How my husband and I divide baby- and household care: 0-2 months after baby was born

It seems like there’s no right way to divide labor in a household these days. Many of us are past the days when women take care of the kids and the house and men go to work. But when a baby is small, the mom is breastfeeding, and the dad is going to work full-time, what is a fair division of labor?

For us, the answer has been to stay flexible and adapt as our needs and our baby’s needs were changing.

The first two weeks: Crazy land

We started out sharing pretty much all baby-related tasks: we both changed diapers; we both woke up in the night; we both comforted him when he was crying; we bathed him together.

Even breastfeeding was somewhat of a shared effort since my husband would arrange all the pillows, I’d sit down, and he’d hand me William. When William started moving around or waving his arms, hitting himself in the face, Jacob would hold him in place on the pillow or let William’s little hand hold onto his finger in order to stop the crazy thrashing about.

During the first two weeks, we received help with the household and the baby from the maternity nurse and my mom. For those two weeks, Jacob did all the cooking since I was still recovering. After the first week, I started running a laundry here and there or (un)loading the dishwasher once in a while. But I didn’t have to do too much of the household stuff because my mom was still there.

From 2 weeks to 2 months

From 2 weeks on, Jacob, William, and I were on our own. This was the period when we were the most tired. I was trying to do more around the house while also taking care of the baby by myself since Jacob was at work full-time.

I don’t like taking naps, so I was trying to survive on the interrupted sleep I got during the night. While William was not one to cry for long periods during the night, he still woke up every 3-4 hours to nurse. At that time, breastfeeding took a long time, so I was usually up for 1.5 hours with him at each waking to nurse him, change his diaper, and get him back to sleep. And this was happening every 4 hours! I was exhausted.

At the same time, Jacob was trying to do his job well and serve his patients as he usually would, while also cooking all of our food and taking care of countless household chores (we still had to get done all the chores described here). He was also waking up almost every time William and I woke up, arranging pillows for the feeding, changing diapers, rocking him to sleep, etc. He was also exhausted.

Sharing night feedings

At this time, I came across the suggestion that the mom can pump a bottle of breastmilk, go to sleep, let the partner feed it to the baby, and then the partner gets to sleep. This was a lightbulb moment for me! It helped us immensely.

We had a nice evening routine: at 21:00, I pumped a bottle of breastmilk and said good night to my men. I cherished this time for myself: I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my face, and put on hand cream. How luxurious these simple self-care acts felt! Then I hugged my pillow and enjoyed sweet, sweet sleep.

In the meantime, Jacob waited for William to wake up. Around 22:00 or 22:30, Jacob fed him the pumped breastmilk and changed his diaper. He put William in bed next to me by 23:30 and then went to sleep in the guest bedroom. It was tough to have him sleeping away from us, but in that way he could get uninterrupted sleep and wake up relatively rested at 6:30.

The next time William woke up was around 2:00 or 3:00. At that time, I fed him, and then again around 5:00 or 6:00. I usually went to bed around 21:30 and finally got up around 8:00. My sleep actually wasn’t too bad this way.

Fun during night feedings

Funny note: I listened to audio books during the night awakenings! I got rather annoyed by having to be awake for 1.5 hours twice each night, and I wondered how I could make it nicer for myself. The answer struck me: listen to fun audio books! Suddenly, those awake times weren’t so annoying anymore, and I was learning interesting things from my audio books. What’s more, I quickly got the Gold Night Owl badge on Audible 🙂

During this time, I was trying to do my fair share in the kitchen. Since William was napping quite well during the day, I was able to do quite a bit at home. Jacob and I were probably sharing our cooking duties 50-50, and it was working well.

Around 2 months, things changed, and we had to reinvent our division of labor…

All the help we got with our newborn

Caring for a newborn is hard work but not in the way I expected it to. It’s a roller coaster of numerous small, repetitive tasks, and it’s surprisingly difficult to do by oneself or even by a couple. My account of how my husband and I have been taking care of our baby would be terrible incomplete without mentioning all the people who’ve been helping us.

The first week: help from the maternity nurse

During the first two weeks, things were completely unpredictable. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. Luckily, in the Netherlands they have the wonderful system that for the first week a nurse comes to your house for about 6-8 hours a day and helps you with everything baby- and house-related. She helped me breastfeed, change diapers, take care of the house as well as of the baby. It is so, so great to have someone like that come and help in the first week after a baby is born! It is amazing.

While the nurse was at home, she helped me get a rhythm. She made sure that William fed every 3 hours (he was sleeping a lot of the time, so we may have forgotten to feed him otherwise). She reminded me to eat lunch or take a nap, which were all good ideas.

In the evenings when Jacob and I were taking care of the baby alone, it hit me how we really had no idea what we were doing, and at the same time there wasn’t so much we could get wrong. If he was crying, we’d: 1) try to feed him, 2) change his diaper, 3) cuddle him, so he falls asleep. It all felt so uncertain and strangely new but also strangely simple and repetitive. It was sometimes difficult in the evenings if he got fussy and cried for 10-15 minutes, but soon enough we figured out how to comfort him, so he could sleep.

The second week: help from my mom

Fortunately, my mom came to help out during our second week postpartum. That was very helpful because I was now able to take care of the baby a bit more but couldn’t also manage with all the housework. Jacob, my husband, was doing a lot of the housework, but he was also back to work full-time, so any help was highly appreciated.

My mom did all kinds of things such as run a laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, and cook. She also helped me take care of William, figure out how to dress him appropriately for the weather, hold him, so I can take a shower, and really everything else that he needed. It was very helpful and calming to have my mom by my side with my baby.

Recently, in William’s third month, my mom came to visit and help again. How good it is to have someone else help out with taking care of a baby! Not only was I more relaxed because I had more time to rest; I was also a better mom, wife, daughter, and friend (I believe) because I had more time to myself, so then I could be better to my close people. And also, it helps to have someone hold your baby while you’re peeing, so he doesn’t cry. (To be fair, when we’re alone at home, sometimes he just cries while I’m peeing, and it’s not the end of the world.)

On our own

From the third week on, Jacob, William, and I were left on our own. At first, I was rather scared! With Jacob at work, how was I going to take care of William for a whole day?! Luckily, once we spent a few days on our own, I realized it wasn’t that bad. We were managing pretty well – after all, the things that really had to be done were that I had to eat and go to the bathroom and he had to eat, get his diaper changed, get cuddled, and sleep. Everything else was optional.

I slowly figured out how to pee before he started crying and shower or eat while he was sleeping. I felt like a pro! We even started taking walks in the stroller when the weather was nice. Jacob, William, and I drove to appointments with the osteopath and chiropractor. On trips out of town, I breastfed in the car! Before each new activity, I felt scared about how we would manage, whether he would cry, etc. But we seemed to make it every time: even if he cried, we managed to calm him down, and things were somehow alright.

Weird note: I greatly enjoy packing William’s diaper bag. That’s something I’ve always looked forward to! Diaper bags are so cool with all their little pockets specifically created for diapers, wet wipes, towels, napkins, bottles, etc. We have a diaper bag for the stroller and a diaper backpack because I love them so much! And yes, we use them both.

Help from friends and family

Many friends have offered to help, but I haven’t quite taken them up on their offers yet. I have no problem letting other people hold or play with William when they come over, but I can’t quite imagine how friends can take care of my baby for hours on end at this stage.

My dad and my brother also came to visit several times, and that has also been helpful. It’s really convenient to have someone to hand the baby to for 15 minutes or half an hour in order to do something myself. Funny enough, the other person actually enjoys holding the baby, so it’s a win-win situation!

I’d like to thank everybody for their help. William, Jacob, and I are happy to receive so much help and love from the people around us. And if you ever feel like holding a baby for half an hour, let me know 😉

Photo: my dad and William

Photo credit: Yasen Manahov (a.k.a. my brother)

How to be productive with a newborn

Our son just turned 12 weeks! Last week, I described how I went back to the basics of time management when he was born. I also went to the very basics of task management, and it’s been super effective.

Many new tasks came up when our little boy was born: order diapers, fill out the form for his daycare, read an article on his development, etc. I started jotting these down since I didn’t want anything to slip through my fingers.

Usually, I advocate the GTD approach where tasks are sorted by context: some need to be done on the laptop or my phone, others in my sons room or in the kitchen. The logic is that when you find yourself in the specific context, you can check the respective list and see what tasks you can do there.

With my newborn, however, I found it more helpful to have one list. I’m not sure why; perhaps because my different contexts were pulled more closely together by my being home with him. I began keeping one list on my phone with the creative name ‘General Tasks.’ I’d arrange the tasks on it in terms of which I wanted to tackle next. It was very easy to open up my list whenever I got a moment and see what task I could tackle at that time. This list served as a catch-all place for the tasks that had crossed my mind at some point.

I also added tasks on the bottom of the list such as ‘Organize a photoshoot in the spring’ with a due date of April 1. These are quite far in the future still, but they will come on to my plate in due time. Since I don’t have that many tasks on the list, it doesn’t feel overwhelming to have these longer-term tasks on there too. If at any time it becomes too much, I’ll move them to my ‘Someday Tasks’ list.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the ‘Today’s Want To Do’ list, and that’s different from the ‘General Tasks’ list. The General Tasks list includes tasks that I’d like to get done sometime, in the near or far future. I’d consult the General Tasks list whenever I had time on my hands to do something. Today’s Want To Do list is really about what I hope to accomplish today.

It’s interesting how when things became more chaotic, I simplified my system. Perhaps that’s because it feels like I’m doing more task management at this point than project management (i.e., I don’t have many separate projects but rather it all more or less revolves around one project). I’m sure this will change when William becomes associated with more ‘projects’ and also when I go back to work.

But for now, simplicity works like a charm. At least one aspect of my life is not chaotic 🙂

Photo credits: Ani Manahova (a.k.a. my mom)

Time management with a newborn

Somewhere I read the following advice: “Once your baby is born, you need to set really low expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. You can expect to get two things done per day, one of which is to take a shower.” Oh, was this true for me!

It was very difficult to get used to such diminished productivity in the usual sense of the word. Of course, in fact my productivity was very high but in a very different way. I had just given birth to a tiny human, my body was recovering, I was learning to breastfeed and to take care of the little new person.

But in terms of usual productivity, I was managing to take a shower and to respond to messages on my phone. That was about it. There were days when I didn’t even manage to respond to my friends. Crazy.

I was fortunate enough to receive help during the first two weeks after my baby was born. But after I felt recovered, I wanted to figure out how to get more things done again.

The trouble was that a newborn’s rhythm is very unpredictable. I didn’t know when my little one would be hungry, sleepy, or require my care, so I couldn’t plan my days in any way.

Today’s Want To Do

I quickly came up with a system I called ‘Today’s Want To Do.’ (I called it ‘Want To Do’ because there was no guarantee I’d complete everything on my list on a given day.) I created a simple to do list and added entries on there. There were very few and simple tasks on there usually such as: Shower; Do laundry; Dry laundry; Empty dishwasher; Load dishwasher; Tidy up living room; Read book; Do recovery exercises; Go for a walk; Take a nap. (Note: These would not all get completed in a single day!)

I arranged the entries in order of importance and tackled the thing on top of the list whenever I got a few minutes. This was helpful because once my baby was asleep, I didn’t have to wonder what to tackle but could just glance at my list and get something done. This also ensured I didn’t start doing something random and later realize I forgot something more urgent.

A sample Want To Do list for a day.

Importantly, I had to be prepared to stop in the middle of the activity if my baby started crying. This was difficult! I don’t like leaving things half-done, but I had to. Once he was calm and/or sleeping again, I could pick up the activity again.

Sometimes I also had to add mealtimes to the list. Especially in the beginning when everything was chaotic, I had to make sure I ate lunch at a reasonable time because otherwise I ended up very tired and didn’t know why–until I realized it was 15:00, and I had only had breakfast so far.

I arranged the tasks in order of importance but also in temporal order, i.e., how I wanted to get things done in time. For instance, laundry would come before going out for a walk because the laundry takes time to be done. Lunch would come around noon (duh!) because if I postponed it too much, I’d end up tired, cranky, and, needless to say, hungry.

Back to Basics

This was a very basic approach: a simple to-do list organized by urgency and temporal order. Yet, that’s all I needed at that time. I tried creating a schedule of my and William’s rhythms, but apparently that’s impossible with a newborn. I tried to plan for the upcoming week (e.g., I’ll do laundry on this and this day, I’ll go for a walk on Tuesday afternoon, etc.), but that type of planning for the future didn’t work.

Instead, I had to commit to putting small, simple tasks on a list and getting to them when I had a chance. I have to say, it worked very well probably because I put all my thoughts on paper (or in an app, in my case), so I felt like I was taking care of the things I considered important or urgent or just plain necessary.

Sometimes, going back to basics is the only thing that’s necessary.

What I’ve been eating while pregnant

People often find my food a bit funky. I live in the Netherlands, where lunch usually includes bread of some sort, so when I show up with my homemade salad with protein, people look at me in a questioning way. I used to get annoyed by people’s questions about my food, but I look at it differently now. People usually ask because they’re curious and not because they’re judging. If I keep this in mind, I can engage with people and tell them about the delicious lunch I’ve made.

When I got pregnant, several of my friends said they were surprised I continued eating in my ‘funky’ way. They had expected that I’d eat more ‘normally’ after I became pregnant, and I have to say I also didn’t know what to expect. But I noticed that my body felt best when I ate in the way that worked for me, emphasizing protein, vegetables, and healthful fats. I covered why I think that works well here, and I also talked about my struggle with nausea during the first trimester here.

So what did I eat during my pregnancy?

I will make this super practical and list my favorite meals during this pregnancy. These meals are not only for pregnant women; my husband eats them too, and he’s not pregnant! It’s just that they’ve worked really well for me during pregnancy, while I haven’t been so excited about some meals that I loved before pregnancy.

Breakfast

The breakfast I made for a long time was a frittata–basically, something like this. I usually put zucchini, carrots, and onions in it, but sometimes I switched up the veggies. 12 eggs go in there as well as some minced meat for protein. One such frittata lasts me for four days.

(Note: We often think of eggs as good protein sources, but in fact they don’t contain that much protein. A medium-sized egg contains about 5-6 grams of protein, and I aim for a minimum of 30 g of protein per meal (around 100 g per day). If I wanted to get all my breakfast protein from eggs, I’d have to eat 5-6 eggs… That’s a lot of eggs, and since they contain a lot of fat (in the yolks), I’d be overdoing the fat quite a bit. Therefore, I eat a couple of eggs with my breakfast and some minced or other meat to get my protein needs met and have stable blood sugar throughout the morning. But I make sure to also eat my eggs because they are great sources of choline as well as other nutrients which are super important for pregnant women as well as for people in general. With this type of breakfast, I’m only hungry again after 4-5 hours, which people say is impossible for pregnant women. Well!)

My frittata.

After a while, I got bored of frittata for breakfast though. Now I’m in a period of breakfast soup (it kind of looks like this). I put carrots, parsnip (I live in the Netherlands, where they have lots of parsnips, so let’s use all of these delicious root vegetables!!!), zucchini, and bok choy in a pot as well as spices and herbs. I let them cook (in water) until they turn into a nice soup. I boil eggs on the side and also cook some sort of protein (usually sausage because it gives a nice flavor to the soup). Every morning, I warm up a portion of the soup (the rest stays in the fridge or is frozen), cut up a sausage and two eggs into bite-sized pieces, and add them to the soup. And that’s it! Super simple and tasty.

Lunch

There are many lunch options, but I’ll list my favorites. My current love is a salad with grated carrots and apples and some celery. I usually have a pre-cooked chicken breast on the side and half an avocado with it. On a food prep day, I usually put 4 chicken breasts with spices and salt in the oven (2 for me and 2 for Jacob). I take out the food processor and grate approximately 8 carrots (depends on their size, but about 2 per person per meal) and 4 apples (one per person per meal). I also cut 3-4 celery stalks into small pieces. Then I mix the vegetables and add a dressing of olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, garlic powder, and salt. It’s super simple and amazingly delicious!!!

We also make a similar salad with grated carrots and beets; I prefer it without celery, while Jacob likes that one with celery too. Oh well, no celery it is. That one goes well with a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, powdered mustard seed, and salad. Also super nice! Both of these salads we eat with protein such as chicken or really any other type of protein. If the meat doesn’t contain a lot of fat (such as a chicken breast), I add half an avocado or mayonnaise from avocado oil.

Our carrot and beet salad.

Another lunch I love is meat sauce with vegetables (kind of like this). We put onions in a skillet, then add the minced meat, then add the tomato sauce, spices, herbs, etc. and, if we’re feeling fancy, fried eggplant. On the side, we steam vegetables such as zucchini or broccoli. Then, we serve the vegetables topped with the meat sauce. It’s so simple and super delicious! I like to sprinkle some feta cheese on top for extra flavor (feta cheese is, luckily, one of the few types of dairy that doesn’t upset my stomach as long as I don’t overdo it).

Dinner

I love dinner meals that are made up of some sort of protein, vegetables, and nice herbs/spices/sauces. This gives countless options!

One of my current favorites is salmon cooked in butter, garlic, and lemon juice; baked sweet potato with salt; and steamed brussel sprouts with olive oil, salt, and herbs (I never knew, before moving to the Netherlands, that brussel sprouts can be so delicious!! Now I want to eat them all the time…). I also love this vegetable combo with mackerel, which is, similarly to salmon, also a fish high in healthful fats. And I find it delicious!

Another favorite dinner of mine is chicken leg (baked in the oven for 100 minutes!! only with salt) with sweet potato and roasted cauliflower or broccoli. Super simple and tasty.

Jacob really liked stews, while I’m not a big fan. But he makes a truly delicious stew with stew meat (duh!), onions, pumpkin, carrots, and beets. The key is to put enough pumpkin 😉 as well as nice spices and herbs. I don’t like broccoli or brussel sprouts in a stew because they give it a less pleasant taste, in my opinion, but spinach, kale, and zucchini work well in a stew.

Snacks

Sometimes I get hungry between meals, although I have to say that on some days I’m perfectly fine with just my three meals. If I need a snack, I usually have about 10 macadamia nuts. They’re delicious and rather filling, so they do the job. I also like brazil nuts and almonds; other nuts irritate my stomach, unfortunately.

If I’m not very hungry and just need a small snack, I drink a glass of bouillon or bone broth. It’s tasty (we make it at home), and it contains lots of good stuff for me and the baby such as collagen, but it’s also good for non-pregnant people.

I also have a favorite cocoa drink: 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder, a pinch of cinnamon, hot water, and a teaspoon of honey or some stevia. The taste of warm cocoa is super comforting, especially in the autumn/winter months!

If I want something sweet to eat, I eat our dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt (yummy!), but I can’t eat it too late or I don’t fall asleep because cocoa has some caffeine (people who drink coffee before bed will find this hilarious, but oh well…).

I also like baked apples with cinnamon in the oven (super simple and delicious!!), blueberries with honey, or just tangerines. One of these is usually my dessert in the evenings.

How do carbs figure in this way of eating?

Picking up the thread from my previous blog post, you may have noticed that I don’t really eat processed carbs (except on exceptions) since there is no bread, dough, cereal, or other such source in the foods I’ve described. I still get carbs, though, from vegetables. In my breakfast, there’s parsnip; in my lunches, there are beets, apples, or tomato sauce; in my dinners, there are sweet potatoes or pumpkin. I don’t include a lot of carbs in my meals, but it’s what works well for me. Other people might need more or less carbs than this to feel their best.

Do I ever eat other foods?!?!

People have asked me, “Don’t you ever eat other foods?” meaning ‘less healthy’ foods or foods that don’t work so well for me. Of course I do! There are times when I decide that it’s worth it to have something that I don’t usually eat.

Me eating a pecan pie.

I just need to take into account how I’ll feel afterwards. If I have something sweet in the afternoon, such as the pecan pie in the photo above or a fantastic brownie, that’s usually fine. I get a sugar peak and a dip and some bloating, but once in a while it’s not so bad. If I have a cheesecake or tiramisu, I’m in for more trouble because the dairy gives me more digestive issues, and I may be pretty uncomfortable for a while.

Gluten is another one that I have sometimes. If I don’t eat too much of it, it’s okay (such as in a cake or so). But if I eat a whole pizza, I’ll have issues for a couple of days afterwards, so it’s rarely worth it for me, especially since there often are gluten-free options for these things.

A difficult one is sushi. I love sushi, and one of the most difficult things about this pregnancy has been that I can’t eat raw fish (this recommendation may change in the future, but we’ll see). Still, I sometimes ate sushi with cooked fish during my pregnancy. While I loooooove it, the rice seriously expands in my belly afterwards. With an already big, pregnant belly, there isn’t that much space for extra expansion due to rice, so I’m not eating too much sushi these days 😦

And then there are foods that I just don’t eat. Spicy (as in ‘hot’) foods give me lots of pain and wreck me for days, so I avoid them completely. I also avoid alcohol because it makes my stomach upset for days after that. Oh, and since I’m pregnant, it’s probably not the best idea 😉

I know many pregnant women say they miss wine or beer the most and can’t wait to have it again once the baby comes. For me, that’s not particularly appetizing because I already wasn’t drinking for about 2 years before getting pregnant. But the things I really look forward to are raw fish and a medium-rare steak!!! This baby is supposed to come out in 2 days (or soon after), so I’ve almost made it! Just a little more patience…

Why common pregnancy diet recommendations don’t often work

Since I got pregnant, people have been even more intrigued by my food. “What are you eating? Can you eat that? You should eat/drink this and this when you’re pregnant.” Sometimes people ask because they’re curious and they’d genuinely like to know how I’m eating. I appreciate that approach, but I don’t appreciate it when people try to tell me what to do.

Pregnant women are constantly being told from multiple sources what they should and shouldn’t eat. There are certain accepted dietary restrictions for pregnant women such as no raw meat, no unpasteurized cheeses, and no alcohol. But there’s also a lot of confusion out there about how a woman should eat healthfully when pregnant.

What should a pregnant woman eat?

Pregnant women usually hear that they should gain weight but not too much weight. They should try to slow down their weight gain in order to avoid many scary-sounding complications. But how is a pregnant woman supposed to do that? One’s hormonal landscape is quite different from usual during pregnancy, so hunger cues and cravings can be all over the place. Dealing with those is difficult with “normal” hormones, so what is left for pregnancy hormones!

Most websites and apps recommend a common high-carbohydrate diet to pregnant women. Basically, women are supposed to eat lots of vegetables with some protein, not a lot of fat, and a decent amount of carbohydrates, especially whole grains and fruit.

Now, there are some good and some bad things about this advice. Lots of vegetables? Great! Most people benefit from eating lots of vegetables, as they deliver important nutrients, provide fiber to improve our digestion, and help us stay satiated.

Protein? Yes, please! Protein is super important to keep our hormones balanced, to stabilize our blood sugar, and to promote satiety, thus reducing ravenous hunger and cravings. While the protein recommendations on most pregnancy websites and apps are still too low, some health professionals have started emphasizing the importance of sufficient protein.

Another note on protein: Recently, healthful eating has come to rely less on animal protein, which doesn’t work for a lot of people. I see protein recommendations for pregnant women including, for example, feta cheese, almonds, and chickpeas. While those do include some protein, cheese and nuts have more fat than protein, and chickpeas and other legumes include more carbohydrate than protein. What’s more, humans absorb protein better from animal sources (such as meat and fish) than from plant sources. So these common protein recommendations for pregnant women often don’t meet one’s protein needs. Alternatively, if one eats enough of the food to get sufficient protein, then she is getting too much fat or carbohydrates for her needs, which leads to eating too many calories or unstable blood sugar.

That’s me with a big belly and a bowl of chocolate beans.
Credit: Ani Manahova (a.k.a. my mom)

Confusion: How much carbs should a pregnant woman eat?

Back to the commonly recommended pregnancy diet, many websites encourage women to eat lots of carbohydrates. Paraphrasing from one source (because I don’t want to throw any one organization under the bus), pregnant women should eat lots of starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, jacket potatoes, rice and pasta because these are good sources of vitamins, fiber, and energy. Starchy foods are supposed to take up one third of a woman’s meal. Whoa!

The main problem with this advice is that starchy foods raise blood sugar unfavorably for many of us. When blood sugar is high, insulin is also high because it tries to lower our blood sugar and store the energy from the food in our fat cells. While this is a normal and healthy process, if blood sugar is too high, insulin is also rather high, leading to more fat storage than what we would consider optimal. Therefore, it’s useful not to eat foods that raise our blood sugar too much too often.

This can vary from person to person, but there are some important commonalities between pregnant women. When a woman is pregnant, she is more insulin resistant than usual, meaning she stores fat more easily. This is a smart way for the body to make sure she retains enough fat to fuel the baby’s development throughout pregnancy and afterwards through breast feeding. But in today’s industrialized world, our foods often contain too much carbohydrates for our activity levels, leading to unwanted weight gain and health complications along the way.

Once blood sugar has been driven high by eating lots of starchy foods, it can often drop rather low afterwards. This leads to light-headedness, intense hunger, and cravings for sweets. Is it a surprise, then, that pregnant women, who are encouraged to eat lots of carbohydrates, often report insatiable cravings and ravenous hunger? Once again, pregnant women’s unique hormonal situation also makes them more prone to these swings in blood sugar.

A vicious cycle

This can lead to a vicious cycle. A pregnant woman eats more carbohydrates than she needs for her metabolism and activity levels, her blood sugar spikes and then drops, she feels light-headed, hungry and irritable, and feels that the only solution is to eat something sugary. She consumes something sweet, and the cycle begins anew.

This can lead to too much weight gain, upon which the woman’s health practitioner might tell her to “slow down her weight gain.” But how is she supposed to do that if she’s on the blood sugar roller coaster? The ravenous hunger and intense cravings are way beyond our will power, so, naturally, the steep weight gain continues.

This may be one of the factors contributing to the high levels of gestational diabetes seen today (gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and can have significant consequences for mother and baby). Interestingly enough, one of the main treatments for a mother with gestational diabetes is to tell her to eat less carbohydrates. Wow! Maybe we should have started with that in order to try to prevent some cases of gestational diabetes in the first place?

Please note that I’m not saying pregnant women should eat no carbohydrates. Not at all! Carbs are an important component of our diet, and many of us need them to function optimally. However, the amount of carbs pregnant women are usually told to eat is way too high for their needs (metabolism and activity level) and ends up causing unwanted issues. It’s time we recognize that and learn how to help pregnant women better.

“You’re pregnant, you can eat whatever you want!”

Pregnant or not, you can always eat whatever you want! You’re an adult (I assume) with a wallet, so you can go to the store and buy whatever food you want. The point is to recognize how your choices are working for you. Once you know how a food affects you (does it give you stable energy, does it make you ravenously hungry a few hours after eating, or does it give you cravings soon after eating), you can link the food to the consequences and decide when/how often to eat it.

Nobody’s ‘diet’ needs to be perfect according to any standard; it just needs to work for you. Many pregnant women would like to avoid excessive weight gain and related health complications, so they need to find foods that allow them to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, the commonly recommended pregnancy diet is not optimal for many people. I wish more women had the tools to figure out what foods work for them and allow them to achieve their health goals.

What do you think pregnant women should eat? If you were ever pregnant, did you experience ravenous hunger? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

How I adapted a whole week’s planning in a flash

Who says that planning is rigid and inflexible? I recently proved this whole assumption false.

This is a question I often address at my workshops. At the end of a workshop on organization and productivity I give, I like to leave plenty of time for questions. One of the questions that almost inevitably comes up is, “How can you respond to sudden demands if you’ve already planned everything?”

While I understand the sentiment, I believe that having already planned things puts me in a good position to respond to unexpected demands.

The reason for this is that the act of planning things in itself means prioritizing. In order to decide what to put on your calendar, you first need to think about what’s important. You need to think about what work project is most important or urgent now and dedicate time to that during your work day. Or you need to decide that moving your body is more important than doing something else, so you schedule time to exercise.

And then when something unexpected comes up, you can compare its importance or urgency to the rest of the things you have planned and decide how to proceed.

How I applied this recently

The previous week was my last week at work; my maternity leave started this past Monday. Yay! Chill time at home doing baby things? Well, not exactly.

I had planned a relaxing last working week for myself. I wanted to do some final work on my new project in order to leave it in such a way that I could easily pick it up when I get back from leave. I also had quite a few admin things to take care of before leaving, which is easy to do.

And then right before my last week started, I got reviews on my paper. (In the field of cognitive neuroscience, when you’d like to publish a paper, you send it to a journal, they send it to reviewers who read it and give you feedback, and then you need to make edits that address the comments.)

In one way, this was great news because I got the reviews before my baby was born, so I could work on them before I get sleep deprived and overwhelmed with baby stuff. In another way, I felt pressure because I knew I should make edits as quickly as possible in order to make progress before the baby comes.

I thought about it and quickly decided to allocate all my working time to making edits that address the comments. All the tasks I had planned for that week had to take a backseat for a bit because the paper was more important and more urgent than the rest of the stuff. It was an easy choice.

Was it pleasant? Yes and no. On the one hand, my relaxed last week became more intense. It wouldn’t usually be a problem, but since I’m nearing the end of my pregnancy, I get tired easily now.

On the other hand, it was very motivating to be working on the edits for my paper. The comments were constructive, so I felt like I was truly improving my work. I was excited to get up each day and work hard on my paper. I was very happy with the progress I made and felt accomplished at the end of the day.

How did planning help me when I had to change my plans?

You may be wondering how planning helped at all in this situation. It seems as though I just did what I had to do and that was it. But that’s far from the whole story.

First of all, I have a very good system of keeping track of what I need to do. Especially in a process like making changes to a paper, there are many small tasks that need to be done, so I often felt like I was trying not to forget stuff. Thus, I wrote things down and then grouped the tasks in order to do them in the most efficient way possible. I also planned which types of tasks I’d do when depending on the task’s difficulty and whether I needed help from someone else.

I find it extremely helpful to come in to work, open my list of tasks, and know exactly what I need to work on. I waste no time wondering, “Oh, what was I doing here? What was I supposed to do with this?” It takes seconds to read through my notes for a particular task and start working on it. Then, when it’s done, I move on to the next task with the same ease and efficiency.

The other really helpful aspect of planning came from managing my time and energy. Especially the first two days, I was so motivated that I felt like I could keep working until late at night. However, I know that that doesn’t work for me in the long term, so I made myself stop at the end of the workday. There were also several things to arrange for the baby that week, so I made sure to make time for those as well and not just drop the ball on that.

Finally, having my planning set up well allowed me to take frequent breaks. This is something I really don’t like to do when I’m immersed in work, but it helps me to maintain my energy throughout the day. Especially with being pregnant and getting tired easily, I couldn’t afford to get too exhausted because then I wouldn’t be able to work as well the next day. So I got up from my chair every hour and walked down the hallway, went for 1-2 brief walks a day, exercised a couple of times a week, and slept enough (somewhat) during the night. I also made sure to do something fun each evening such as watch The Big Bang Theory.

In the end, I can say that this last-minute adaptation of my planning worked rather well. I was able to do my work efficiently and well and felt good about what I got done. It worked so well that I took Friday off to rest and get ready for a weekend of baby stuff. And then the following Monday, even though it was officially the first day of my leave, I went to work to finalize some administrative stuff. I didn’t even mind because I was relaxed and happy with the way my work as well as everything else was coming along.

That’s a the big win with planning! If we get our priorities straight and plan accordingly, we can make progress in multiple areas and feel like we’re accomplishing things simultaneously in different areas such as publishing a paper, taking care of our health, doing laundry, and even doing fun stuff.

Do you plan things in advance, do you prefer to fully go with the flow, or are you somewhere in the middle? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

Is it even possible to divide chores equally?

I have recently gotten the same question repeatedly: how do you make sure you divide chores equally between two people in a household? Often, this question is actually the disguised, “How do I make my partner do as much work as I do at home?”

My answer is two-fold: first, you need to distribute the workload and make sure that each person is doing their part; second, you need to let go of the comparison.

Distributing the workload

It is important, I believe, that everyone in a household has tasks to do. This ensures that they feel like they’re contributing to the home and that they have a role to play as well. I’m not saying that they will enjoy the chores they need to do but rather that it builds a sense of support and responsibility to the household.

This really struck me when we were visiting a friend of ours and his family a couple of years ago. Our friend, a father of two boys, was emptying out the dishwasher, when his five-year-old son came over, took the basket with the silverware, and began putting it away. We thought, “Wonderful that your boy is helping you out!” and our friend responded, “Oh, he’s not doing it out of selfless desire. He knows that this is his responsibility, so he does it.”

We thought this was quite special: a five-year old have a specific chore that is his to take care of. Of course, our friend could put away the silverware faster than his son, but that’s not the point. He chooses to give the task to his son in order for his son to begin learning what it means to be part of a household.

I feel that adults living together should definitely split the housework. This doesn’t always have to be 50-50 (perhaps one person has more working hours than the other, or there may be other circumstances), but it has to be a balance that both people feel happy with.

I’m also a fan of clear expectations when it comes to chores. Whenever possible, there should be arrangements about who does which task when. Then, there are minimal possibilities for confusion, hurt feelings, and blame.

At home, we split some chores in the following way:

  • Trash and recycling: Jacob. This is a rather big job because it involves carrying bags, collecting all the paper and cardboard and taking it out once a month, bringing glass to the recycling location, and sometimes driving stuff to the dump.
  • Laundry: Marisha (i.e., me). I don’t mind doing laundry, so I’m happy to take up this chore. It takes a decent amount of time, but I’m fine with it as long as I don’t have to do anything related to the trash.
  • Folding laundry and ironing: our cleaning lady. It saves a lot of time not to have to do this.
  • Cooking: shared. On Sundays, we cook together for about 2 hours; on Tuesdays, we each cook for about an hour but at different times because of our work schedules; on Thursdays, we each cook for about an hour and half, again at different times.
  • Buying groceries: shared. I wrote about this more extensively here, but in brief, each of us goes groceries shopping once a week.
  • Loading the dishwasher: shared. When you have something to put in the dishwasher, put it in. Don’t put it on top or in the sink. It’s as simple as that. If the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, then unload it and put your dirty stuff in. In case you’re really in a rush, then you can leave your dirty dishes on top, but it shouldn’t happen too often.
  • Unloading the dishwasher: shared, but I do it more often. The idea is that when you see the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, you should empty it out. Somehow (I wonder why) I notice this more often, so I do it. However, I don’t mind because…
  • Washing pots and pans: Jacob. Our cleaning lady cleans the dirty pots and pans when she comes, but at other times of the week, after other cook-ups, we get many dirty pots and pans. I really don’t like washing them (I much prefer emptying out a clean dishwasher), so Jacob does that.
  • Bringing stuff from the freezer: Jacob. We have a chest freezer in the basement, and taking stuff out is sometimes a pain because the thing you need (i.e., minced beef) may be buried below lots of other frozen stuff (i.e., chicken). I don’t like doing this because it’s difficult to find stuff and it’s cold, so I’m glad Jacob does this job.
  • Preparing food planner: Marisha. Is anybody surprised that I plan out what we’re going to eat when and what we should cook when? Probably not. For more info on our food planner, go here.
  • Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, cleaning kitchen, cleaning bathroom and toilet, cleaning fridge, washing windows and mirrors, folding and ironing clothes: our cleaning lady. She takes so much work off our plate! The things she does in four hours would probably take us eight hours. For us, it’s completely worth the money.
  • Preparing cleaning schedule for cleaning lady: Marisha. Clearly, making schedules is my type of job, and I don’t mind making one for our cleaning lady as well. It tells her what to do on each day, and it also makes sure that different tasks get done with the regularity that’s suitable for them.
  • Buying and refilling cosmetics and cleaning products: mostly Marisha. I keep track of which cosmetics and cleaning products are running low and make an online order once in a while. I do the same for toilet paper, tissues, etc. and buy them from the store. Jacob keeps track of some cleaning products that are a bit more specialized. I even recently made our first order of diapers and baby wet wipes, woohoo!
  • Ordering supplements: Jacob. He knows much more about supplements than I do, so I entrust that job to him.
  • Filing documents: Marisha. Jacob doesn’t like filing documents, while I actually kind of like it, so that’s an easy one.
  • General tidying up: mostly Marisha. To be honest, I just notice things that need to be tidied up a bit more than him, so I take a few minutes a couple of times a week to tidy up. But if something is really messy and it’s not my responsibility, then I ask him to tidy it up.

Those are a lot of chores… Phew! If you have any questions about them or if you think of something I haven’t covered, let me know!

Letting go of comparison

In the previous step, I described how we try to make sure we distribute the workload equally, so each person has an equal responsibility and contribution to the household. But how do we know if our contributions are exactly equal? What if one person is doing slightly more than the other? Isn’t that unfair?

In a way it is, and in a way it isn’t. It’s very difficult to quantify everything we do for each other and for our household. For instance, last week I had my baby shower, so Jacob took over my weekend groceries shopping session. Did I have to explicitly return the favor? No. This week he was busier than usual, so I packed all of his lunches. Did I ask for something in return? No. Two evenings ago, he assembled furniture while I read a book. It made me feel strange that he was “working” when I was relaxing, but that’s just how it happened in that moment. When he had a small operation a few weeks ago, I helped him with the maintenance of the wound every day. When I have back pain, he treats and massages my back. How do we even begin to quantify these things?

At some point, it comes down to trusting that the other person is helping and even doing extra things that we’re not seeing. When I feel that Jacob is not doing enough, I give myself a little bit of time to see whether I’m just irritated or whether there really is something in the division of chores that should be adjusted. If there is an actual need, we talk about it and make changes.

It’s not difficult to distribute household labor if both people have the same intention: to maintain a pleasant, comfortable space and lifestyle and to help each other. As long as people share this intention and communicate about their needs and preferences, I believe they can find a division of chores that feels fair to both. It’s important, though, to stay open to the other person’s perspective because it may not match our own 100%.

At some point, we need to put down the measuring stick and trust that each person is putting effort towards a pleasant home and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never possible to make sure we’re each doing the same exact amount of work, but that’s also not necessary. We each contribute in unique ways, and it’s sometimes difficult to quantify them all.

How do you divide chores in your household? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

How we handle buying groceries (does this even require a hack?!)

After the blog post about the Weekly Review, I was asked for more info on how we handle groceries shopping. At first, I thought our approach is so simple that it’s not particularly interesting. But then I realized that the way we buy groceries is not typical, so it may be helpful if I explained it.

Schedule groceries shopping

I hear from people who go every day after work or every other day. Alternatively, they may be in the middle of cooking when they realize they are missing some ingredient, so they or their partner need to make a quick run to the shop. Unfortunately, this wastes a lot of time, and I’d be annoyed if I had to go buy groceries in a busy supermarket so often.

For that reason, we have groceries shopping on our calendars. We’ve figured out what days and times fit with our schedules, and we mostly keep to those. We go twice a week; we don’t need to go more often, but if we go less often, some of our produce goes bad in the meantime (we tried going once a week at one point, but it didn’t work for us). We buy lots of vegetables, and it’s a waste if some of them go bad before we use them.

Jacob goes shopping on Wednesday or Thursday, and I go on Saturday or Sunday. This works well since we can get all the ingredients before our bigger cook-ups, which are Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Always make a list

One of the most important tips about groceries shopping is to make a list. It makes you more efficient when you’re choosing what groceries to buy, and it also saves you money because it means you’ll be fewer extra items that you don’t in fact need.

Now, it could work to bring a list on paper, but there are better ways to be efficient given that you probably buy similar ingredients every week. I recommend using an app for lists on your phone (there are plenty such apps) where you can set due dates and reminders for each item, can make certain items recurring, and can make multiple lists.

We use an app called Wunderlist, and an extremely helpful feature is that we can share the shopping lists with each other. Each person can put items on the list, they will be synced, and the other person will see them. No need for endless texting: “Hey, can please get lemons and olive oil? Oh, and please also get dishwasher tablets.”

We have one shopping list for each shopping trip, thus, one for Wednesday/Thursday and one for Saturday/Sunday. We also have separate shopping lists per store in case we need to buy something from a specific shop. For instance, we get avocados from Albert Heijn, so I put that item there.

This is a part of our shopping list for this Saturday. All items are recurring and due today because today is Saturday.

We also make our regular purchases into recurring tasks. In other words, I buy carrots every Sunday, and I don’t want to have to add them every time. Thus, I have them be due this Sunday, but once I check them off, they are due again next Sunday. This saves a lot of list-making time.

Consult the Food Planner

As I explained in the previous blog post, we make a food plan for each week. Every Saturday, I check the food planner and see what we’re going to cook. Then, I check the shopping lists for the upcoming week and see if all the ingredients we need are on there. That way, I don’t forget to buy some of the ingredients I’ll need for cooking.

Before I go groceries shopping, I check the fridge and see what we have. Sometimes, for example, we haven’t eaten all our potatoes yet, so I don’t need to buy more. In that case, I just check off the recurring tasks for potatoes and know I don’t need to get them this time.

Ordering groceries online

We order some ingredients online because they may be difficult to find in our nearby stores. We order local meat (grass-fed beef, free-range chicken) and fish (fresh mackerel, wild salmon), which arrive cooled or frozen. We put them in our chest freezer and have them last us a long time. This saves us a good amount of money.

We also order bones from animals such as grass-fed cows or wild deer and make bone broth or bouillon from them. The bones also stay frozen, we make bouillon in batches in the slow cooker, and then freeze that too. We defrost and warm up one jar of bouillon at a time.

In addition, we get some frozen fruit, such as berries. In the summer, we go to a blueberry farm nearby and pick blueberries. We picked around 15 kg this year and froze them all. When we want some berries, we defrost them and enjoy (they’re amazing with honey!).

Lastly, we buy nuts online. We mostly eat macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts, and when we order them in bulk online, we save money.

The approach in sum

Overall, I feel like our approach to groceries is very simple:

  • Make a list (or several) of what we need;
  • Share those lists with each other, so we can both add and check items off;
  • Make separate lists per shopping day and/or store;
  • Schedule when groceries shopping will take place and who will do it;
  • Look for better and cheaper options online for certain ingredients.

How do you handle your groceries? Do you have any comments or questions about our approach? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Matheus Cenali from Pexels

How we take care of meal preparation and cooking (including our Food Planner)

At our home, we cook almost all our meals, including, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and only cook 3 times a week. How do we do that?

It all starts with planning

The first step is to plan out our upcoming week (we do this during our Weekly Review). We look at our calendars and see when/if we’ll be eating out during the upcoming week. On average, each of us eats out once a week. The rest of the meals we will prepare at home.

Then, we open up the food planner. It’s a spreadsheet that lists what each of us is going to eat when in the week and also what we need to do each day in terms of meal preparation. You can access my sample food planner spreadsheet here, and this is what it looks like:

This is a sample food planner for a week. The columns are days of the week, and the rows are my meals, Jacob’s meals, and the cooking or defrosting tasks per day. 2d, 3d, or 4d denotes how many days a thing should last us, which determines the dose we make.

Meal preparation

We have three cook-up sessions: Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. The Sunday session is the biggest, so it lasts for about 2 hours. The Tuesday one is the shortest, and it takes about 1 hour, while the Thursday one is medium, lasting about 1.5 hours.

On Sunday evening, we cook:

  • Breakfasts Monday-Thursday (we freeze the Wednesday and Thursday ones);
  • Lunches Monday-Tuesday;
  • Dinners Sunday-Monday;
  • Prep some veggies (such as cauliflower rice) to cook later in the week.

On Tuesday evening, we make:

  • Lunches Wednesday-Thursday;
  • Dinners Tuesday-Wednesday.

On Thursday evening, we make:

  • Breakfasts Friday-Sunday;
  • Lunches Friday-Sunday;
  • Dinners Thursday-Friday/Saturday.

We usually eat out on Friday or Saturday evening, so we don’t prep for that meal.

How we do our cooking

On Sundays, we cook together. When we’re both in the kitchen, it’s fun because we talk about all kinds of things. We usually prepare variations of the same (favorite) meals, so we know what we’re doing with little discussion. But when we decide to try a new recipe, we need to coordinate a bit more and discuss the different steps.

An important consideration is not to get in each other’s way. For this reason, we have two chopping stations (luckily, we have a big kitchen counter) with two chopping boards (one for each of us) and multiple knives.

The way we have divided responsibilities, Jacob chops most vegetables and takes care of things cooking on the stove or in the oven. That’s a lot of work, but, luckily, he’s faster (and dare I say more skilled?) than I am in the kitchen, so he handles it well.

I grate vegetables in the food processor (carrots and apples for a salad and cauliflower for cauliflower rice). I prepare the salad dressings and other mixtures (e.g., egg mixture for frittata). I also make dessert (e.g., chop up apples to bake in the oven with cinnamon or make sweets from dates).

We can’t always cook together, though. Jacob has irregular working hours, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays he cooks during the day and works in the evenings, while I cook in the evenings after work. We know beforehand what each of us needs to make that day, so we do it in our own time.

This is what our fridge looks like on a typical Sunday evening when all the food has been prepared.

Storing prepared food

I should also mention storing food. It’s important to store food in a way allows it to stay good and also so you can see what’s in different containers.

We recently bought lots of glass containers, which have the benefit of being transparent, so we can see at a glance what’s in there, and they also don’t leak health-damaging ingredients into our food in the way that plastic containers do. Glass containers are an investment, but I highly recommend them, especially if you like to heat up your food in those containers (for instance, your lunch at work; it’s really not a good idea to heat up food in plastic containers in the microwave because the plastic leaks into your food and messes with your hormonal health, even if the containers are BPA-free). Once we prepare the food, we store it into these containers and put it in the fridge or freezer.

We prepare our lunches in this way, so they’re easy to grab in the morning. I also put our salad dressing in little glass containers, so we take those and pour the dressing over our salad at work instead of doing it beforehand and then eating soggy salad.

Food prep in a nutshell

I can imagine that elaborate food preparation may sound intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it only takes a couple of iterations to get the hang of it. We spend almost no time on the actual food planning anymore (5-10 minutes a week depending on whether it’s an irregular week) because we have a routine we like.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are lots of food prep platforms that can help. I’m aware of a couple: Paleo Leap Meal Plan and Nom Nom Paleo Meal Plan. These tools can save you lots of time, effort, and trial-and-error while you’re still getting used to meal planning, but they are paid. So you need to think what makes the most sense for you to do.

Our food preparation has a couple of stages:

  • Plan meals and associated tasks in our Food Planner;
  • Decide and schedule when each person can cook and what they need to do;
  • Do cooking and meal prep;
  • Store food in fridge or freezer;
  • Enjoy!

It feels amazing to me to cook three times a week but have food ready for every single meal of the week (it only needs to be warmed up). It’s delicious because we eat food we love, but it also saves so much time!

Would you like to try our Food Planner? Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Do you have a different way of handling your cooking, or perhaps you don’t meal prep at all? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo from Marisha Manahova