Surviving the first trimester with a toddler

I fell pregnant with my second child when my first was only 15 months old, and just entering the crazy run-around-all-day toddler phase.  I’d just started getting the hang of the balance right of being a work at home mom, and was feeling pretty confident in my ability to handle this new change. Boy was I completely unprepared!

The first 2 or 3 weeks after getting that lovely big positive on that pregnancy test was relatively easy. My husband was on leave as it was over the Christmas period – and we had plenty of activities to keep ourselves and our firstborn busy.  Once he went back to work in January, it was a completely different ball-game.  I suffered tremendously with morning sickness, fatigue and headaches and because we’d decided to keep this pregnancy to ourselves for a little while longer than we did our first, I had very little support that I could lean on during the day. Our little one was incredibly busy, and in the process of dropping a nap, which resulted in very little down time for Mom.  There were definitely days where I thought I’d never survive until the evening when hubby got home, but all of a sudden – I was at 14 weeks! I’d done it! I’d survived the first trimester, with a busy toddler – just like that.

I scoured the internet for tips and tricks on how to survive the first trimester of pregnancy with a toddler, and a lot of the advice was trite and idealistic.

Here is some of my advice on how to do it. I didn’t follow all of it, but I’ve learnt with the clarity of hindsight, and hopefully the suggestions will help you….

  1. Create a support network.  I understand wanting to keep the news of pregnancy quiet for a little while (I also understand shouting the news from the rooftop the second you see that positive result!) but it is so important to build a support network for yourself to help you through the first few weeks when you just need someone to watch your toddler so you can have an hour to lie down, or someone to complain to about how awful you’re feeling.  Find those people – your parents, close friends, babysitter, nanny – whoever it may be.. and USE THEM.  There were so many days that I just pushed through out of pride and not wanting to break and admit that I needed help and I regret that.  If you have a break to look forward to, everything seems much brighter.
  2. Get on top of the morning sickness This one is far easier said than done, believe me.  I found that the days I was able to control it and work around it were far better than the days I let it take hold of me. It’s so different for every woman, and every pregnancy is different, but here are a few of my tips and tricks that I used to survive.Know your triggers: For me, I was instantly sent running to the bathroom by musty smells, the smell of the dogs food, sweaty smells, overly sweet smells, the smell of nappies, hunger, thirst or the mention of something gross.  Some of these I couldn’t avoid – but others I could. Try to figure out what your triggers are – keep a little note on your phone of all the times you threw up and why and soon enough a pattern should emerge (or not – sorry!) If possible, try to work around them.  For example, the first morning nappy change that smelled strongly of urine would become Daddy’s job to change – and feeding the dogs became his job too!Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: I battled to keep water down. I so desperately wanted to quench my thirst, but every time I downed a glass it would come straight back up again.  Some women can only handle warm drinks – if that’s you, make a pot of warm water with lemon and ginger (well known for it’s nausea fighting properties) and keep sipping on that. Little sips are key – don’t feel tempted to chug an entire cup in one go.  If you’re like me and could only handle ice ice cold drinks – you have to be a little more prepared, especially in summer. Make sure your fridge is stocked up on ice cubes, partially freeze bottles of juice or water and keep sipping throughout the day. I found that sports drinks were helpful (Caffeine free) as they replaced lost electrolytes from all the vomiting, and helped keep me hydrated.  I also made a morning sickness iced tea (Recipe Here ) that I kept in the fridge and sipped from throughout the day.  I stumbled across the most amazing locally made ginger and lemon lemonade from a company called Lemonlicious that was an absolute life saver, at our local farmers market, and thankfully they were able to deliver a case to me!  See their Facebook page hereDon’t get hungry: Again, much easier said than done.  What you snack on completely depends on you, your body and what you can handle.  I couldn’t keep much in except cold pineapple chunks – the juiciness and freshness helped to keep the nausea at bay, and once the starving hunger was abated, I could attempt eating something normal.  Most advice says to stick to plain foods – toast, savoury bisucits or crackers, rice cakes – but I found them very unsatisfying.  Instead I craved really salty, savoury things – cooked chips or fries, toast with bovril – and on the opposite end of the spectrum, chewy fruity gummy sweets.  While nutrition is very important during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, if you’re hurling a lung up every time you eat – the goal is just to get something, anything in and to stay down!  Try to snack on something before you are starving – the hunger definitely makes the nausea worse.

    Ask your doctor for medication:  Anyone who’s done a smidgen of research into morning sickness and medication will know of the horrors of the thalidomide disaster in the 50’s and may be put off medication because of that.  I was one of those women, and was very hesitant to try anything.  However, with a toddler, you don’t have the luxury of lying on the bathroom floor or in your bed with a bucket like you did the first time you were pregnant. There are so many more demands on your time and energy.  After almost two weeks of throwing up everything that entered my system – I swallowed my pride and phoned my gynecologist.  She was able to prescribe a magic little pill that took most (not all) of the nausea away and let me function more normally.  In South Africa, there are a few medications that you may be prescribed. The first is a drug called Asic which is available over the counter at pharmacies.  I found that it did very little to help me, and just made me more tired than anything else, but friends that I know that have used it have had great success with it.  Two of the most commonly prescribed morning sickness tablets prescribed are Maxalon (drug name Metoclopramide) and Zofran.  Obviously if you do enough looking on Doctor Google you’re going to find scary information, but if you are with a care provider that you trust, and you’re desperate you just need to trust their expertise and prescription and not the pseudoscience and mommy bloggers on the internet.

  3. Keep your little one occupied: Try to find things that interest your toddler without too much input from you.  Games that they can play while you lie next to them on the floor/couch/bed.  Posting games are great, stacking rings are a hit, wooden spoons and mixing bowls. It’s different for every toddler, you’ve just got to figure out what will keep your little one occupied without your direct involvement.  Toys don’t have to be expensive! A coffee/formula tin with a hole cut in the plastic lid makes a fantastic “posting” game – get them to pop in pebbles, or lego bricks, or pom-poms.  Hannah’s stacking rings cost us about R80 I think, and they’ve provided HOURS of entertainment, as have her stacking cups.  Books are another fantastic distraction, as are magazines, especially old ones that they can rip up.  A piece of chalk and a brick walkway is also a great idea.  Figure out the things that entertain them and then make the most of them!  If you’re looking for educational and engaging toys, I’ve found the Charley’s boxes to be great. It’s a subscription service, and they send you a box of goodies once a month.  It’s not cheap, but when I stopped and added up what I was paying for a toy here and there compared to a box once a month, I was saving.  I also broke my rule about screen time.  There were some days where I literally could not go on another minute running around and entertaining a toddler.  I’m not happy with it, but I did it to survive.  I’m very selective about what I let her watch…I’m not a fan of loud flashy cartoons, and I’ve stuck to “In the night garden”, “Room on the broom” and “The snail and the whale”  – all available on Showmax currently.  I try to limit it to 20 minutes at a time, but honestly she loses interest long before that anyway, but 10 minutes to lie on the couch is better than nothing!
  4. Get out of the house: It’s so easy when you’re feeling exhausted and sick to just lie around in your PJ’s while your toddler wreaks havoc around you.  It’s going to feel really hard, but try get yourself up and get out. Go for a walk. Get into the garden. Go to the dog park, go for a walk on the beach, go to the library, go to the mall for a walk in the aircon. Just. Get. Out.  It’s amazing how much better you can feel once you’re up and about.  If possible go somewhere where your little one can burn off some steam (I love Go Fresh in Assagay, I can sit and have a decaf coffee or do some work while she plays with the millions of toys and stares at the guinea pigs). It will feel completely counter-intuitive and like you’re going to die, but I promise you, once you’re out, you’ll feel better.
  5. Rest while you can: They say sleep while the baby sleeps – and I’ve always been really annoyed by that for two reasons. Firstly, my baby/toddler doesn’t really sleep. I battle to get her to nap in her cot, so often she falls asleep in the pram while we’re out and about, and if she does nap at home, it’s not for very long.  Secondly, what about all the “Adult” things I need to do? You know, eating, showering, working, cleaning, sitting and enjoying the silence?  But anyway. If you’re like me, you’re about to get really annoyed at me.  Sleep while the baby sleeps.  There is NOTHING like pregnancy exhaustion, except pregnancy exhaustion with a toddler.  If it is at all possible, at least have a rest while your toddler sleeps.  If you’re at the office, make the most of your coffee/lunch breaks. Enjoy the time to just put your feet up and not be bothered by sticky fingers and demands for “uppies”.  Even if you’re not sleeping, take any opportunity that you can to sit back, put your feet up and breathe. Now is not the time to be pushing yourself. Once the second wind of the second trimester comes along, then you can try to be superwoman.  On weekends try to have a doze while they nap, or ask someone in your support network (husband, grandparent, friend etc) to take your toddler for a while so that you can catch a few minutes of uninterrupted shuteye.  My amazing husband started doing the early morning wakeup with our toddler, and I was so grateful for that extra 45 minutes to an hour in the morning where I could snooze a little longer while he got up and did the breakfast, shower, changing routine.
  6. Shuffle household duties  I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have the amazing husband that I have.  If you’re a single mom, or if your husband/boyfriend/partner travels, I would highly recommend taking the knock to the budget and getting someone in to help you with the house, even if it’s just once a week or once a fortnight.  I found that certain things (nappy bin changing, putting away dog beds etc) I just could not do because of the nausea.  Ask someone else to help out with those if you can.  There are certain tasks (eg working with strong chemicals and cleaning cat litter boxes) that pregnant women shouldn’t be doing for the safety of the baby, so if you can – get help with those.  If your toddler is old enough, try to make cleaning a game. We got Hannah a little broom, and she LOVES sweeping up, and now cleans up after herself if she spills her food or drink on her high chair (she literally asks for a wet wipe and wipes it up, so cute).  From a year old, they can help with things like putting their toys away, or wiping counters or surfaces. Whether they will help or not is pot luck.
  7. Give yourself some grace:  When I quit my job to be a stay/work at home mom in 2019, I had visions of being this business tycoon slash domestic goddess Ala Nigella Lawson or Martha Stewart. Did that happen. Hell no. Most days the house was a hot mess by the time Husband got home, dinner wasn’t even cooked, work was still happening and the kid was running around with sweets in her hair and sand all over herself (sign of a good day!) Add a growing parasite fetus into the mix, and that got worse by about a hundred times.  There were many times where I sat and cried because I felt like a complete failure, because I wasn’t living up to the standards that I had set myself. Nobody else had set them for me – I wanted to be the perfect 1950’s housewife/business tycoon.  Husband certainly didn’t expect it of me, and as long as she was fed, cuddled and had enough to play with, the toddler was great too!  Give yourself a break. Whether you drop your little one off at daycare at 6:30, put in a full day in the office and then come home and have to do the “momming” thing, or if you’re at home all day being a full time homemaker/mom – being pregnant on top of your already busy life is damned hard.  Be kind to yourself.  Cut yourself some slack – things will improve with time.
  8. Prioritize yourself: No, this isn’t a useless post about how “self care” is important – I’m a mom of an 18 month old. I know that there is no time for yoga or nails or hair or lazy magazines while sipping bubbly in a bath.  What I do know is that if you don’t do something small for yourself, especially while you’re pregnant you will lose it. And lose it bad. While you will read a million posts about how you HAVE to get to Pilates – I know that sometimes it’s just not possible, especially when you’re pregnant with number two.  Find something in your day that is yours, and try to enjoy it as often as possible.  Mine was my shower at the end of the day once Hannah was asleep.  Something people without children will not appreciate – but the solitude of a warm shower without a little body or two hanging off of you, or jumping in the bath, or unpacking the laundry basket, is just beautiful.  If you’re a runner – run. If you’re a gymmer – keep gymming (obviously with consent of your doctors ladies!) This one’s going to need some help and co-operation from that support network…rope them in. Ask Daddy, Aunty, Grandma or Neighbor or your domestic to watch your toddler if you need an hours break and take it for Pete’s sake. You’re growing another life, you’re not being weak – you’re preserving your sanity and your health.
  9. Be proactive about food  As soon as my body realised it was pregnant, that was the end of the kitchen for me. I found the smells too overwhelming (the fridge, the dog food, the vegetable drawer, even the smell of the tuppaware cupboard sent me over the edge) so cooking became an almost non-existent thing. Even if you’re not as sick as I was, after you’ve spent a day working, or running after a toddler, you’re ready to fall into bed by 6pm and probably not in the mood for cooking a healthy meal.  I was not proactive about food – and I wish I had been. Instead of making a sensible plan, we ended up having takeaways or ready meals most nights, which is definitely not good nutrition or budget wise.  What I wish I’d done was one of the following.

Ask for help: Remember that support network I spoke about?  Is there a Mom, or an Aunt or a friend who you can ask to come and cook one weekend for you? Buy some groceries for a few easy, quick meals and ask for help in cooking them, and then pop them in the freezer, ready to be whipped out when they’re needed. The same goes for your toddlers snacks – can you invite someone “for coffee” and then put them to work chopping up fruit and portioning out savoury biscuits or cheese chunks into small containers or ziplock bags so you can just grab and run without being in the kitchen for too long.

Outsource: Outsourcing your dinner doesn’t necessarily mean Mr D or Uber eats or the closest drive through. There are a number of companies that do amazing, healthy homecoooked meals that can be stored in your fridge or freezer until you need them.  My favourite has to be We Are Food , a company that started out here in good ol’ Durbs, but has spread to Gauteng and parts of the Cape.  They have amazing single, double and family meals that you can buy, as well as great packages for couples and families that work out far more economical than takeaway every night of the week!  The best thing is that they deliver right to your door. I’ve used them a few times when Hannah was much smaller and I was stuck in a chair breastfeeding all day and I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad meal!

Keep healthy snacky things on hand: Another one I wish I’d done.  I’m a sucker for Woolies chopped fruit – even though its about ten times more expensive than buying unchopped fruit…And then while I’m in there, somehow packets of sweeties end up in my basket – no idea how (must be the baby’s fault).  What I wish I’d done was bought some good fruit, nuts and other healthy snacks and portioned them out when I was feeling good – or got someone else to do it for me – and kept them in the fridge or my handbag where I could grab them when I needed to.

10. Keep positive: Remember, there is a silver lining…at the end of all this exhaustion and nausea and discomfort there will be the most beautiful baby to hold and love and watch grow.  I know from experience that it is so easy to fall into the trap of moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for yourself, and yes, you are allowed a little of that – but don’t let it get the better of you.  When you find yourself in a mood like that, try to think of three things that you’re grateful for that will hopefully help lift you out of the slump. (Mine were: 1. You’re pregnant, 2. You’re surrounded by people who love you 3. There is aircon in the bedroom – summer in Durban when you’re feeling like death is not a joke guys)

So that’s it – not an exhaustive list, and I’m certain not everything will work for everyone, but hopefully there were some suggestions that will help you! Good luck Mama, and when you’re feeling your worst, just remember that this too will pass, and before you know it, you’ll be holding your sweet little newborn in your arms.

 

 

 

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