pregnancy wore on, she felt increasingly challenged to get around.
“Going up and down the stairs with my giant belly and my toddler in my arms was just exhausting,” she says.
Minneapolis mom of two Rachel Guyah describes herself as typically very active, and being unable to keep up with her 3-year-old during the last six to eight weeks of her pregnancy was “heartbreaking.”
“The weather was finally warming up after a long winter, but my constant Braxton Hicks, ‘irritable uterus,’ and general exhaustion really chained me to the couch,” Guyah says.
Expert advice: Explain it to your toddler in terms they understand.
“I find that toddlers do best with explanations that they can understand, (i.e., Mommy can't do X because of Y),” Ornstein says. “Let them know it is temporary and that you can do lots of other things with them.”
Ornstein advises trying things like coloring, painting or arts and crafts projects.
“Take advantage of your local library or indoor play spaces,” Ornstein she says.
5. Mom guilt
For many moms, parenting while pregnant can mean feeling guilty and as if they’re not enough.
Rose Whitney Mishaan, a mom of two from Fairfield, California, says the hardest part of parenting while pregnant was feeling inadequate at meeting the needs of her first child.
“We basically spent all of last summer indoors because I couldn’t even muster a ride to the park a mile away,” she says. “My kid watched way more TV than usually allowed because I just needed to rest. It made me feel very guilty on top of feeling sick.”
Kimberly Miller Schwartz, a mom of two from Huntington, New York, shares, “It’s all hard, but honestly my lack of patience with my first is the thing I’ll always remember and regret.”
Expert advice: Go easy on yourself.
“You are growing another human inside of you, and it is OK to not be able to do everything,” Ornstein says. “Although the other children may not understand now, they will not be traumatized by anything that you do or did not do during this time period.”
6. The ramp-up to labor
As the big day approaches, moms of young children have more on your mind than packing your hospital bag. Planning child care for their older child is a common additional stress, especially if your family isn’t nearby, considering you may need help fast or in the middle of the night.
Kate Wehr, a mom of two from Racetrack, Missouri, had to make an emergency call to her mother-in-law.
“We were so fortunate that she lived close enough to drop everything to come babysit, and as it was, I nearly delivered in the truck,” she says.
This was also an issue for Rockville, Maryland mom Shannon Brescher Shea, who went into labor 3 and a half weeks early.
“My family anticipated coming down, but I had a friend who said she could cover babysitting as backup,” she says. “Thankfully, she was available that early.”
Expert advice: Have a plan.
“Whether it is grandma or a close friend, there should be someone designated to help with the other children once labor starts,” Ornstein says, adding that it’s helpful to discuss this plan with the children ahead of time so they’re also prepared.
The bottom line
“Parenting while you are pregnant often adds an unexpected level of stress and exhaustion to moms that may already be dealing with the ‘terrible 2s’ or the frustrations of their 3-year-olds,” Ornstein says.
Remember, though, it is completely normal to be overwhelmed.
“Still, if you feel physically or emotionally overwhelmed both during and after the pregnancy, never hesitate to talk to your OB-GYN or other medical providers,” Ornstein says.
Moms who have been through it reassure me I’m not alone in my struggle. They tell me what I already know: It’ll be worth it in the end. Some even suggest that caring for two or more children is, in many ways, easier than parenting while pregnant. Fingers crossed that will prove true! Either way, I know I have so much to look forward to.
Until then, Ornstein says, “Do whatever you need to get through the day and give yourself a break (even if that includes a little too much TV time!)”
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