Congratulations, you’ve added a sprog to the planet! Well done you. For both guys and girls, parenthood and arthritis can feel like a nerve-wracking combination. You might worry about coming off medicines while pregnant, or whether you could cope with the exhaustion and physical demands that little ones can inflict upon mums and dads. The good news is that it’s possible, especially with help and a few clever tips.
You’ve probably discovered already, if your offspring is anything older than 24 hours, that parenthood is physically and mentally draining. Thank goodness you love the little blighters more than life itself; you’d be tempted to drop them off at your mum’s with a suitcase otherwise.
Miniature human beings exert a super-huge influence on mums and dads; this much is true whether you have arthritis or not. If you’re coping with arthritis as well, the first five years especially can be exhausting. From rocking restless babies through the wee small hours to wrestling irate toddlers from supermarket aisles while carrying shopping. It’s so physical there are Olympic athletes who wouldn’t dare take on the challenge.
But, you’ve got little Freddy now, and you sure as hell can’t put him back in! So, what can you do to make life a little easier? Rheumatology nurse specialist and Arthur’s Place founder Andrea McBride says:
1. Get rested
If you’re pregnant get as much rest as you can before baby arrives. I know this is easier said than done, but it really is valuable. Fight the urge to decorate the nursery or shop endlessly, and sleep at every opportunity. Go to bed early; take a book up at 8pm, and read for an hour if you can’t fall asleep. Think of it as storing energy in your bank to spend later. Believe me, you’ll have a massive sleep overdraft before their first birthday!
2. Get help
Accept that you will need help with your children; everybody does. You might need more help than others, too, but you must not feel guilty about that for a minute. By getting help, you are doing the best you can for the children. If you don’t look after yourself, you wont be at your best for them. Please let relations and friends help, even if it’s just for 30 minutes, to give you chance to rest.
3. Quiet playtimes
If you have limited help, make sure you build in more restful activities, like story-time sessions and cuddles on the sofa, into more active play. And CBeebies or a DVD, especially an educational one, can be your new best-friend, too. All mums need to do this every now and then, to win some respite, and you’ve got more reason than most!
4. Secure your medicines
It is vital that you keep your medicines away from your children. If you self-inject, find somewhere quiet, away from the children, to administer them. Try not to rush yourself. And don’t think that if medicines are kept high up they are safely out of reach. Even the youngest of children are somehow innately able to climb. Keep them out of sight, ideally locked up. The drugs that is, not the children.
5. Pick the right buggy
Invest time and as much money as you can into buying a buggy that is light to push and can act as a workhorse. You will spend a lot of time with it, and you will want to make sure you can manoeuvre it easily, and potentially fold it and lift it too, though it is always a good idea to ask for help with that. Don’t overload your buggy with too many heavy things, but do get one that can fit the essentials so that you’re not carrying separate bags.
6. Stop climbing stairs
Have two of the important things you use all of the time, so that you can keep one set upstairs and one set downstairs. This will save you climbing the stairs a hundred times a day.
7. Do showers instead of baths
Sit toddlers in the shower and hose them down, rather than lifting slippy children in and out of the bath. Try not to bath children if you’re in the house on your own, in case either of you get into difficulties while water is around.
8. Use stair gates smartly
Use stair gates in doorways to keep your children focused in a smaller area of the house. This will save you trailing after them. Test out stair gates in shops like John Lewis or Kiddicare to make sure you choose one you can open yourself. Some require a lot of strength in the hands, others are more about being cleverer than your two-year-old.
A physio says
Steve Tolan, physiotherapist and professional adviser to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, has his own checklist for pregnant women and parents of young children. He says:
- Understand that pregnancy has an effect. This is true for everybody. Pregnancy can cause a level of weakness on top of your condition. We advise all women to invest in regaining their strength after delivery, and that’s even more true if you have an underlying condition.
- You must not feel guilty asking for help. It’s for the greater good of the family.
- Think of the activities that you will be doing a lot, and that might cause strain, and plan some better ways of handling them. This might be changing nappies, for example. It is worth setting up a changing station that means you’re not bending or lifting unnecessarily, and make sure you have all the things you need on hand. An occupational therapist can really help with working out easier solutions for everyday tasks.
- If you are lifting children, remember to clear a space, think about the position you want to be in, and bend from the knees. Ask your physiotherapist for more personalised guidance on lifting, relevant to your particular condition. Your midwife and health visitor are there to support you, and can refer you for more specialist advice and support if required, from an occupational therapist or physiotherapist, amongst other professionals. They may also be able to see you more often, and for longer, or in your own home.
- Above all, pace yourself. It’s very tempting to want to do lots of great things with the kids, but it’s not good if a trip to the zoo knocks you out for the week. Keep a balance between what you can manage, and what will exert you, and make sure you space out activities.