Toddler, job, housework …and pregnant. How to handle Baby #2

Clinical psychologist Michelle Nortje offers some valuable advice for busy working moms of toddlers who are pregnant with their second baby.

“I have a 22-month-old daughter and I’m 32 weeks pregnant. I’m having a really tough time coping with my busy-body toddler, my long working hours, the housework, my pregnancy, and my inability to sleep more than four hours a night. I’m worried that with all these stressors I’m going to take my frustrations out on my daughter who seems all over the place right now. My husband offers to help, but I’m still struggling. Please help!”

There are probably many pregnant moms with toddlers who can identify with this mom’s pleas for help and her feelings of being pulled in all directions. The mixed feelings as one’s family expands and grows can include excitement to welcome another child to the family, but also the more difficult feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigued, nauseated and easily emotional.

Active preparation
Coping with caring for two small children is no easy feat. Here are a few ways to manage the complex experience of a second pregnancy.

1. Understand the guilty feelings
Feeling guilty is quite common during this time of juggling a growing baby inside and a growing toddler outside. Some moms feel guilty that they cannot be as active with their toddlers as they would like to. It is a difficult task to be able to keep both children’s needs in your mind at the same time. The additional stressors of working throughout your pregnancy and feeling drained of energy when you get home makes offering special playtime and attention to a busy toddler exhausting! Being a working mother can lead to feelings of guilt and stress as a result of the divided attention between work and family.

2. Access your support structures
As your pregnancy progresses, so it becomes physically more difficult to keep up with your already active and mobile toddler. Allowing a spouse, friends or extended family to help you supervise your toddler ensures he or she gets enough free playtime without wearing you out. Using less active play activities, such as reading for your toddler, colouring in together and the occasional educational television show to keep your toddler busy and engaged, is also a helpful way for you to take a break without overlooking your toddler’s needs for stimulation.

3. Prioritise self-care
Moms are generally concerned about providing care for their toddler and their growing baby in the womb, but they can sometimes forget to care for themselves! It is therefore important for you to also ask for timeouts and comforts (a warm bath, a new book, a calming CD or your favourite snack) when you feel your emotional strength is wavering. Pregnant moms are often more emotional, irritable and easily tired; especially if one is an older mom, had a previously complicated pregnancy or birth, or if there are additional health concerns or life stressors. Being able to cope with changes in mood without becoming unnecessarily strict or punitive to an excitable toddler is important at these stages. And part of coping is looking after your own needs as well.

4. Preparing for rivalry
Small children struggle to understand the concept of a new baby and what it will be like when the new baby brother or sister arrives. Preparing your child in age-appropriate ways (with pictures or in play with dolls) can lessen the jealousy and rivalry that is often a very normal part of learning to share one’s mom and dad with someone else. Prepare your child for both the positive and difficult experiences of having a sibling, otherwise they could end up feeling disappointed and resentful when it is not all rainbows! Acknowledging and reflecting rivalrous feelings can be more helpful than brushing them off. This task of preparing your toddler is in fact a helpful process for you as well. It will ensure you take time to actively process and think about the emotional and concrete changes that you will also have to experience and manage when the new baby arrives.

5. Include your toddler in preparations
Allowing your toddler to be included and valued as part of the preparations can also help them to adjust more easily when the baby arrives; thus reducing your stress and emotional exhaustion. Choosing outfits, decorating the baby’s room (for example with their own drawings) and letting them talk to the growing baby inside your tummy are helpful ways of including the toddler without making them feel overly responsible. Try to maintain a similar routine with your toddler so the new arrival doesn’t feel like too much of an overwhelming change for you or for
the toddler.

6. Importantly, remember that you are also human
Acknowledge your limits! Remember that you are busy growing another baby. You aren’t being lazy or preoccupied. You are allowed to relax the rules a bit. If you let the ironing and folding pile up for a day or two, the world will not
fall apart!

Find the magic
These are a few ideas to help pregnant moms survive their pregnancy while simultaneously managing the stress of parenting a toddler. The most important thought is to be kind to yourself. There will inevitably be bad days and good days, and being aware of the unavoidable ups and downs can make them less anxiety provoking when they happen.

And particularly, don’t forget to enjoy the special moments of your second pregnancy; the first kick, the quiet moments of rubbing your tummy, and imagining the kind of unique little person you will soon welcome into your growing family!

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