Real Advice for Parenting Through UCby Jeanine Barone Health Writer
Here's the thing about ulcerative colitis: There's a good chance you'll be dealing with this form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) while also trying to raise your family. In fact, more than a third of the 3.1 million people with IBD are 18 to 44 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parenting with UC can be extremely stressful, and some research has found that stress is linked to more frequent flares (a.k.a. the last thing you need). Read on for a few genius tips and tactics from UC parents and the health pros who treat them.
Plan for Flares
“I have a 6-month old, and I recently experienced a severe flare," says Jamie D., of Chelan, WA. "I knew I was going to need a plan for when I was running to the bathroom 10 times a day on the days my husband was gone. (He’s a firefighter, so I’m home alone two or three days a week while he’s on shift.) I make sure to keep my son's little chair and blanket on the floor in the bathroom at all times. If you have a quick and safe place to put them, it will make the situation a little easier if you don't have someone there to help you.”
Ask for Help
“During my last flare, I realized asking for help is the smartest thing you can do for you and your children,” says Jamie D. “Even if you ask a friend or family member to come over for a couple hours just so you can take a nap can make the biggest difference in the world. Don't feel guilty, embarrassed or defeated. That's what family and friends are there for. Now that I know I can lean on others during times of weakness, a load has been taken off my shoulders and I don't feel the need to do everything by myself.”
Do Some Batch Cooking
“It can be hard to make meals that will keep your tummy in check while also pleasing picky eaters,” says Carmen Sturdy, 33, a resident of British Columbia, Canada, who has ulcerative colitis and is the author of Every Last Bite: A Deliciously Clean Approach to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Batch cooking and freezing tummy-friendly meals that your kids also love will take the stress out of weeknight dinners. I like to pack my freezer full of food—hearty soups, rich stews, and casseroles—that I can thaw and have on the table in less than fifteen minutes.”
Don’t Forget the Snacks
“As a parent always on the go, it can be easy to reach for junk food as a quick snack, but it's not recommended for anyone diagnosed with IBD,” says Sturdy. “Instead keep healthy snacks such as energy balls in your bag to grab when hunger strikes. Plus, you can turn snack-making into a fun activity to do with your kids. They'll love rolling the energy balls, stirring together trail mix or making granola bars, and best of all, this might encourage them to eat the healthy snacks, too.”
Get Memberships to Kid-Friendly Institutions
“Having memberships to local kid-friendly places, such as the science center, aquarium, or zoo, is really helpful,” says Amber Tresca, 47, of Fairfield, CT, who is the mother of two children, 10 and 12 years old. “These places are great for moms with low energy because they usually have guided programs or volunteers who engage with the kids (and sometimes a bench or two for tired parents). Access to bathrooms is a plus and the membership usually pays for itself with only a few visits.”
Get Kids Involved in Your Healthcare
“Prepare in advance when you have a procedure scheduled or a hospital stay to maintain normalcy,” says Jessica Philpott, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist who specializes in treating inflammatory bowel disease. “Involve your children as much as possible so they are part of the planning and they feel connected to you and helpful. If you need to eat a gelatin dessert (e.g., Jell-O) as part of your prep for your procedure, ask your children to help you make the dessert. By doing something positive with your children, they become your team of helpful cheerleaders.”
Embrace the Unexpected
“Imagine that you have planned a birthday party for your child or that your child was invited to a birthday party. Suddenly, you are having a flare-up on the special day,” says Dr. Philpott. You can’t predict the unpredictable. “If you can’t host or take your child to the party, have your support network ready to step in. Asking for help is often welcome by others.” You can still celebrate your child and show them how much you love them just by taking care of yourself and being present.
Travel in Pairs
“If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been (or somewhere you already know is a jungle) [with kids] make sure you’re not alone,” says Meena Bewtra, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s National Board of Trustees. “That helps you run off to the bathroom or rest if you need to, without all of the burden of childcare resting on you.”
Work Around Your Schedule
“Many of us have better or worse times of the day during our flares,” says Dr. Bewtra. “If mornings are good for you, plan activities (such as the play dates, and trips to museums) during the morning and be home for lunch (and some rest). If afternoons are easier, rest up in the morning and make the plans for the afternoon. And if nights require difficult medications, make a pact with your partner to take the early morning chores if they can handle the overnight nightmares and bathroom trips.”
Be Kind to Yourself
“The fact that you are worried about caring for your child while sick yourself shows that you are a great parent, and your child is lucky to have someone who loves them so much,” says Dr. Bewtra. “Your child will turn out fine if they have a few extra minutes of screen time or are a few minutes late to a playdate.” And don't forget about self-care—a nap, a walk outside, a few minutes of meditation, curling up with a book, or booking a one-on-one with a therapist—which is critical for maintaining your own mental and emotional well-being.