Surviving Early Pregnancy With a Houseful of Littles

Surviving Early Pregnancy With a Houseful of Littles

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I remember when I was pregnant with my first. I was working full time as an ESL teacher, but during my time off? I could put my feet up, take a nap when I was tired, make whatever food I was craving (or not make food at all if my stomach was off), go for a walk or do yoga when I was sore, put off the (minimal) cleaning in our teensy apartment… basically, whatever I needed to do.

My second pregnancy was a shock compared to the first, as I now had a busy 2 year old to care for, a larger apartment with more frequent cleaning, not to mention a 12 mth and 18 mth old that I cared for several days a week. The 3rd was that much busier, and this 4th time around, my home just buzzes with a 2 year old, 4 year old, 6 year old, constant meals and snacks, eternal cleaning and laundry piles, homestay students, homeschooling, and a business to run.

Pregnancy is a blessing. Each and every time. No matter what challenging situations or circumstances we find ourselves in.

That said, it isn’t always easy and some days it is downright hard. It’s hard to cook for a family when the thought of opening the fridge makes you want to run to the bathroom. It’s hard to mop up the third spill of the morning when you’ve already cleaned the bathroom and run loads of laundry, despite barely being able to keep your eyes open and your legs moving. So how do we do it?

Surviving Early Pregnancy With a Houseful of Littles

Image by vauvau

Survival Strategies for Pregnant Moms of Little Ones

Every situation and home is unique, but these are a few of the techniques that have been particularly effective and helpful for me during my 3rd and 4th pregnancies.

Lower your expectations

This has to be said immediately, because it’s crucial. If you expect yourself to carry on with life as usual, you’re in for a disappointment. The meals will not be up to par, the house will not be as clean as usual, the laundry will not be kept up with as well as you’d like. None of us are superwomen and I think the first and most important thing to do is to let go of unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

I know that in my first trimester, we will rely to some degree on certain compromise or semi-convenient foods. We will pull clean laundry out of baskets. I stick to the bare minimum cleaning, mostly on an “as-needed” basis.

And that’s fine, because I have learned over the years that I simply can’t do it all. Nor do I need to. It’s a season and when we put it in perspective, it’s a relatively short season at that. So give yourself grace, mama, and only do what you can do.

Make meals easier

Although we still try our best to eat real and unprocessed food while I am feeling sick, there are compromises that we willingly make, knowing that it is only a few months of less-than-ideal eating.

  • Instead of baking, I buy things like organic sprouted grain breads and tortillas.
  • I stop making my own condiments and purchase decent versions of ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, etc. from the health food store.
  • I buy less fresh produce (because realistically I know I won’t use it all up when I’m not cooking great meals), and put some of that money towards buying easier meats, like chicken breasts and nitrate-free sausages or hot dogs.
  • The produce I do buy is stuff like organic salad mixes, veggies that can be quickly chopped and eaten raw, fruit that is easy to snack on.
  • We break down and buy a few true convenience foods for those days when I simply can’t handle cooking anything else or I need to ask my husband to do it for me. This time around, we had a case of Annie’s noodles and cheese, organic tomato sauces with pasta, perogies which we ate with sausages and sauerkraut (my hubby’s request), and white rice and gyozas (Chinese dumplings) to satisfy our Taiwanese homestay students.
  • Keep it simple. No one will die if you eat meals like eggs and toast, smoothies, yogurt fruit parfaits, sandwiches, taco salad and that sort of thing.

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Image by pink.polka

Rally the troops

Our families truly do want to help, and although busy husbands and young children can’t necessarily keep up with all that mama usually does, sometimes we just need to get creative and be willing to ask for what we need.

Even though she still needs supervision with a lot of chores, I did ask my 6 year old to do certain things (like vacuum or basic bathroom wipedowns) knowing they wouldn’t be perfect but it would be better than nothing. We also gave her the option to earn a little bit of extra money if she wanted to do more chores than usual.

I also just tried to really explain to my 4 and 6 year old that mommy wasn’t feeling well because she was working hard to grow a new baby brother or sister, and so I needed them to be my best helpers. They liked feeling needed and I think they understood that I really needed their help. Realistically, a 4 and 6 year old can’t do that much, but they could help clear the dishes after meals, sweep or wipe up small messes, help with laundry, put out a very simple snack to share, etc. Every little bit helped on my worst days.

If your husband is able, you can also discuss with them some ways to share some of the responsibilities, such as cooking, dishes, cleaning or whatever needs to be done. My husband works pretty long hours most days running his own business, but whenever possible he would put the kids to bed by himself, help me with the kitchen after dinner, encourage the kids to help him tidy the house on a Saturday morning, or simply bring home something for dinner on those really bad nights.

Get creative with your cleaning

Cleaning happened for me in two main ways over the past couple of months:

1. In 5-15 minute spurts. I love the technique of setting a timer for as much time as you think you can work for. Work hard during that time to get as much done as you can, then just rest again for as long as you need to until you have the energy to get up and do some more work again.

2. As I saw the need for it, in whatever little moments I had. If I walked past something that was really dirty, I would clean just that thing. If one bathroom was in dire need, but the other two were livable, I gave that one bathroom a quick clean. These little efforts added up to help keep things from getting out of control.

Take rests when you can get them

By 10 or 11 am each morning, I often hit a wall of exhaustion. On those days when I just could not keep going, I would put the toddler down for her nap a little earlier than usual (knowing that she might not nap in the afternoon), and stick a movie on for my older two. I laid down some safety related rules and then let them watch while I laid down on the couch to sleep. Being able to do this totally depends on your kids and whether you feel like you can trust them on their own. I am also a light sleeper who wakes easily, and they know that they can always wake me up if there is a problem or if they need me.

Is it my ideal solution? No. But it allowed me to get through the day with slightly more energy and a better disposition and helped keep the sickness more at bay because I was better rested.

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Drop everything unecessary

I become a bit of a homebody during these early months of pregnancy. I try to avoid scheduling play dates, going on outings, hosting events. I re-scheduled the dates I taught Sunday school, took on a few guest posts on the blog, and brought my work hours down to the very bare minimum necessary to keep my site running.

It doesn’t mean that life has to stop entirely. We still had two homestay students (planned for before we knew I was pregnant), I still babysat a few times for friends and family who needed a hand, and I couldn’t really skip strawberry and raspberry preserving season.

The goal was to keep my schedule and obligations as uncluttered as possible, so that I could focus my minimal energy on what most needed to be done.

Take care of yourself and keep your priorities in order

This one is so hard for me, but it’s so important. If we’re not caring for ourselves, ensuring that we get the food, water, sleep, rest and everything else that we need, then our job of caring for the rest of our family because that much more difficult.

I also noticed that because I was trying to grab extra sleep in the mornings, I was missing out on my regular quiet time with the Lord. Did I need the sleep? Yes. But the lack of time in the Word and in prayer was evident to me on many days. In hindsight, it would have been better for me to work at getting to sleep earlier so that I could still wake up with at least some time for devotions before the mornings got going.

When it comes down to it, what matters most is our relationships, both with God and with others. When we keep that perspective, it all goes so much better.

How do you get through those early weeks and months of pregnancy, especially once you already have a family to care for?

Top image by Nina Matthews Photography
Bottom image by Sharon D. Pruitt

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  1. I had a 4 yr old and 2 yr old when I gave birth to twins. It was hard, it was busy, and I don’t remember much of those first several months but I still smile whenever I see photos of those years. Funny how I remember now all the great times we had although I knew while I was in it that I could barely keep up. My biggest piece of advice: don’t do any extracurricular activity that doesn’t strongly enhance your family life. Play dates are only fun if you feel totally energized because the company you were with encouraged you, and your children were happy and surrounded with goodness… and you could afford it. Same goes with holidays/extended family, classes and courses your or the kids could take, vacations, and outings in general.

    1. @Renee Harris, Oh I agree about cutting back on things, we’ve cut way down on those things and are not travelling for visiting at Christmas this year. We can’t really afford it anyways, but the trip itself is long and would be crazy.

    2. @Renee Harris, Great advice. I think I have previously tried to do some outings simply out of feelings of obligation. This time I totally focused on only those things that I thought were really worthwhile, restful or encouraging, otherwise we just stayed home. I’m so glad I did it that way.

  2. So, since my husband and I have been talking about #5, this is all great advice. 🙂 <—– That's not PUBLIC knowledge. LOL. 😉

  3. Great post! I’ll have to revisit this next time around! I remember hearing someone say that the day they find out they’re pregnant and before the sickness hits too hard, they start cooking up a storm and putting meals or meal bases like cooked meats in the freezer. Great advice…except that I got sick before I took the pg test!

    1. @Janelle, That is definitely what I usually do when I find out I’m pregnant. With both #2 and #3 I was able to make it happen and it was soooo helpful. This time, I found out I was expecting right when I returned home from the Philippines, and went straight from jet lag to morning sickness. Oh well! 🙂

  4. Thanks for this article! I am now 36 weeks pregnant with our first child, but its nice to read this for in the future when we may have a larger family. 🙂

  5. With Baby 3, I knew that I would have late afternoon sickness from week 7 to 13. So before I got queasy, I prepped lots of freezer dinners that Hubs could heat and serve while I stayed in the bedroom (away from the smells).

    We certainly made some compromises for sanity/extra sleep. I switched to disposables for about two months. Even the two extra loads of laundry each week was too much.

  6. I think this is an excellent and very needed post!! Being a homeschooling Mom with 5 under the age of 10…I have had to learn and relearn so many of these lessons:) Asking “is this God’s expectation?” “Mine” Or “the world’s”…. We get to do all unto HIS glory but that doesn;t mean perfect because our Lord looks at the heart not our deeds!! Praise HIM….No wonder Grace (God’s underserved favor) changes things!!!

  7. Thank you…I needed this today 🙂 at about 16/17 weeks I am slowly able to get more done. These are many if the same things we have done in our house as #4 grows and I care for a 4,3 to and a 9 month old. It us a comfort to know other mamas don’t do it all either lol!

  8. Oh I am so here right now. I am thankfully now at 11 weeks, but I am totally exhausted. I am thankful that for this time, my first trimester co-ordinated almost perfectly with my husband’s months off work and so that has really helped. However summer is also so busy with us as we try to put up a lot of fruits and such for winter. Knowing that we don’t have the same income this year coming and a possible move and such next summer we have been trying to do as much of that as possible. There are also lots of other things to do like tomorrow we have to make a road trip to go buy a second used vehicle so I am trying to rest up today for the drive home. All these things are extra tiring, and therefore I am also letting things go around the house even more so. But its worth it right now.

    How I have been coping- my oldest has been really helpful to me with getting food for me out of the fridge. Otherwise I smell something in there that makes me throw up. My husband thankfully has time to do a lot of cooking, or else I would do freezer meals. We talked about him doing some up on a weekend while I was out so that he could put them in the freezer. Not ideal, but works. I’ve also had to really lower my standards and forget about the fact that he doesn’t do things the way I do…the floor doesn’t get swept daily (so I let it go, do it, or I ask my oldest to do it, although not to my standard I praise her for her effort). The sink drain has gunk in it, the cupboards are a bit sticky, the clothes are in baskets…but its okay! I do what I can and often hold my breath to do short few seconds in the kitchen! I hope this feeling is over soon.

    Thanks for a great encouraging post.

  9. Oh yes, it’s hard. I usually brought snacks upstairs for me and the kids at night, and would turn on the TV and give them the snacks in the morning…so they’d sit next to me and I’d try to sleep more. I kept a lot of cheese cubes and leftover meat and easy-to-grab fruit around and asked my 3-year-old to help get snacks a lot. She was also able to help me clean some if I offered her a spray bottle of diluted vinegar and a cloth, or fetch diapers and such for my 2-year-old (who was about 16 months when I found out I was pregnant). Children are a big help sometimes!

  10. I’m 11 weeks along with our third and it is definitely a different story this time around! We do a lot more playing with mama lying on the sofa. Mornings are tough, but I’m hoping the worst is behind me now. Great post!

    1. @Aimee @ Simple Bites, How fun I am also 11 weeks with #3. Just had to comment. 🙂 I hope the worst is over for you too. I’m not sure since with #2 I had “morning sickness” for 16 weeks. With #1 it was 12 weeks, so we shall see.

  11. First of all–I had no idea you used to be an ESL teacher! I also was a full-time ESL teacher for 4 years (before kids)–and during my first pregnancy! I agree–it was so much easier when I could just come home and prop my feet up. I also had my first child during the summer, so I had a full three weeks off before she came (and I majorly relaxed those last 3 weeks!).

    I admit that during my second pregnancy I succumbed a lot (TOO much!) to letting my then-2-year-old watch tv. 🙁 I also went too much. I felt like I had to take advantage of the time with lots of play dates, Bible studies, etc. I should have rested! Thankfully, I have a husband who helped out around the house a lot!

    This post is very encouraging because we are thinking about baby #3, and I can get overwhelmed thinking about being pregnant with 2! It’s encouraging to think about those who have done it…and made it through!

  12. These are such good tips and seem so well-reasoned. I’m expecting #2 but I didn’t figure out some of these tips until the first trimester yukkies were almost over. I wish I would’ve realized that grocery shopping as I usually would have was a waste of money, because I never felt like cooking, and so like you said, so much fresh produce got thrown out. I finally wisened up and made a “compromise” and ordered some meals from a “dinner done” type place where you select a bunch of meals from their menu, they put together the ingredients for you and you go pick it up, freeze, and then plop it into an oven or skillet whenever you’re ready to eat it! Some are good, some are NOT so good, but it gets dinner on the table and is less of a strain on the pocketbook than constantly eating out!

  13. I really appreciate this post as I am coming out of my first tri-mester withour 5th child and had just forgotten how sick one can feel and tired. We have a 7 yr. old, 6yr. old, 4 yr. old and 3 yr. old. I appreciate hearing other mama’s talk about the laundry piling up and the bathroom missing a cleaning and just general feelings of yuckiness and fatigue. Sometimes I was feeling like I was the only pregnant woman that has a messy house. Thanks for the encouragement. We too are due in Feb. 🙂

    1. @Karen Olayo, Oh wow…sometimes I wish we could all see each other’s houses since it would make us all feel better. The other day I laid down on the floor and when I got up I saw dirt on my brown pants. LOL I knew I must’ve not vacuumed quite as much as I should at that point. 🙂

  14. This was a great article; thanks for sharing!

    I would really like to know how any of you have dealt with pregnancy while in school. I’m currently finishing up my last year of college, and we aren’t expecting yet, but… well, university is already so time consuming! Would you say it is comparable to being pregnant while caring for other children?

    Just wondering. Thanks for any insights!

    1. @beccachan, I think it’s probably similar to working a full time job while pregnant. You would just want to make sure that you didn’t have a bunch of extra commitments, other than your basic school responsibilities. I think it’s very manageable. Just try to plan your courses so that you can maybe sleep a little later on some days, or so that you have breaks where you can eat in between, that sort of thing. And you’ll want to discuss with your husband how you can split up some of the household duties just so that you can keep up with things a bit better.

    2. @beccachan, When I became pregnant with my son I was about to enter into my final year of college. About 1 month after “morning sickness” hit me (more like all afternoon sickness), my classes began. I had a regular 12 hour class schedule, so about 2 classes a day most of the week, and lots of papers to write! I had 4 12 page minimum research papers w/footnotes to do, and I had such a hard time staying focused because on top of all the sickness and fatigue I wanted to research baby stuff haha. But lots of quick naps on the couch got me through it all, and prayer of course! My husband was so understanding and helpful and would often grab dinner for us on his way home from work (not ideal but it was either that or nothing). It can be done, and honestly, I personally think being pregnant while taking care of my son would be harder than that 🙂

      God bless!

    3. @beccachan, I was pregnant while working full time, and then while in school. I just had to pace myself to get the work done, and take 15 minute power naps, usually after lunch. I also took walking breaks while working on papers so that I wouldn’t get as sore or nauseated from sitting in one place and staring at a computer screen. In the end, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish one of my papers by the due date because I didn’t have the physical energy to keep up – I talked to the professor who was very understanding and granted me an extension. You can make it work!

      1. @Tempe, Thanks for everybody’s comments on this! I figured that the principles would be the same, but it is so nice to here from ladies who have done this successfully. I’m so grateful for you! We’ll see how things go.

  15. Oh the joys of motherhood! The aches and pains, the emotional ups and downs, the fatigue and morning sickness, etc., etc. But our precious little ones are SO worth it, aren’t they? I feel for you, Steph!

    I have 5 kids, and there is about 16 to 18 months between all of them, so I know all about this subject! How did I manage? Well, I did pretty much the same things you mentioned in the post: lowering my expectations of “having it all together”; keeping meals simple and doubling the recipe so one could be frozen; getting naps in when I can (good videos and nap/quiet time are great!); involving the kids in cleaning (not expecting it to be perfect!); and not taking on anything outside the family (church, school or other activities). Although all these things made pregnancy a little easier, the #1 thing that helped me the most was my reliance on the One who could give me strength, guidance and wisdom.

    Praying for you during this exciting time!

  16. Thanks! We’re working on getting number 3 in the oven, so to speak, so these were some timely reminders. Thanks again! – Jess at OlyMomma

  17. I’ve been finding this time around to be especially interesting. I’m trying to take advantage of the times my daughter plays independently to relax, at least sit down or lay down. Fortunately at nearly 10 weeks things are getting a bit better, but there was a point when I wondered if I would ever be able to cook again. My husband is very understanding, including coming up with dinner on the fly, even if it means salad for him, a protein shake for me and eggs for the two year old. It’s not the smell of cooking that bothers me so much, but the standing in the hot kitchen. Sometimes I just have to walk away from the stove and sit in a kitchen chair for a minute (or lay my head on the table). I’m definitely looking forward to the second trimester.

  18. This is a great post! And all this is good advice for those of us who are extremely sick throughout pregnancy. I’m in my 6th month and I still only get a few days here and there where I’m not very sick or in major pain. It’s just the way this pregnancy is and although I don’t have other kiddos I’ve had to slow down, ask for help, accept some convenience foods, etc. There is just no alternative! Fortunately my husband is amazing and has taken over as much as he can. People have been very understanding when I can’t go to family events or I can never seem to get around to calling them back. And my mom made, froze, and delivered a bunch of real food meals at the beginning and she’s about to do so again. I try to remind myself daily that it’s ok not to be as energetic and strong as I was 6 months ago and that even though this has been a miserable time, I am incredibly lucky.

  19. This is a subject near and dear to my heart and you addressed it really well. I am 17 weeks along in my 10th pregnancy, and if all continues to go well we will meet baby #7 in January. My children are 10, 6, 5, 3, 2, and 8 mos. I get severe all day sickness for the 1st and part of the 2nd trimester – yuck.

    The things that keep the home and homeschool running at my house include things you mentioned like cutting outside activities, lowering expectations, and so on. We also use Chorepacks, based off the Managers of Their Chores book by Teri Maxwell. These have equipped my children to handle almost all the housework after some training in the beginning. With 5 children old enough to help with chores it really is not much for any one person to do, and mommy then only has a few jobs that really have to be done by me.

    Pregnancy and little ones are a blessing. The other thing I’ve done this pregnancy is to pray and thank God every time I feel sick. I’ve done a lot of praying…LOL.

  20. Thank you for this post. When I found out I was pregnant with my fourth I was a little overwhelmed (I have a 9 year old, a 21 month and a 9 month old). This was such an encouragement to me that no, I’m not being a bad mommy. I do need to lay down and rest sometimes. And just because dinner (or breakfast and lunch for that matter) may not be on the table as I would desire it to be doesn’t mean I am failing my job as a wife and mom. Anyway, thank you for your timely post and encouragement.

  21. Hi, I’m in the very early stages of pregnancy (5 weeks), with our 3rd, and today the exhaustion has just hit me!! We have only just moved house this weekend, after moving from Christchurch, NZ, in March, and I forgot just how tired I get in the early weeks. Thankfully my two girls (almost 4 and almost 2) are starting to play together really well, and we have a great little backyard for them to play alone without me watching, so I admit to just sitting down and resting! I do have the expectations of a clean house, but I think I can (and should) lower them!! I’ve had a lot of emotional stress, that I think has only just started to lift off my shoulders, so with a pregnancy on top of that, I think the exhaustion has really hit me. So thank you for such a timely post!!

  22. The days of coping with pregnancy and little ones at the same time are over for me, but I do remember them fondly. What about borrowing an idea from the Amish? Hire outside help, perhaps from church or a homeschool group, a girl 10+ to a mature woman. She could help with cleaning, cooking, caring for the little ones, whatever would provide greatest relief. Whether you get daily help or weekly help, this could provide great relief. If money is too tight, work out a barter system.

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