4 Tips for Parenting During an IBD Flare-Up

Ulcerative colitis (UC) flare-ups are no picnic. From stabbing pain to sporadic fevers to hours spent in the bathroom curled up in a ball, the typical UC patient experiences on a regular basis what others would describe as the worst illness of their lives. Throw a couple kids and a barrage of responsibilities into the mix, and life during a UC flare-up quickly goes from unpleasant to impossible. 

As a UC patient and the mother of two children under the age of 4, I understand the challenge of parenting during flare-ups. I’ve felt the fear and I’ve asked the questions. 

How will I keep them occupied? How will I get dinner on the table? How am I supposed to keep them clean and fed and happy when I can hardly walk from the couch to the bathroom? 

After coping with several months’ worth of flare-ups while managing my household, I have developed a few survival strategies for parents with ulcerative colitis or other inflammatory bowel diseases. 

1. Meal prep. 

During a flare-up, the last thing an IBD patient wants is to spend hours in kitchen on a daily basis, experiencing stomach cramps while cooking meals they can’t even eat. 

My solution: meal prep. 

Find a time when your symptoms are manageable (for me, this often occurs within an hour of taking my pain medicine) and head to the kitchen. Prepare your kids’ meals for the next few days in bulk and store them in the refrigerator. This way, dinner time, which, for me, usually arrives at an hour fraught with fatigue and pain, won’t cause a major inconvenience. Just nuke your child’s yummy meal, slap it on a plate and call it a night. 

The same goes for between-meal snacks. Having a few ziplock bags of pretzels stashed away in the pantry or apple slices in the fridge can be a lifesaver when the inevitable “Mommy, I’m hungry” strikes at in the afternoon. 

2. Activity bags. 

It’s easy to become sedentary during flare-ups, and when sickness forces me to become a couch potato, the whole family tends to follow suit. 

No parent wants their children spending hours on end with their eyes glued to the TV screen as a result of their own illness. This is when activity bags come to the rescue.

In a similar fashion as meal prep, set aside a half hour or so to prepare and store activities in gallon bags. It could be a coloring book with a box of crayons, a few Play-Doh containers, some animal-shaped cookie cutters or even a puzzle. Find whatever interests your child, pack it away in several bags and store those bags in a location that is accessible to your child. In the event that you are stuck in the bathroom or on the couch in fetal position, you can tell your child to get an activity bag and buy yourself an hour of rest while they keep themselves blissfully occupied.

3. Shower at night. 

It is often difficult to get a full night of restful sleep during flare-ups, but a good night’s sleep is imperative for both parenting and healing. 

Taking a warm shower before bed helps improve our circadian rhythms by raising our skin’s temperature and psychologically preparing us for sleep. Even if you’re exhausted from a day filled with dirty diapers, sippy cups and sticky little fingers, taking 15 minutes to shower before bed can lead to a restful slumber and a more energetic tomorrow. 

4. Pick your battles wisely. 

As a parent, it often feels like my to-do list is constantly being amended. There are clothes to launder and dishes to wash and meals to cook and floors to sweep and toilets to scrub and tiny arms constantly reaching for me to pick them up.

During UC flare-ups, completing every single household chore while effectively parenting is an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation. Your body needs a chance to heal, and your children need your limited energy much more than your to-do list. Only do what is necessary around the house and learn to accept a dish or two in the sink while you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms. 

In the same respect, only do what is necessary in regards to parenting. A flare-up isn’t the time to get your toddler to surrender his pacifier or force your picky eater to try a new vegetable. Stress has been proven to worsen flare-ups and slow down the healing process, and your children need you healthy more than they need to change their behaviors. 

Establish a routine for your family during flare-ups and stick to it: Your body will thank you. 

It sometimes feels like flare-ups are never-ending. There are days when I can’t imagine life beyond the flare, and the dread begins to sink in. I start thinking “this is my life now” and feel like I might as well try to tackle everything around the house and in my kids’ lives that needs to get done.

But you will feel better. It could be a week from no or it could be a month. Regardless, there will be a time in the not-so-distant future when your body will be healthy enough to take on chores and challenges. And that will be the time to do so. 

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