My SO isn't eating properly while taking care of our baby
September 4, 2018 11:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm concerned that my SO isn't eating properly while taking care of our baby. My attempts to problem solve this are shot down by her. What can we do about this?

Our baby is 5 months old. My wife is currently working from home part time while taking care of the baby, while I work from around 8am-6pm including commute and take care of the baby as much as possible outside of work. Ever since the baby was born my wife has repeatedly made it clear that she doesn't really eat much, or sometimes at all whenever I'm gone. I'm concerned and have been concerned that my wife isn't eating properly. It could seriously affect her health, and affect our baby too since he's exclusively breastfeeding and relies on what she puts in her body. Her lab tests have shown lower than normal levels of iron among other things that she's currently trying to correct with adjusting her dietary choices when she does eat. But there's still the unresolved problem that she doesn't eat nearly enough.

To hear her tell it, it's impossible for her to eat when taking care of the baby by herself. This is something I fundamentally don't understand. It seems like my inability to understand is incredibly frustrating for her and makes her upset, and my attempts to problem-solve only make her more annoyed at me. The conversations proceed as if I'm the typical guy who doesn't do the real work of child-rearing and so is completely clueless about the difficulties women (or just people) traditionally face while taking care of babies all day long. And the fact that I believe she can still eat meals during childcare is proof of this. The conversations proceed along lines like this:

Me: I know it's difficult, but you have to eat.
Her: And how would I do that?
Me: There are quick meals you can throw together. Salad can be prepared in seconds. Just throw some greens in a bowl, open a can of tuna, put some olive oil in there, then done.
Her: How do you get the tuna can opened?
Me: That takes 2 seconds with a can opener. The baby is often happy to play on the playmat or in the bouncer for a few minutes, which is enough time to prepare a salad with some protein.
Her: I'd like to see you try that.
Me: OK, I don't mind trying? I don't actually see the logistical difficulties that make it difficult.
Her: And how to actually eat the food?
Me: You can eat with one hand while doing different activities: holding him with one hand, breastfeeding, while he's on the playmat, etc.
Her: Breastfeeding takes both hands, otherwise he's not getting the milk properly. And easier said than done eating with one hand. The baby always takes two hands while he's awake. The only time I can find to prepare meals and eat is when he's sleeping, but he always seems to wake up and demand my attention before I can actually eat.
Me: I still don't see the actual impossibility. I concede that it's difficulty, but I've eaten with one hand while holding him in the other or while watching him play in the playmat so I don't see how it's literally impossible. Other foods that are quick: almonds - yogurt - chips or carrots and hummus - easy fruits out of the fruit basket, easy veggies in the fridge that require zero prep. Etc.
Her: [shoots all of this down without really giving me any reason I can make out for why she can't do it]
Me: OK. But look. Millions of people look after babies all day long and manage to feed themselves. It's not like every single stay-at-home mother is starving to death. People are figuring this out clearly.
Her: They have help. Family, nannies, friends, whatever. That's the only reason they can do it.
Me: Most people don't have help and have to do it themselves and manage to feed themselves.
Her: It only seems that way to you, but not in my experience. How many mothers do you personally talk to about this?
Me: Well, none I guess, admittedly.

Her eating schedule during the day seems to mostly involve walking to a nearby restaurant with him in the stroller, waiting until he falls asleep in the stroller, then eating there. But that's expensive and not ideal, and it really seems to me that a simple zero- or nearly-zero prep meal should be doable and easier than going to the restaurant. And that one restaurant meal is somehow sustaining her for a full working day, often without her eating breakfast. She often complains that she has no milk for the baby because she didn't get to eat. Sometimes she says that she's not eating because of something I'm neglecting - not cleaning the kitchen or sink every day which prevents her from eating (again - I don't see how that stops a person from eating. Though I do concede that I need to clean more, and I'm working on it)

tldr: It seems like a real and serious problem and any time I try to dissect it or help it, it's turned around to me being someone who doesn't understand because he doesn't spend all day with a baby by myself and understand the struggles and difficulties of that. How can I help this issue? I've brought it up to her female friends and exhorted them to tell her to eat properly, but I'm not sure they realize the extent of the problem as I see it.
posted by naju to Home & Garden (127 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Why don’t you prepare the meals for her in advance?
posted by mpbx at 11:23 AM on September 4, 2018 [196 favorites]

How can you help? How about (1) don't tell her what to do, (2) do the things that she has already asked you to do, (3) ask what else she would like you to do, and do it, and (4) don't pretend that you know about things that you don't know about.
posted by sheldman at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2018 [124 favorites]

Oof. This sounds like a big complicated problem that doesn't have a lot to do with tuna fish. Anyway, seconding mpbx - you make food she wants and tupperware it up, and maybe she doesn't buy a full meal while on constitutional.
posted by turkeybrain at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Listen, I don’t breast feed or have a kid but you’ve argued against yourself a couple of times here.
1. She is eating. It’s just at a restaurant. Sounds like having food delivery to her and ready to go needs to be considered
2. Make her food that’s already prepared that doesn’t even need to go in the microwave. Open and eat
3. Make her a smoothie that’s ready to go. Put it in a yeti or in the fridge so it can be consumed anytime
4. Don’t argue about how easy it is to do all those things, just do them for her.
posted by raccoon409 at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2018 [114 favorites]

Perhaps also make a balanced smoothie for her in the morning that she can drink with a straw?

It sounds like she's struggling in general, so talking her out of her anxiety isn't going to work. What's going to help is actual help right now, so yeah, try to step up a bit more.
posted by greta simone at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

Might she like the interaction of the restaurant and having something prepared for her? And if she doesn't eat it's easier to justify to herself? Do you pack your lunch? Could you pack two? Or maybe make a week worth of breakfasts or lunches ahead of time? Is there money in the budget to hire a mother's helper for a couple hours a week? Is there junkfood she'll always eat (being healthy is a good goal, but calories in are the most important part right now)?
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:33 AM on September 4, 2018 [19 favorites]

To me, this kind of sounds like there are other things going on... she sounds generally overwhelmed and perhaps isolated with the transition and baby's demands, and based on your description she also sounds resentful that she is the person in doing (almost all?) The household maintenance plus baby care. As someone who has Been There, it can feel very overwhelming especially if she is also breastfeeding. You could try approaching this more generally: "How can I better help you so your day is easier?" And then follow through on chores/tasks, and take a very active role with Baby Naju when you're home. I think this might be more productive than focusing specifically on trying to get her to eat more, although as mpbx pointed out you could make sure easy meals and snacks are accessible.
posted by DTMFA at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2018 [60 favorites]

This is not about the food really, your wife is telling you that she needs help and feels overwhelmed. Don’t try to fix the food problem, help your wife get support and breaks. Be on her side.
posted by machinecraig at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2018 [156 favorites]

Not sure why you couldn't fry an egg for her also when you eat your breakfast, or make a smoothie, or cut up some fruit and put the toast in.

If you're cooking dinner, there's room for lunch leftovers for both of you. If you're hanging out with babe, same thing.

Beyond that, this isn't about tuna or what she eats, as turkeybrain suggested.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Can you clarify what your actual concern is? Is it the money, the nutritional content of what your wife is eating, or that she's not getting enough calories? Those are all very different things.

If money: I think you need to back off. It's extremely hard to care for an infant all day (while apparently working as well??) and as long as the meals out aren't bankrupting you, let it go.

If nutritional content: While it is true that breastfed babies can be deficient in iron, in general, the mother's diet has very little impact on breastmilk (the composition and amount). If the baby is gaining appropriately, and the pediatrician isn't concerned, then I think you're being invasively concerned with your wife's diet. If you are concerned about iron in particular, then why don't YOU spearhead the baby starting iron-rich solids or getting a supplement? If you think the baby is NOT gaining appropriately, then take it up with the pediatrician, who will likely recommend supplementing with formula.

If you actually think your wife has an eating disorder/anorexia: talk to her about that directly.
posted by yarly at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

(Naju's wife has low iron, not Naju's baby, if I'm reading the post correctly)
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:37 AM on September 4, 2018

Whoever is cooking the meals on a given evening: cook extra, so there is enough left over to eat for lunch the next day. Plate it, season it, stick it in the fridge, so all that has to be done is stick it in the microwave/eat it cold.

Alternatively, if making lunch to bring to work is something you do, make one for her as well.

Alternatively alternatively, do a big meal prep on Saturday or Sunday, and divide the result up into portions that can be defrosted each evening for a quick lunch the next day. If [place where you live] is still warm enough for summery soups that can be slurped down chilled (and one-handed), these are an excellent option.

Cooking ahead of time, by the person who has free hands, is what I'm getting at here.
posted by jurymast at 11:37 AM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

wait wait ... why aren't you just making her breakfast and dinner? then she'd just be skipping lunch. skipping lunch isn't the greatest, but humans (even lactating humans) do not need to eat lunch.
posted by yarly at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2018 [14 favorites]

She's a new mother and you're telling her she's doing it wrong because she doesn't have time to eat and all the other mothers do.

I know that isn't what you're saying, but that's what you are telling her.

Do. Not. Do. That.

JUST PROVIDE PRACTICAL SUPPORT. Feeding your child is her job; make feeding her your job. It's isn't that hard to understand.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:39 AM on September 4, 2018 [153 favorites]

To use one of your analogies - Millions of people work a full day and then come home and cook a full meal for their families. I'm wondering why you yourself can't be one of these millions of people and be sure to cook enough to provide lunch leftovers for your spouse and child?
posted by rdnnyc at 11:41 AM on September 4, 2018 [58 favorites]

I think you need to stop trying to argue with her and maybe listen and empathize better. It really is different being the nursing parent in terms of how easily you can put the baby down on a mat to entertain herself.

I REALLY don't think you should push against the restaurant meal at all, there are a lot of additional things she is getting from that experience - she gets out of the house, she doesn't have to think about it, prep it, clean up. She gets an option of various things that don't depend on those things being in the house.

My suggestions would be: try to stock some easy to eat things for her to snack on that don't require two hands to prep or eat. Nuts, KIND Bars, shakes, already-made sandwiches or small wraps, muffins, lactation cookies. Even the simplest food prep is actually difficult with a baby - it can feel like you're getting stuff ready during your allotted time but then there is not time to eat it and clean up and you can't do anything else you'd like to do during your small break (showering, brushing your teeth, zoning out for a few minutes). Remember that when you do it, you're doing it on your free day and you're not the only adult available for 10 hours at a time.

All this said, 5 months is a bit of an extended time not to feel a little in your stride as a parent. Does she have any signs of PPD and does she have any history with eating disorders? Arguing with her with logic around her eating habits seems like it might be preventing any meaningful dialogue about her overall mental health.
posted by vunder at 11:45 AM on September 4, 2018 [35 favorites]

I agree with most everyone above but I wanted to highlight this....

She often complains that she has no milk for the baby because she didn't get to eat.

What does this mean?
posted by amanda at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ugh, I gotta tell you: your attitude here would drive me up a tree and I'm NOT currently in a postpartum hormonal stew and sleep deprived. You seem super fighty about this and I don't get why.

When I was home with my baby, I mostly ate chips and salsa, unless somebody brought me food and held the baby while I ate it. And sometimes this did happen! But oftentimes, it didn't. Sometimes just tortilla chips if opening the jar one handed was too much. Once I tried to eat an apple when my baby was asleep in the Moby wrap and the crunching woke him up and he started screaming. There is something peculiar to babies and mothers where a peacefully sleeping baby or quietly playing baby will start screaming as soon as mom tries to eat something. My baby did it every time for MONTHS. Everyone mom I know's baby did it too.

If you are truly this worried about it, make her a stack of individually wrapped sandwiches or a bunch of little salads in containers or cut up fruits and vegetables. Portion out almonds and dried fruit and stick them next to the chair where she nurses. Otherwise? Leave her alone about this.
posted by Aquifer at 11:48 AM on September 4, 2018 [59 favorites]

vunder took the words right out of my mouth, I'll only add this: The arguments that you present in your post could easily be read as accusations of laziness and stupidity. Assume that she is doing the best that she can, that she knows she should eat more, and that she knows how food works.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 11:48 AM on September 4, 2018 [17 favorites]

Honestly, trying to work from home part time with a 5 month old, depending on the child's temperament, sounds incredibly draining and difficult. My kiddo needed near constant contact to be content. It is so boring and exhausting. And it sounds like she is not only working part time but she is also full time keeping house and baby during the day. She has a lot on her plate. Not that you don't but you get to like be by yourself during the day with no humans depending on your attention for their literal survival. The mental load of that cannot be overstated, IMHO. Preparing a meal? Forget about it. Doesn't even register.

Has she been screened for PPD/PPA?
Can someone help her for a few hours a day?
What food can you prepare that she can just eat from the fridge? I really appreciated sliced cheese, meat, fruit and crackers when I was doing full time baby care. Have you asked her what food she might like that would be accessible for her during the day?
Clean the kitchen. Look around the house and see what can be done. Don't ask her. Listen if she tells you she needs something done.
If you can afford in the short term her going out to eat, let it go. I have a 2.5 year old who is a delight but GOD IT IS BORING TO BE ALONE WITH HIM FOR HOURS ON END. Going out, talking to people (even if just some store staff) is like crucial for my sanity when my husband is away for the weekend. Perhaps she needs some adult human contact to not go crazy. Your wife not going crazy is worth $$$.

Don't argue with her. Listen for ways to support her. Don't tell her people do it without support. It isn't fucking accurate. It just isn't. Even in cultures where mothers carry their babies into the field, there are grannies doing work at home, other children to pitch in. NO ONE does it all alone. And even if it is technically possible, it is really fucking hard.

I have sympathy for you because you want your wife and child to be well. She wants to be well. I bet you are both tired. I bet you both feel pretty stretched thin in your new roles. Try to connect to what she is telling you. She needs help. Can you be the help she needs?
posted by rachums at 11:48 AM on September 4, 2018 [38 favorites]

I can’t even. She is exhausted. It is cumulative sleep deprivation, on top of physically and emotionally giving herself to a newborn, who is priority 1.

I once was faced with making a sandwich during the early weeks of maternity leave and I just couldn’t. I chose to pee and sleep the 30 minutes of quiet that I had. Once I tried to carefully pick up microwaved soup while bouncing my newborn to sleep in the carrier, and dropped the soup. I cried and didn’t eat that day.

When my partner realized, he:

1. Made me breakfast and coffee, and left it at my bed side. If he left it in the kitchen, some times I wouldn’t get down there until after noon.

2. Uber eats me lunch. Burgers and fries. A milkshake. Steak wraps. Lox bagel. None of that romaine lettuce salad. Stuff that would be good if I took a bite then had to deal with a baby for an hour before I got back to it.

3. Left snacks everywhere. Pringle canisters still linger by the couch corners to this day.

Honestly, if she likes going out, that’s really good for her. Encourage it.
posted by inevitability at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2018 [30 favorites]

Easy meals and snacks are around - almonds, yogurt, hummus, leftovers from dinner either prepared by me or her the night before, easy things she can grab out of the fridge and eat. She doesn't eat those things. She does drink almond milk almost daily, which is good.

She eats out at the restaurant most days, but not always. There are days when the baby is a handful and where she doesn't eat a single meal, and then says she has no milk for the baby which makes everything worse. And the hungrier she gets the more overwhelmed and irritable she feels.

Re: mind my own business and stop telling her what to do - she herself is saying it's a major problem in her life. It does appear to be a major problem. We are hiring a helper 2 days a week starting soon who will cook and clean for a few hours during the day, and she is really hoping that will help. But there are the other days where it would continue to be a problem, and she doesn't think it's fixable.

I'm fairly busy every day too - from when I come home from work until when the baby is sleeping, he's in my hands. After that I'll cook dinner or clean when I can but I often have several hours of work to do from home at night, and by then it's around midnight and time to sleep plus we're both exhausted. She doesn't clean much (nor should she) but it's hard for me to find time to fill that gap. Neither of us are wasting our time or being lazy as far as I can tell. She also says that I work hard and am very attentive with the baby and clean when I can find the time. She just kind of wants me to do more all around but there's not really a whole lot of fat either of us can trim from our daily lives.
posted by naju at 11:50 AM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

GNC’s Women’s Iron Complete is one of the very very best otc iron supplements around, it’s made with the Ferrous Fumerate form of iron, which is the most bio-available form according to my research and my experience. Get this.

The restaurant makes her feel like a civilized person and less lonely!

Does she do any Mommy and Me type activities? I super duper recommend you help her to reach out to other new moms. I think everyone above covered the rest.
posted by jbenben at 11:51 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

She's working from home with a baby? Working from home with a baby, even part-time, is one of the hardest possible things, and I've only done it for a day or two when daycare's closed, not long-term. I cannot imagine how hard this is for your wife. She is exhausted, she is trying to meet the demands of work while taking care of a baby which is a full-time job (and babies don't understand "sorry, sweetie, there's a deadline, I have to prioritize work right now"), she is probably feeling isolated (being home alone with a baby, even just for a day, is EXTREMELY lonely), she's hungry, she's overwhelmed, and the person who should be her partner is telling her she's Doing It Wrong. Your wife is telling you that she needs help and support and you are telling her that actually things aren't that bad, just have some cucumbers. Having reacted similarly, I wonder if your wife is just feeling physically unable to take care of herself and the way this is manifesting is not eating.

She can't prioritize herself because she's prioritizing the baby and work and you, so you need to prioritize her and make sure that she is getting time to do what she needs. Does she have time out of the house without the baby? Does she have meals that are easy to make and enjoyable (maybe she doesn't just want to eat cold tuna and lettuce when she's extra hungry from breastfeeding a growing baby)? Maybe eating at a restaurant is the one thing she looks forward to since it sounds like her day-to-day life has a lot of demands; it's time she's physically out of the house while someone else does work and she can eat something enjoyable. Does she have time to herself and/or with other adults? What does she need and want? It seems like you are not paying attention to that.

As a practical suggestion on the food thing, although I really think this is about a lot more than food, it's about her having serious needs that aren't being met and you ignoring them, before I gave birth I just happened to make and freeze a ton of empanadas and they were perfect! I could microwave them and eat them with one hand for lunch every day. No effort, no planning, and very hearty and satisfying. Can you figure out something she'll actually want to eat and make it for her? Please please do something to support her and show that you want to help.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2018 [28 favorites]

Salad with tuna actually seems like a difficult meal to eat while taking care of a baby - there's putting it together, which is hard to do while holding the baby, and you really need to eat it at the table and/or have two hands free.

I think you should ask her what she feels like she can eat while taking care of baby (an energy bar? A sandwich? Trail mix in a bowl near her nursing spot? A smoothie in a spillproof container? An apple already cut into slices?). Then make sure your house is stocked with all of those items, with any preparation done by you.

There's clearly a lot more going on here - I'm also wondering about PPD, eating disorder history, and what kind of support she needs - but maybe providing the specific food items she says are easiest for her is a start.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Easy meals and snacks are around

No. You need to make her dinner and breakfast, at normal times, and take the baby while she's eating. There's no other answer.

Do you think she actually has an eating disorder, or that the baby is not gaining enough weight? Those are different questions, to be taken up with doctors.
posted by yarly at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2018 [22 favorites]

She often complains that she has no milk for the baby because she didn't get to eat.

At the risk of speaking for the OP: She's a nursing mother. If she's not getting much nutrition - especially fluids - her milk supply may be low. There is a correlation, and one of the additional problems here is that when the supply is low, the baby wants to nurse more often and also may not sleep well. In my experience this cycle can also be affected by stress and lack of sleep.
posted by vunder at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2018 [16 favorites]

I have two young kids, my youngest is 20 months. I didn't eat even close to properly for AT LEAST 6 months each time. Babies are very very demanding is way that is hard to understand when you aren't doing it all day, every day. Here's how it goes:

- baby is sleeping
- are they really sleeping or are they going to wake up any second?
- ok, sleeping for real
- bathroom break (I often brushed my teeth during the first nap of the day because it was the first chance I'd gotten, after being woken by a baby needed to nurse.)
- Still sleeping? Ok. How much time do I think I have left? I should probably eat.
- Ok. Food. Bowl. Fork. Greens. Tuna. This is such a PITA.
- Baby is up. Leave salad stuff on counter, go nurse baby.
- Baby needs a diaper, maybe new clothes, and snuggles.
- Now it's an hour+ later and that salad looks really sad and unappetizing. Put stuff back in fridge, thinking you'll get to it later.
- Baby needs stimulation and I'm going stir crazy. Take walk, go to a music class, meet a friend at the park.
- get home, baby needs to be fed, diapered, napped.
- meanwhile start dinner and worry about timing the bath/bedtime routine/nursing

and don't forget to fit work in there somewhere.

So you do that enough times and quit doing the try to eat a salad step. What's the point? Even if you do get to eat, you'll be scarfing it as fast as you can because you could be interrupted at literally ANY SECOND and have to abandon it. If you want her to eat better, HELP HER. Make or buy things that can be eaten straight from the fridge or cupboard with one hand and no mess.

Also, most people DO have help. I don't think I know any parents with no family help, no nanny, no regular babysitter.
posted by tealcake at 11:54 AM on September 4, 2018 [16 favorites]

Also, just a side note, I found that lactation cookies helped noticeably with supply (I had moderately low supply in general, not at all related to my diet). And cut fruit with lots of water in it is nice, like watermelon chunks.

Possibly there is something your wife really tends to LIKE to eat, maybe you can make that available to her and not make a fuss about it.
posted by vunder at 11:56 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


She often complains that she has no milk for the baby because she didn't get to eat.

This is not good. If getting out and getting lunch makes her happy, more power to her. If that means she can literally feed the baby, then she needs to keep doing it.

Make her breakfast. Pack her lunches. Hell, get her PT help at home for when she's working! How is she working AND taking care of the baby? Does that happen while you're at home or while you're at work?

On preview: pre-cook stuff while you're both home on the weekends. You can freeze things that you can put in the fridge before you leave for work.

I wonder if mostly what she needs right now is: help, and reassurance that this phase of your lives is not going to last forever. The baby is going to become more and more independent and will soon be eating solid foods along with you and your wife. She won't be breastfeeding forever (and you know what? if she wants to give that up now, SHE SHOULD).

Instead of trying to troubleshoot, ASK HER what she wants/needs. Then do that.

I don't think I know any parents with no family help, no nanny, no regular babysitter. My husband and I didn't have any of those things when our son was an infant. It can be done but it is HARD.
posted by cooker girl at 11:57 AM on September 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

You are not a bad person for worrying about your wife's health, but I can definitely see how they way you're going about it rubs her the wrong way, and that's what a lot of commenters seem to be picking up on.

When you're exhausted and overwhelmed, even throwing together a salad seems like a monumental effort. ALSO thinking of things you'd like to eat is a monumental effort. Like a lot of moms, I am the Keeper of All Knowledge in our house and it is exhaaaaaausting. I know the kids' doctors, homework schedules, which pairs of pants are almost outgrown, when the consigment sale is, et cetera. When my mom comes to visit and asks me what I want to eat, and won't take "whatever you're willing to put on the table" as an answer, it makes my head explode inside. What I want for dinner is NOT HAVING TO THINK ABOUT IT.

SO. You came here to find out how to better support your wife. On her behalf, thanks.

Try asking questions like, "I'm going to go pick up some snacks for you to have during the day. Do you have a favorite, or should I get a few different kinds of granola bars for you to try?"

"I'll fix you some breakfast and then hold the baby while you eat. Do scrambled eggs or fruit and yogurt sound good? Anything you'd rather have?"

Also, I'd let the restaurant meal slide unless it's really outside your budget. When you're home all day with a baby, interacting with other humans and spending a little time at a restaurant can be literally sanity saving. Fix her something she can eat for lunch, and one of you eat it for dinner if she didn't manage to eat it during the day.

Now, if you do all these things - procuring snacks, providing her with appetizing food without her having to think about it or prepare anything, etc, and she's still complaining about not having enough milk for the baby because she's not eating enough, then you should be a little more worried and suggest she talk to her doctor.

But I think you'll go a long way if you cut out the "why can't you just", well meaning though it may be, and provide lots of practical support that takes the mental burden into account.
posted by telepanda at 11:58 AM on September 4, 2018 [27 favorites]

Your wife has found a solution that works for her part of the time - going out. Unless this is truly a ruinous amount of money for your family, don't insert yourself into that. Let her do the thing that is working for her in a really difficult time.

If you want to help, focus on how she can eat on the days she can't or doesn't want to go out, and that solution should NOT be for her to do her own multi-step process with the baby in one hand. Work with her on what sounds good to her that is GENUINELY something SHE considers easy enough to do one-handed with the baby, not what you think should be. Pre-bottled smoothies, pre-cut fruit, something you cook in a batch on the weekends, cheese sliced up ahead of time, a bunch of grapes, whatever. It should be something she thinks would be appealing and possible to eat, not what you think she should want. What you're stocking now isn't working; try something else, and take her lead as to what that should be.
posted by Stacey at 11:58 AM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

lots of other great suggestions here. On a practical note do you all have a baby carrier? I'm able to get so much more stuff done when I'm wearing kiddo. Definitely not at full speed and capability but it made a lot of regular chores much more possible. Also when I had really bad PPA/D the only thing I could stomach was Gatorade. Maybe start stocking some bottles to at least make sure she's getting fluids and some calories? They're shelf stable until opened (and even a while after that) so I would just leave bottles around the nursery/living room
posted by brilliantine at 11:59 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

She sounds 1000% overwhelmed, which most people trying to work while doing full time child care while breastfeeding (i.e., needing to be within arm's reach of an infant 100% of the time) will be. It sounds like the solutions she needs are *not* being told that the thing she finds impossible is easy, which seems to be the only thing you've tried and which I would find in-fucking-furiating.

Some options I can think of that would give her some time to have her hands and brain free: a baby sling, a local parent's group, part time child care or mother's helper or co-op situation, a stock of Ensure or smoothies to hand, making her a breakfast that won't get gross if she can't eat it until 10am, doing one formula feed per day, therapy if this is part of a larger pattern of postpartum depression behaviors, moving to be closer to family or friends. Don't expect her to do the emotional labor to accomplish those things. Some of those are really huge changes but if she can't handle doing the most basic of self-care behaviors--which is exactly what she is saying-- than something big needs to change, and she does not need to be blamed for it.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:59 AM on September 4, 2018 [11 favorites]

Yeah, step up here, dude. Leave her a prepared meal that can be eaten one handed. NOT a sandwich. Not a salad that needs to be made. Veggies and fruit need to be already washed and chopped. Salads need to be made and ready to eat. Muffins and cookies are good. I have two kids and blood sugar issues, and I've still gone way, way past when I needed to eat because it was just too hard with the baby. With a sink so full of dishes she can't get to it, or dirty counters, it feels like a barrier and is one. I can easily see just not eating. It's pretty clear to me your wife feels like you aren't doing enough to support her. She's asking for more help.

Also, if she's home with a baby all day, I would guess eating out is one of her main social activities? It gets her out of the house, interacting with adults, in a new place, she gets to eat whatever she wants at that moment and someone else is doing the work and taking care of HER. Why isn't that ideal? Yes, it's expensive, but from her perspective it is otherwise ideal and she deserves a splurge like that because taking care of a baby is really freaking hard work. Especially if she's also trying to work a paid job.

I can see you are concerned, and you probably should be (although can you also be concerned about YOUR WIFE'S health, and not just the baby?), but your exchange feels pretty blame-y and unsupportive on your end. Have you asked, kindly, and listened to the answers, about what she wants to eat and what her day is like? Are you taking over nights so she can get some sleep? Are you being generally warm and supportive?
posted by john_snow at 11:59 AM on September 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

As everyone else has said-- sleep deprivation and the general grind of caring for a baby are an acute drain on psychic/ motivational energy during those early weeks.

You know how sometimes after a grueling work week or in the early stages of the flu, you come home and collapse on the couch and eat chips even though in theory nothing's preventing you from sweeping the kitchen and preparing a healthy salad? Operating at a constant, extreme utility deficit messes with your executive function, and it can absolutely put you into a kind of pleasure starvation mode where dammit you need a little bit of a treat, not something sensible and nourishing. (I think there's research that suggests this is why impoverished people buy expensive clothes/ cell phones, because when you're truly miserable sometimes the only action you can contemplate is one that seems like a bit of a luxury).

So my suggestion would be to address the subjective well-being problem first, and find a way to get your wife things she considers to be treats, that will be ++utility as well as ++nutrition, and that will not require that she spend her precious motivational energy to force herself to eat them. Restaurant meals might fit that bill, but otherwise, what's the most nutritious junk food she likes?
posted by Bardolph at 12:00 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I was on maternity leave, I also had days when I could not eat. My baby would only nap while on me, I had no time, I was so tired, and I couldn't. At all. I would open the fridge, see lots of food, and not be able to make a decision or get distracted by something baby related, and I just wouldn't eat. Much of that was due to anxiety, which was made worse by the lack of food and lack of sleep.

Someone (mother or husband) made me a hot breakfast and dinner every day, and made me actually sit down long enough to eat it. I drank a lot of milk (which I was never that into before). But that jumpy, wired, unsettled feeling is so hard.

Of your list, everything but almonds and almond milk would have been too hard for me. It had to be something that could sit on the counter and I could graze as I walked by. Muffins, cut veggies, string cheese, cookies... that's all I could handle.
posted by oryelle at 12:01 PM on September 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

Low milk supply can be caused by so many things and is typically not caused by inadequate intake in resource rich environments. I think a lot of the other issues at play have been addressed here, but if you and your wife have a concern that her breastmilk supply is not adequate for the needs of your child, her doctor would be my next stop (most likely followed by a referral to a lactation consultant).
posted by telegraph at 12:03 PM on September 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

I found a new mom's group to be very helpful. It was really nice to be around other people who were going through what I was - their advice felt helpful and practical when other peoples' didn't [even if the advice was similar], and it was also nice to see that people struggling with things that I wasn't struggling with or had already figured out, in that it was nice to also be able to be good at something rather than just struggle with the one thing. If you're in Oakland, I can recommend one (it's in Berkeley though), though there are others closer by as well. Feel free to memail me if you're interested, though she may prefer to get recs from friends.
posted by vunder at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nursing doesn't take that long, but that blissful quiet after baby is milk drunk, and has fallen asleep, and if you shift a muscle, that blissful time is broken- that time is precious. So getting up to do anything is just so hard.

You are out of the house from 8-6, plus doing a few hours of work. That's 12-14 hours of her being alone. Add in your 6-7 hours of sleep, you are available to her for 2 hours a day. During which you are nagging her. Are you taking baby so she can get a nap in on the weekends?
posted by Ftsqg at 12:07 PM on September 4, 2018 [17 favorites]

yeah, it is difficult for someone who hasn't experienced it to really get how insanely overwhelming exclusive breastfeeding is. I switched to part formula a month in, because, among other reasons, getting the appropriate amount of calories into myself was very difficult, and keeping that up + caring for baby would mean I would have zero time for anything else. Breastfeeding is a hormonal swamp that can lead to particular cravings / aversions which makes it harder to pick out and enjoy foods -- in addition to the sleep deprivation which makes *everything* so, so, hard. And yeah you really have approximately 1/2 hand available to use for non-baby things so opening the can of tuna -- really can be too hard.

try to focus on high-calorie low-effort things (like, not salad). milkshakes are great (if someone makes them for you) because you can eat them with no hands through a straw and they're calorically dense. Also pre-packaged ice cream sandwiches are something high calorie you can grab and eat with one hand. And if the restaurant is working for her, keep at it and support this!

and - you have an infant and both of you are working for money and you don't have any paid help? can you change this? you're definitely playing on hard mode there.
posted by anotherthink at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Snacks that don't need to be refrigerated could be put in small tupperware or ziplocks around where she and the baby hang out so she can have a couple almonds, etc, without even moving. Does she have a favorite candy bar? Something maybe with nuts? Again, not the healthiest, but it packs in the calories. I super swear by gatorade or powerade for these types of moments. Will she drink meal replacement shakes?

But yeah, the thrust of this is that it isn't about the food. I think the mommy's helper will help, and even at two days a week, it'll give her those moments to just breathe for a second. I also think as little fat is there is to trim, you need to find 10-30min more a day to do something that isn't related to holding the baby or her eating - cleaning up, changing that annoying lightbulb, taking out the trash, making sure diapers, clothes, etc are arranged how they're easiest for her. Do something you know needs to be done that she hasn't asked you for.

I suspect part of this is that she wants to be seen, she wants to not be the only one worried about sweeping the floor, and working, and eating, and showering, and keeping a whole baby alive by herself for long stretches at a time.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:11 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

whoops, just saw your update comment that you're planning on getting part time help soon, which is great. if that person can tidy up the house and bring your wife a glass of water and a milkshake, things will feel a lot less overwhelming.
posted by anotherthink at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2018

2 more things that came into mind on reading your update:
1) If you're unable to cook dinner after you get home, because you're busy holding the baby, that's probably how your wife feels for the entire working day.

2) Relatedly, have you explored ways to get your baby happy and your hands free? Your baby's getting into a good age for a baby carrier, or a baby play mat, or an activity center. We had a very compact activity center like this (the specific one is now discontinued but I'm sure there are millions of moral equivalents). We mostly kept it in the kitchen so baby could watch us while we did our thing, but it was compact enough for us to move it around. Our babies also liked the portable swing we had.

Local freecycle, facebook marketplace, or seasonal consignment sales can be great ways to get this sort of baby equipment free or inexpensively - your baby may hate swings and love bouncers, for example - so you can try several things on for size and see what works for you, and quickly rehome anything that isn't working out.

But if you can find a way for baby to be not occupying someone's hands, but still able to engage with them, that may buy all of you a little room to breathe.
posted by telepanda at 12:12 PM on September 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

As an emergency measure, meal replacement bars like Clif "Builder's Bars" are filling, can be eaten with one hand, and taste good enough to me that I will actually eat them when I'm over-hungry. They're more filling than straight candy bars and a bit less sweet.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:14 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Have you thought about stocking prepared food? Frozen meals from Trader Joe's or whatever, prepared salads, etc. Salad definitely can't be made in "seconds" but a frozen meal can.
posted by acidic at 12:15 PM on September 4, 2018

Yeah, I hate to pile on, but taking care of a breast-feeding infant really can be that all-consuming. When my wife was in that situation we stocked up on a lot of convenience food and I took over a lot of stuff.

Salad never seemed that easy to me--lots of cleaning and chopping.

This won't last that long, so don't rule out spending more than you normally "should" if you've got the option.

Hey, we're just strangers on the internet, we're not there, maybe she's really turning down reasonable solutions, which might also suggest she's depressed? That happens too....
posted by floppyroofing at 12:21 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

I did a period of working part time while momming part time and nursing/pumpung, and also had 2 full days of child care each week, and it was STILL insanely stressful and overwhelming. I cannot even imagine trying to work a part-time job while also being a full-time parent with zero help all day. I think you guys need to work on getting some childcare in place, like, yesterday. Yes, having an infant is expensive, but childcare won't always cost what infant care costs -- I feel strongly that this is worth going into some debt over, especially if mom is struggling with self-care/mental health issues (which it sounds like is the case).

Also -- buy a tub of formula and supplement if you need to. Baby will be perfectly fine and healthy, and much MORE fine and healthy than not getting enough to eat and having a worn-down mother. Furthermore, baby's temperament may improve dramatically if they are not hungry all the time!

And finally, it sounds like your wife is pretty isolated. Try to help her come up with ideas of things to do during the day, ask some friends to come over during the day, etc. Think about gently suggesting screening for PPD/PPA.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:31 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

If there was one thing I wouldn't have been able to handle when nursing it was making a damn salad, sorry to say. A salad? How do you eat that without dropping dressing and/or bits on the baby's head? Or your clothes? Or cleaning the kitchen after? And all I wanted was carbs and carbs and carbs and CARBS, having my husband tell me, essentially, that I alone of all mothers was incapable of wanting or managing a salad would have not ended well.

You are solving the wrong problem. If your wife is most comfortable taking the baby out and eating at a restaurant, where baby is probably in a stroller and all she has to do IS actually eat food with a fork, then encourage that. Prepare her meals when you can but encourage her to eat out as often as she damn wants. Cut back on something else if it's too expensive.

Not eating is unlikely to decrease milk production in the short term, btw, but not drinking enough fluids will make everything harder. If nothing else keep the fridge stocked with cold beverages she enjoys, including anything wasteful or quote unquote unhealthy.

(I am also someone who quit breastfeeding at 4 months - and didn't even do it at all the second time around - because it was destroying my life, so maybe she needs to talk about that option, too).
posted by lydhre at 12:32 PM on September 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

I want to re-iterate what someone else said above: this won't last forever. I think you've gotten a lot of good ideas here so pick a few of them and just do it. If you need help shopping for snacks for your wife, ask one of your friends to help. If her milk supply is low, see about getting a lactation consultant or post-partum doula. If your wife's health is at risk and (you think) the baby's health is at risk you may have a family emergency on your hands and you may need to take a day or two off to help get things re-set.

But, here's the thing, you won't be making little piles of nuts around the house forever. Things are going to be wildly out of whack right now but I promise you, new and interesting phases of babyhood and parenthood are right around the corner. The best thing you two can be is, number one - a team. You got her back and she's got yours (by feeding your child and keeping the home fires lit). Number two, changeable. Today, you might have to give 120% of effort, you might have to reach out to your network for support, you might have to pay for some help. That's just today. Tomorrow will be different. A week from now, a month from now will be different.
posted by amanda at 12:37 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm on maternity leave with my second baby (almost two months), and live in Emeryville - if you are both comfortable with it, I'd like to come over and bring your wife some lactation cookies, a baby carrier (if you don't already have one), and some adult company, commiseration, and reassurance that this phase doesn't last forever. Also a bunch of local resources that could help.

Note that I am able to do this not because being at home full-time with a baby is a cakewalk, but because 1) this is my second rodeo, 2) I'm formula-feeding, which means less drain on my body & more shared baby care between me and my partner, 3) this kiddo, while fussy, is a LOT easier than her older brother was, and 4) I got almost SIX FULL HOURS OF SLEEP LAST NIGHT, which was a fucking godsend, thank you baby. Last week I got maybe three hours for a few nights in a row, and there were multiple times where I was literally crying, covered in spit-up, and throwing goldfish crackers at my toddler to appease him. This shit is hard.

Would say more but baby is fussing after only 30 minutes down, hah, I ate this sleep cycle but failed to shower, guess I'm going to be stinky until 10 pm when my next chance to shower will occur.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:42 PM on September 4, 2018 [69 favorites]

Meal replacement shakes (ensure, boost, what have you) can be balanced, quick and don't require prep if she can stand the taste (or just chug).

My wife is breastfeeding. We are at the three month mark. Her diet has lots if Gatorade in it. She drinks it, it makes her happy I don't question it. She eats snacks of varying types. I go to Costco and just buy random stuff until something sticks. Cheese and nut packs have gone over really well . Crackers. Lunch meat (which gets just eaten out of the container) who can bother with bread?

Our schedule is less tight than yours (she has no part time work involved).

It is still overwhelming for us. Parenting is hard.

Supply is a concern. Is he/she gaining wieght appropriatly? Does your child have a consistent number of wet diapers per day? You should talk to your doctor about any concerns. It is OK to formula feed. Really.

There is great advice in this thread.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:47 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

It also may be really easy for YOU to put the baby down on the play mat and go do a quick thing in the kitchen, but impossible for HER. My kids were all fine when dad put them down to play for a minute or two so he could run to the bathroom, but they screamed BLOODY FUCKING MURDER if I did.

And while nobody likes a screaming baby (since their cries are designed to be irritating), the difference between hearing a baby screaming most of the time and hearing a baby screaming when I was lactating was NIGHT AND DAY. I go to Target, I hear someone else's baby shrieking their head off, I'm like, "Ugh that poor parent, I hope they're getting good sleep, these are the hardest months!" But when I went to Target by myself when I was lactating (having left the baby with dad), and someone's baby started screaming, it hijacked my brain so completely that it would paralyze me in the aisle because I couldn't think of what to do except to soothe the baby, but I couldn't do that, so I would stand there frozen, literally unable to remember which way I'd been walking or what I'd been trying to do. Then my milk would drop and I'd start lactating through my shirt. On more than one occasion I had to abandon my cart and leave the store because I COULD NOT THINK ENOUGH TO SHOP and the screaming baby was starting to give me a panic reaction.

With one of my kids, he screamed every time I tried to go to the bathroom, whether I put him down, carried him with me, tried to sneak in while he was sleeping, with the result that I was going 10-12 hours a day without peeing and ended up with a screamingly bad bladder infection as a result. I REALLY HAD TO PEE, but as long as he was screaming my body wouldn't let me because it was insisting I go deal with him.

It's entirely possible your wife tries to put the baby down, he starts screaming bloody murder, and she is literally unable to perform simple kitchen tasks at that time because the baby's screaming is hijacking her brain and her brain is refusing to let her do anything but RETURN TO THE BABY. And the baby may be FINE with you putting him down from time to time, but when mom does it, it's the end of the world.

And I get that you're tired and that you're already doing a lot and burning the candle at both ends. But keep in mind that not only is your wife doing childcare, working part time, and constantly feeding the baby, but 24 hours a day her body is doing an incredibly energy-intensive task of GENERATING ALL FOOD FOR A WHOLE OTHER PERSON. There is no exhaustion like breastfeeding an infant, just from the "making the milk" part. Like, imagine you do all the things you're doing now, but ALSO you need to go run a farm full-time, working 24 hours a day, sleeping no more than 3 hours at a time, producing enough food on the daily to feed your family, no mechanization allowed. That's how exhausted your wife is JUST FROM EXISTING every day right now, before the baby and the feeding and the work and the lack of sleep. HER BODY IS DOING SUBSISTENCE AGRICULTURE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:49 PM on September 4, 2018 [98 favorites]

I often have several hours of work to do from home at night

If you're important enough to have take-home work, you might be important enough to be able to cut your hours at work back to 40/week. You're a new parent; work might understand.
posted by aniola at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2018 [16 favorites]

Dude, moms of young children have a tough time even finding a way to get to the bathroom.
posted by amtho at 12:53 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I remember my younger daughter (who had to be in my arms until 18 months or else she screamed bloody murder)... oy. Being at home with her, nursing, and then trying to slip in a shower? Feed my other kid? I was just SURVIVING for the first year or so. Fuck salad.
posted by heathrowga at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

This sounds really familiar. When I was at home with the baby and my husband was working, there was literally no way he could have come home and done enough work to give me the rest that I needed--basically, time in a clean house when I wasn't responsible for a baby. If he was doing household maintenance, it meant that I had the baby. If he was holding the baby, it meant none of the dozens of things that needed to be done were getting done unless I did them. We took turns with full time childcare and both agree that it's 1000% harder than being at work. Like you never appreciate being able to pee whenever you want to so much. And I wasn't working at all at the time.

When you are that exhausted, you absolutely don't take care of yourself. It is a fact of life. I was especially exhausted by breastfeeding and it is much easier now that I'm not doing it anymore. Formula supplementation is also a possibility. I also pumped milk for a month or so because it was easier to maintain my supply that way than just relying on my daughter, who was always hungry in the evenings when my supply was lowest. This also made it easier to take a break and hand her off to someone else.

The other thing that worked well was getting on a consistent schedule where I had certain time during the week to myself. I can't tell you how much that helped my sense of well being. Similarly I'd suggest that going to a restaurant may be providing structure and consistency to your wife's day that she may not otherwise have.

So I guess I'm saying let her go out to restaurants as often as possible if it improves her day. Also, if you aren't working your ass off from the minute you hit the door until like 10pm then I personally would be ready to lose my mind if I was married to you. My daughter was extremely easy, but newborn babies are just so exhausting.

Also for me personally, I was in complete survival mode for a long time following my daughter's birth and really still am. This isn't really a time when your wife may have the energy to school you on what her day is like vs what you think it should be like. You need to listen to her and accept what she tells you about her experiences.
posted by _cave at 12:57 PM on September 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

So I'm trying to be really reasonable and helpful here because of the unhinged rage I felt on initially reading this question - with our first, shortly after she was born, my husband got upset with me for not making a healthy dinner with lots of veggies because I wasn't taking care of myself, and reader, I could have killed him. (if not for the baby constantly in my arms, which made doing anything impossible) (hi honey, I know you'll be stalking these comments, I'm mostly over it now)

It *really can be* this hard. I was home with my daughter, by myself (my husband was frequently gone for months for work), with no family or nanny or daycare or regular babysitter or housecleaner or any of that, during her first year, NOT EVEN TRYING TO WORK, and I can say with all confidence that even at 5 months - and beyond! - I couldn't guarantee I'd eat regularly. Especially if she's using any gaps in childcare - happy playtime, naptime, etc - to do work, I 100% understand how she's in this situation, and yes, anything that requires two hands to prepare or eat is frequently out of the question. (salad, lol)

The other tricky thing is naptime. All that "sleep while the baby sleeps?" Bullshit. I never did it. Because there was SO MUCH to get done - clean the house, do the never-ending laundry, order stuff online like diapers or whatever, shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, feed myself, cut the grass, let the dog out, have literally 30 seconds to sit and be alone with my thoughts - I would frantically start through my to-do list as soon as the baby went down, and seldom made it to the "take care of myself" part. And even if I *did*, it'd be a half hour into a nap and omg, the baby's probably going to wake up in 10 minutes isn't she, fuck, I might as well not even start any major projects because it'll just be interrupted, I give up, I'll just drink a cup of tea that is probably lukewarm now because I forgot I even tried to make it twenty minutes ago and eat these crackers, and ah shit, there she is, she's crying and awake, sigh.

The mental tax of *constantly* awaiting interruption is ... I don't even know how to describe it. Crushing. That's the best I can do. And I am a consummate type-A multitasker who GETS SHIT DONE in my (beloved) career, and I was completely and utterly mentally and emotionally devastated by what it takes to stay home with a very young child, just spending all my time waiting to be needed.

So this is all to say, I get what your wife is saying, and I believe her. And I'm telling you, what she's saying isn't really necessarily her being difficult or whatever - it is her lived experience, and I know because I've lived it too.

To address your "health of the baby" concern: one thing I learned while pregnant (where I basically didn't eat for 2-3 weeks in the first trimester because all food seemed horrible to me) was that babies are perfect parasites. They'll take what they need from you, one way or another. And that's also largely true of breastfeeding babies in developed countries. Your baby is probably getting what it needs from your wife, in terms of nutrition, and only your pediatrician can tell you if that's not the case. That doesn't mean your wife emerges unscathed, but don't try to guilt trip her by saying "but the baby!" because, no. Just don't. In terms of your wife's health, I'd focus first on supply - talk with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant, but in my uneducated experience, I'd possibly chalk that up more to fluid intake than food intake, since my experience through two kids was that more water = more milk, and if she's not eating meals regularly she's also probably not drinking enough regularly. If she doesn't have a handy ***one-handed-open*** water bottle that lives next to her at all times, she should (in a nice way, not in a TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF DAMMIT sort of way). And if *her* doctor is concerned about her iron levels, there are ways to fix that. (I am a three-time veteran of iron infusions, twice during pregnancies and once post-partum. My kids, though, are just fine!)

Another thing that might be helpful is making sure that all put-food-on-here surfaces next to where she's sitting to nurse should be reachable without leaning forward. So, coffee table, bad, side table, good. It's really hard to lean forward to get food or water when you have a baby feeding, and I insisted for our second that we buy a side table for the comfy chair I intended to sit in for most daytime nursing. Made one-handed drinking and eating much much easier during all the nursing time.

Snacks I liked while breastfeeding: trail mix. (so much trail mix) I like the variety of flavor combos that Whole Foods and Trade Joes have. Someone sent me an Edible Arrangement when my second was born and it was AMAZING (fresh fruit already washed and cut! Chocolate! Sweet sweet calories! All on a stick that I can eat one-handed!) The sort of snacks that come in a single-serve bag that I can hold up and tip into my mouth (there are these coconut chips from a company called Dang that were so so good) Cookies. I did make my own lactation cookies (when my husband was home and I could have some baby-free time to cook) and I do think they helped; so did lactation tea, but navigating (hot) tea drinking over a baby, especially if the baby is getting squirmy, is a little challenging sometimes. And yes, food delivery and restaurants, for sure, because then someone washes up after you too!

It *really can be* that hard to wash, chop, peel, or whatever. It *really can be* that hard to open a can of tuna. And if she is taking advantage of every calm or sleeping baby moment to do work or catch up on chores, then yeah, it's not as easy as "put the baby down for a minute" because she might have already used up all those minutes and may now be facing a screaming baby if she puts him down.

I know you're trying to do the right thing here, but it's very possible that "the right thing" is a mother's helper, occasional daycare/babysitter/nanny, etc, doing some pumping or formula feeding, etc, rather than prepping almonds in ziploc baggies for her. Please talk with her about those kinds options to see if maybe that helps to solve her problem.

And remember, this isn't forever. Just survive for now.
posted by olinerd at 12:57 PM on September 4, 2018 [30 favorites]

Hang on, am I nuts? She is saying she is unable to reliably produce food for the baby when the baby needs it. If the child is being exclusively breast-fed, this would mean that the baby would be at serious risk of not being adequately fed. So either the baby is being malnourished, or at risk of same or mom is so depressed that she is saying things that aren't objectively (at least) true or she is actually experiencing episodes of psychosis.

None of these things strike me as "it'll get better in a few months" or "cut up some cheese and apples for her"-type situations. They strike me as "take the baby and mom to a doctor ASAP" situations. The baby needs to be checked to see if it is being malnourished, and concrete steps taken right away to address that, if necessary. The mom needs to be screened for post-partum mental illnesses, and those addressed right away.

I completely get why the tone of the original post got up everybody's noses, but it seems like there is some very important information here that is going largely unheeded.
posted by praemunire at 12:58 PM on September 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

I came in to say what Bardolph said:

Operating at a constant, extreme utility deficit messes with your executive function

There have been times in my life when feeding myself was too monumental a task to manage, and they were due sometimes to depression and sometimes to exhaustion.

I agree with the suggestion to prioritize delicious food over healthy food right now. Also, do you eat dinner when you get home? Eat together.

I don't understand the part where you say your baby is exclusively breastfed yet sometimes there's no milk for him? What exactly happens in that case?

In general it sounds like the two of you are not at a sustainable place right now. Maybe she's dealing with depression or other things. Maybe the stress she feels in general is being projected onto food. Maybe she doesn't get enough time to feel like an actual person. It doesn't sound like the two of you have a lot of time to spend together, to do things for each other, or to take for yourselves.

Is there anything you can do about this? Can you afford daycare? (If not, what is your long-term plan?) Are there friends with babies you can set up some regular meetup time with? (Don't ignore single/non-parent friends either. Some of us would love the chance to spend some regular time with a kid or just helping out.) Mother's helpers are a thing, too (and, for better or for worse, often inexpensive/underpaid).

Talk with your wife. What can you both do to help each other? What do you wish you could do if you only had the time/could afford it? What do you miss about your lives before the baby? It's hard to figure out how to make things better if you can't talk openly about the things that aren't great.

Keep your suggestions to the form of "what can I do?"

(Btw I hear you on how hard you work. I would not be able to keep it up myself. At the same time, I also have friends who work even longer hours, do all the cooking/cleaning, take care of the kids, take care of all the doctor's appointments and household management stuff, keep working at night after the kids are in bed, and somehow maintain a social life. I really, truly don't understand how they do it, but I have been watching them do it for years. All of them are married women (their husbands do significantly less, to an extent that makes me furious). I say this not because I think everyone has the capacity to do that (I know that I don't). But (a) since you found this useful when thinking about your wife, maybe it'll be useful when thinking about your own role; and (b) maybe you truly can do more. In which case, do it. And at the same time if you realize you can't do more - not sustainably - then you have to figure out a way to either become able to do more for your wife and child, or a plan for there to be less for you and your wife to do, whether through paid help/daycare or through establishing a strong social network that can help fill in the gaps.)
posted by trig at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

I could (just about) manage to eat when I was at home with a demanding baby. What I could not have managed to do was think in any detail about food, including deciding upon and preparing a well-balanced healthy diet. On hard days, of which there were many, I genuinely could not have completed the thought process of “I need to eat a healthy meal with a decent amount of protein, I will make a simple salad out of tuna, greens and oil”. I could not have got more complex than “GET FOOD.”

So I wonder if you’re over complicating this by insisting that she not just eat but eat healthily, because I can see how the whole thing could just feel like an unmanageably huge task for her right now. However good your intentions, it would still be better for her to eat starchy junk than it will be to skip meals altogether. (And the milk she makes will be the same; breastmilk is made from blood, not stomach contents, it takes really really massive diet deficiencies to change its composition).

Ask her what she feels like eating, at a time when you’re holding the baby and she’s not doing something else. Ask her what you can do to help her get that, including making it up for her. And then fill the house with whatever she a) feels like eating and b) can eat (not prepare, just grab and eat) with one hand while doing something else and won’t make too much mess if it drops on the baby’s head.
posted by Catseye at 1:07 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

> won’t make too much mess if it drops on the baby’s head

That's an important part I want to stress. If your baby falls asleep but won't fall asleep so deeply you can put them down, and you somehow manage to get some food in your hand, you're stuck eating with your head at an odd angle or turned to the side. I've dropped so much food on my babies in pursuit of my own lunch.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yeah, you need to back way up here. Food is not the issue. She is overwhelmed and she is begging for help. Have you asked her about hiring a mother's helper (someone to watch the baby in your own home for an hour or two at a stretch)?

Source: I worked partly at home while caring for an exclusively breastfed baby for a year (I was 3 days in the office baby at daycare, 2 days working from home, baby with me). Going back to work full time was sweet bliss after that.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Second attempt at a reply:

- Get her some food with lots of calcium that she wants. IIRC, there is danger that the mom loses calcium and other nutrients to the baby, putting herself at risk for longer-term stuff.

- If you want her to eat, you stay home from work for a day, or an afternoon, or something, and prepare the food for her, and clean whatever she says needs cleaning, and get about 12 chores done, and whatever else she says, and then maybe she can eat. The other stuff she's doing in addition to holding the baby? Work, plus keeping the place hygienic and well-supplied and free of clutter? Those are super important, too -- they represent risk reduction, which is to say, reducing the chances of the various kinds of disasters that will seriously derail both your lives. If she's prioritizing those over eating, there's a reason.

- I know you're stressed. Please find a way to stop arguing with her about this. The daily stuff she needs to do is too complicated to be expressed in words in the time you both can spend on that kind of talking. Just find a way to help. It's a problem you just have to solve; that's a good use for your brain, not figuring out what she's doing wrong.
posted by amtho at 1:31 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hang on, am I nuts? She is saying she is unable to reliably produce food for the baby when the baby needs it. If the child is being exclusively breast-fed, this would mean that the baby would be at serious risk of not being adequately fed. So either the baby is being malnourished, or at risk of same or mom is so depressed that she is saying things that aren't objectively (at least) true or she is actually experiencing episodes of psychosis.

This is an exceedingly extreme vision of low supply - not an impossible scenario but an extreme one. What usually actually happens if you have low supply is that the baby doesn't get as much as he'd like during the feeding, works harder than either of you would like while feeding, wants to eat again shortly, and doesn't nap or sleep as well as you like. I think it's indication of a concern, but it's not necessarily a code red. If the baby is not falling off his growth curve, he's not being malnourished. If the growth curve flattens a little, he's also not being malnourished and may not even mean anything. If he falls WAY off his growth curve, undernourishment would be a concern.
posted by vunder at 1:36 PM on September 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Me: I still don't see the actual impossibility. I concede that it's difficulty, but I've eaten with one hand while holding him in the other or while watching him play in the playmat so I don't see how it's literally impossible.

Said with love and open arms and all the respect in the world: this is the point at which I would have cheerfully strangled you.

You know it’s impossible. You know this because your wife, whom you respect enough to have married and trust enough to leave your only child in her care, is telling you it’s impossible. If you don’t trust her as a reliable source as to her own experience, I think you have to ask yourself why not.

I wasn’t working when I had my first child, but I was exclusively breastfeeding. I would go whole days without eating. Sometimes I would have poop on my face for a whole day, because I hadn’t had the opportunity to wash it off. Sometimes my husband would come home from work and find me sitting on the floor of the living room in my pajamas with both flaps of my nursing bra open, sobbing, holding a screaming baby.

How much time have you spent as the exclusive caregiver of your baby? Measured by longest consecutive stretch. Have you ever spent as much time alone with your child as your wife does every day?

I don’t mean to be harsh, I truly don’t. But it seems like you’re discounting the information that your wife is giving you, and I’m confused as to why.

PS: if she’s running out of milk, that’s more likely to be hydration related than calorie related. Does she have a water bottle that she can open with one hand? Does she have more than one of them? Are they getting filled for her?
posted by KathrynT at 1:36 PM on September 4, 2018 [52 favorites]

A side note on supply: at 5 months, unless you have a medical-grade scale at home, are pumping exclusively, or have a baby that is losing weight or many weight-percentile points at pediatrician visits, "supply" is in large part going to be mom's perception of feeding sessions, how her breasts are feeling, and how she is feeling. And low supply may not show up as a baby losing weight or percentile points, but rather through increased demand for feeding or longer feeding stints to stimulate supply. That, in turn, is going to make it harder for an unassisted mom to get food and hydration in, but nature generally gravitates towards letting baby get its share. Breastfeeding also burns huuuuge amounts of calories for mom, so there may be a very real sensation of being wiped out that OP's wife is expressing as "low supply" but is really low reserves for her -- so her description may be off, but not necessarily her connection to her body or to reality.

In short: absolutely look at getting an extra pediatrician visit between 4 and 6 months for the baby if one isn't scheduled to check on growth, and a PPD screen and other support for wife sounds very wise based on how she's describing her own situation, but I would be extremely wary about invoking post-partum psychosis if OP's wife is perceiving low supply just because there aren't "objective" signs like the baby losing weight or showing malnourishment. (Also, if a baby is losing weight at this stage, the pediatrician will be hollering about it, scheduling frequent weight checks, etc., so I assume OP would have mentioned if it came up at the last appointment.)
posted by LadyInWaiting at 1:37 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, regarding low supply - supply can dip because of hormonal changes (like if her period is coming back; mine did between 5-6 months with my second) or because the baby is going through a change in his eating habits (has he started any solids?) and not demanding as much, or is going through a growth spurt and is demanding more than usual. Both these things can happen around this age - just do a google search for "low supply 5 months" and she'll find she's not alone. So I wouldn't chalk it up necessarily to her lower caloric intake and use that to motivate your concern, but if you are both actually worried, make sure your ped is monitoring the baby's weight and growth and that your wife does have plenty of fluid intake. (again with the one-handed water bottle!)
posted by olinerd at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I often have several hours of work to do from home at night

From your update, OP, this stands out to me. Is there any flexibility to be had from your job? Anything you can delegate, any work you can skim during this relatively brief period of time? Do you have any room at all to free up energy or time? Could you be useful from the office, texting sweet messages to your wife/sending someone over with bagels (or whatever she finds appealing)/paying the bills/any other administrative task associated with running your household? Anything to lighten her load. Anything.
posted by witchen at 1:42 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Everything Eyebrows McGee said.

It's not just the eating. It's the brushing teeth, washing your face, maybe taking a shower (Ha! good luck with that), getting dressed, changing the baby, the trash is full of stinky dipes that need to go out, changing baby's clothes because baby puked for the 4th time this morning, and way, way more than that. You literally cannot imagine how this plays out, or how exhausting it is. Before you leave the house every morning, take out the trash, pick up the dirty clothes, wipe the bathroom, fold and put away laundry, and any other task you can do while she is still asleep, in addition to making lunch for both of you. Ideally, you do these things with the baby, so she can sleep and baby gets to know Papa. Check during the day to see if there are errands you can run at lunch. The moment you get home, you take the baby to the kitchen so she can take that shower or whatever, and you and baby make dinner.

There's an excellent chance she goes to a cafe for lunch because 10 hours of baby is a lot of time and being around grownups helps her feel like more than Mommy/ nurser. Help facilitate ways for her to get that time.

Read up a bit on emotional labor; she has a massive burden right now of emotional and physical labor, she is the default parent. This is an issue that will last for the length of your kid's childhood, the length of your marriage, and understanding emotional labor will make you a better, smarter man.
posted by theora55 at 1:46 PM on September 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

> clean whatever she says needs cleaning

Nooooo don't make her come up with a chores list. Just clean the things that need to be cleaned. (It's probably the toilet.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:50 PM on September 4, 2018 [41 favorites]

I would be extremely wary about invoking post-partum psychosis if OP's wife is perceiving low supply just because there aren't "objective" signs like the baby losing weight or showing malnourishment.

I didn't mean to imply that it was the most or even a very likely scenario, but I think even the less alarming possible explanations call for medical evaluation sooner rather than later. Mom sounds not merely (if one can even use that adjective in this situation) overwhelmed to me, but actually depressed. Being convinced she isn't producing the food the baby needs can't help with that.
posted by praemunire at 1:50 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also if you're worried she's not getting enough to eat why is salad your first option? It's like the hardest food to eat without two hands, it's low in calories & is a pain to prepare. Think things you can eat with one hand while nursing without dropping food on your baby, that can sit for a while. You want calorie & nutrient dense. If she's not making enough milk she needs more fluids. Smoothies are great if she's a health food type, make up a bunch for her in the morning put them in insulated glasses in the fridge for her to grab during the day. She can sip one while nursing. Every evening gather the glasses from around the house wash & repeat.

If she finds she wants to leave the house during the day maybe she can change the expensive meal habit for stopping for a daily coffee at a local coffee shop.
posted by wwax at 1:54 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

I didn't read everything everyone said above. I'm a mother and a grandmother with almost five decades of experience at this stuff, yeah my oldest is 48. So my advice below is some of the same advice I've given my kids, my sister, my cousins, and a lot of friends.

Your wife is working part-time so unless neither of you is making much money at all you can surely afford a part-time helper in the household who can help with the baby while your wife does her work and who can maybe make some food and do a little cleaning. Also maybe so your wife can go out and get exercise or meet a girlfriend for lunch without the baby. Both are very important.

If she is not producing enough milk the baby needs a bottle of formula or milk once or twice a day, especially at night so your wife does not have to nurse in the middle of the night. Weaning the baby is also a possibility, nursing for five months has given the baby a good start. Is the baby sleeping through the night? Is the baby gaining enough weight? Is it time to start adding food? The doctors keep changing their minds about when to give food, I don't know what they say now.

Is your wife perhaps trying too hard to get back to pre-pregnancy weight? I do hope you keep telling her that she is beautiful to you regardless of the changes in her body.

It's also a very good idea to have a babysitter one evening a week so the two of you can go out together for a meal, a movie, or just a nice long walk.

It will get easier for both of you. Be as kind and as patient as you can.
posted by mareli at 1:58 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Tons of really good advice here, reading slowly and listening, thank you.

Just in case the 'health food' part is sticking in people's craw - I was basing this all on stuff she personally wants to eat. She doesn't want anything processed or frozen or filled with sodium or etc. And now she's avoiding gluten at doctor's orders because of those lab results. I'm taking her lead in what she wants to eat, not forcing salad down her throat. If anything I'm the one used to eating whatever stuff is around and she's the one horrified at what I'm willing to eat - I was used to eating at restaurants daily and she encouraged me to eat at home regularly. On that note, she's not *happy* with going to the restaurant, by her own account, which is why I was trying to brainstorm other solutions - though I think there's probably some truth in everyone saying it must be a nice part of her day, whether she tells me that or not.

Re: me making her breakfast - during her pregnancy I was doing this every day and generally cooking most of the meals in general. I genuinely like and wish I could cook for her more! With the baby he wakes up really early and we wake up when he does, and then between the choice of 1) me making breakfast while my wife looks after the baby, or 2) me looking after the baby while my wife has some blissful shuteye before I need to get ready for work and go, she's always insisted on #2, and I don't blame her. But that leaves her fending for herself for breakfast. And I would multi-task on cooking/childcare, but with so few hours on weekdays when I spend time with the baby in his awake state, my wife believes I should be focusing 100% of my attention on him when I have him and not distract myself with other tasks, and that makes sense to me too.

My wife and I talked, and I told her the internet believes I'm not preparing meals for her and I should, and we agreed that on a nightly basis, after the baby's sleeping, I can prepare some food that she can easily eat the next day, and she would give me some ingredients/recipes of what she'd like to eat. That sounds like a doable first step. The helper also starts tomorrow, so hopefully that will be good too.
posted by naju at 2:06 PM on September 4, 2018 [54 favorites]

What Eyebrows said. Embarrassing confession time: I remember one time with my first baby when I peed my pants because the baby was screaming and I just physically could not leave him long enough to go take care of myself for two minutes. I couldn't. It felt like I was losing my mind. I just literally could not function other than to care for him. Setting him down and stepping away was the hardest, most impossible thing, and hearing him scream made me feel like I was having a panic attack. I effortlessly lost 50 pounds after my first baby was born because I wasn't eating.

What you need to do is cook your wife a high protein breakfast and bring it to her before you leave in the morning, buy her a shit ton of ICE CREAM to eat for lunch, every day leave a giant water bottle and about three ready-to-eat snacks in baggies next to where she sits during the day, and then come home and hold the baby while she eats dinner. If she seriously is not getting enough to feed the baby then she needs the most calorie dense foods that she can eat one handed. Cheese. Milk shakes. Nuts.

Meal prep and clean on the weekends if you can't find time during the week. You are in survival mode right now. It gets better but you gotta lower your standards waaaay down for the next six months or so. Ice cream.
posted by beandip at 2:08 PM on September 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

Re: your follow up. I think you can find a happy medium in the mornings. Quality time with your child can take many different formats.

For example. My partner has his own baby carrier, one that he likes and fits him. He would take our baby in the morning and make breakfast. Simple chorizo and eggs. All the while, he is cuddling our baby in the carrier and telling her what he is doing. She’s fascinated by what goes on in the kitchen.
posted by inevitability at 2:24 PM on September 4, 2018 [19 favorites]

Inevitability’s plan is a great one. Make breakfast while you physically have the baby on your body or in your arms. You may gain new information about why your wife has a tough time with it.

How often is baby waking up at night?
posted by KathrynT at 2:36 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I agree that finding a way for you to reframe "quality time" with the baby can take many formats. If baby will ride in a carrier, you can cook with him. If you're making scrambled eggs, show him the eggs and talk to him about them. Let him touch the egg. Show him the inside of the bowl and the broken eggshell after you crack it. Or, if he'll go on the play mat for you, plop him down on the kitchen floor and play peekaboo with him while you scramble the eggs.

This sort of thing will become even more plausible over the next few months as baby learns to engage more and more with the world, but you don't just have to do "baby stuff" with a baby. They love real stuff too. In a similar vein, (presuming your baby isn't barfy) you can plop a baby right into a basket of clean laundry, and tease them with the unmatched socks while you fold shirts and coo at them.

Some will like it, some won't, but the point is to experiment with different ways to involve baby in activities of daily life.
posted by telepanda at 2:47 PM on September 4, 2018 [16 favorites]

The helper will help. Another thing she might like is a family trip to e.g. Whole Foods to pick out snacks that meet her food requirements.

A lot of the stuff here is "irrational" new mom stuff, but if it continues even after you have help I would get her evaluated for post-partum anxiety. I don't think she's having post-partum psychosis (!!!) or even getting anywhere close to it, but her feeling like the baby is not getting enough to eat may be an expression of anxiety that she needs some help with. The line between normal new, first-time mom worry and serious anxiety is blurry and it's better to err on the side of help if that help is gentle and non-intrusive.

You should also consider taking some days off during the week. Having you there in the middle of the week to break up the work week and spend time with the baby (including walks etc. so she can sleep and relax) could really be helpful for her mental health.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:54 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, new moms are irrational. They just are. But it's not something embarrassing or shameful. It's a natural expression of maternal love, which can be shockingly selfless and single-minded. Women are geared towards single-mindedly and disproportionately caring for newborns, even at our own expense. That's why women gain weight during pregnancy (so the baby can eat even when Mom doesn't). And that's how most of us survived infancy; it's how the human species survived to the present day. So expect a certain level of irrationality and don't argue with her about logical stuff. Just ask her if she'd feel okay with X, Y, Z. That's what matters, as long as it's workable.

(Men are irrational in the service of reproductive success, too. This can be evinced by the number of scams that rely on men believing that hot young single women are really really excited to have NSA sex with them right now.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:59 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

At 20 months I still sometimes have to miss lunch because my Toddler screams in desperate mummy- needing every time I put him down. He also still has an amazing knack of needing a feed precisely when my food is ready.

I think new diet changes are also a huge factor. I had to cut out dairy and tomatoes and soya when my little boy was 6 months until he was 18 months and some days I just didn't have the energy and sleep to think of something I could eat. It helped when my partner did the work of reading packets and looking up recipes so I had options available that I didn't need to worry were inappropriate.
posted by kadia_a at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

The doctors keep changing their minds about when to give food, I don't know what they say now.

Now they are saying solids at 4-6 months, and that earlier is better for preventing allergies. So a high chair in the kitchen while Dad cooks and Baby experiments with, say, a piece of scrambled egg or a little toast is definitely a possibility right now-ish.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

(I worry about a carrier because burns / spills can be a risk with babies in carriers; I think a high chair set up where Baby can see you is a great option for bonding while cooking.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:05 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have an 8 month old and yeah... if it’s so easy for her to make a salad with a baby (?!) then you can cook her breakfast when you’re on baby duty in the morning and make dinner when you’re on baby duty after work. But you can’t, so you get it.

I have eaten literally hundreds of hard boiled eggs this year because that’s what was possible. I make 8-10 at once, when I’m not on baby duty. And ice cream, that’s a fantastic suggestion. Cheese and crackers, preferably pre-sliced. Yogurt and granola. Water bottles full and on all the side tables where I might nurse. We bought a soda stream because I am incredibly tired of water and at least this way I will drink it. Ideally I drink four bottles of water a day.

My partner makes me breakfast every morning, while I nurse the baby. I rarely eat again until her 1pm nap, and I know I really need to. We know. We struggle. The baby comes first.
posted by sadmadglad at 3:55 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I just weaned my second baby three months ago. I just wanted to say, if she says she doesn’t have enough milk sometimes, what this means to me is that she’s sitting down trying to nurse baby and at some point baby gets super pissed and fussy and screamy, seemingly from not getting enough milk, and when baby starts thrashing what does she do? Say welp I guess I’ll go merrily go make a salad? No. I keep switching breasts and desperately trying to moosh my raw nipples in his mouth and sometimes I cry a little myself bc what the fuck is wrong w me why is this so goddam hard and when I finally calm him down and calm myself down too am exhausted and despondent and definitely not in the mood to eat much less something that requires simple assembly. And then I dread the next nursing, dread it so hard bc I can’t handle that fucking screaming and struggle again. This cycle may be repeating itself several times a day and it is super physically and emotionally draining on top of all the “normal” nursing issues. Baby may or may not be getting enough milk (or has reflux issues maybe, or is just a gassy fussbudget?) but either way how that manifests multiple times a day is more stressful than just “she nurses.”
posted by sestaaak at 4:15 PM on September 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

And the hungrier she gets the more overwhelmed and irritable she feels.

I have been through eating disorder stuff that often led me to similar "restaurant because that's all I have spoons for" habits--I'm not saying she has an ED, just like, I don't have kids so I've never been in exactly the same spot, just a spot that made eating super, super, super hard.

A few crackers or some hard candy make a HUGE DIFFERENCE in this particular problem, of all of them, and actually go a huge distance towards my actually being able to eat real food instead of not eating anything at all. It feels stupid. It doesn't feel like it should work. Crackers were the first thing I did for this, but they aren't super portable and I do work outside the home, and it turns out that I can get similar results from starlight mints. The crackers or whatever in this context are not a replacement for the meal, they are the thing you do when you realize you've already missed the window and you need to get back to where you can eat.

Stress is a huge part of my ability to eat, more than actual body image stuff, not that I've never dealt with that. I think some people's brains are wired to eat when stressed, and others are wired that "no fuck you I need to be able to bolt I can't eat now". Helping with stress may really have a huge impact.

But seriously, the candy/crackers blood sugar kickstart thing sounds dumb and yet it works. Prior to this, if I missed roughly a half-hour window for my next meal, my day was basically shot. It's not like it's going to override other stuff about helping her avoid stress, whatever, but like... especially with a kid I can imagine that window may be narrower for her than it is for me, and if you can open up that window further then those other supportive measures will go further. It is so, so hard to fix this problem if you keep winding up in this position where you hate everything and you hate the whole idea of food and feel gross if you even consider it. Saltines work, but peppermints seem to be a particular sweet spot of being compatible with even feeling mildly nauseous.
posted by Sequence at 4:35 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of advice in this thread, and I didn't read all of it, but I didn't see something obvious brought up. Is she able to wear the baby? If you can help her get set up with some kind of.... harness? whatever they call them? and then you can help her prepare meals, that would at least free up 2 hands for her to eat with.
posted by Amy93 at 5:14 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, I did this, with a side of orthorexia, with my first baby. Including the part time job (but after a Canadian maternity leave.)

She needs sleep, food, help at home, and probably help with anxiety or at the least a mother’s group.

Here’s my 3-part plan. Take a Friday afternoon off or working from home, pretend a boiler exploded.

Friday afternoon: you trail her with food and drink, then take the baby for a long walk after a nurse.
Saturday: she stays in bed. All day. You feed her and bring her baby to nurse. If this require takeout, go for it.
Sunday: same thing until 1 pm, then resume normal. Around 3pm tell her you are a team, you want your whole family to be good long term, and that you have her back and what can you get her at the store?

This is not every weekend, it’s a “reset” weekend. But then, you make one half day every weekend like this for her.

If she’s working weekends when you’re home then this is part of the problem. Really it is THE problem that you don’t have childcare.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:39 PM on September 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

There are a lot of good answers above, but as the mother of a toddler, I have to echo a few things.

There are a lot of logistical connections that you're probably unaware of. Example: I could eat at the restaurant because the baby fell asleep as a result of walking, and the restaurant was on the ground floor, but I couldn't just walk around the block and then eat at home because I couldn't get the stroller up the porch stairs nor leave the baby unattended in the stroller. You didn't favorite this comment, but the salad-dressing-on-the-baby's-head logistic is a real one that sprung immediately to my mind when I read your question because I did so much of my eating one-handed after baby dozed off in my arms. Also, it may well not work to cook with baby in a carrier unless you have longer arms than I do (which you might).

I really can't believe you're working from home for several hours every day after putting in a full day. With all respect to you, my opinion is that that just seriously has to stop. You can't give that much time to work at this phase of your life unless you're going to get Munchery every day and pay a housecleaner and maybe also a mother's helper. I am someone who worked 10-12 hours per day throughout my 20s, but I had to learn that working full time with an infant at home means working 7.75 hours at my desk and giving 15 minutes of serious thought to some work problem on my ride home. I mean, your wife doesn't have time to eat; you don't have time to put in overtime. If you prefer to have that uninterrupted work time at night, maybe you could be gone from 9 to 5 and have those two hours at night count toward your 40 hours per week.

I also really want to comment on the value of "how can I help?" and "what can I do?" and "I'm running to the grocery, want anything?" They might all feel passive compared to brainstorming, but what they're really doing is making yourself an ally to her in helping solve this problem in any way possible. She's the expert who knows how all the pieces fit together. My husband asks these questions, and at first, I didn't really appreciate them or reacted like "gah! I don't know!" But the quiet steadiness in "how can I help" and then generally doing that thing (with some exceptions when he's honest that he can't do that particular thing) has really come to mean a lot to me.
posted by slidell at 5:56 PM on September 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

I read most of the answers and didn't see this so I just wanted to add, the work that you bring home - is it mission critical or overachieving to help position you for a promotion? If the latter, back off enough to get another hour to help with the massive project that is newborn. If the former, are you managing time well at work? Do you need to delegate? If your wife is working part-time that tells me she is at least possibly interested in maintaining a career so support should go to both careers also, even if that means you need to pull back to support her more with your time outside your normal expected working hours. If you have that much work to do at home, unless you're a professor there's something wrong, and if you are a professor you can probably delegate more, or put publishing on the back burner, or similar, until you're out of the weeds.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:22 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

For those suggesting cutting back at work: I think from posting history that OP is an attorney, which means being out of the house 8 am to 6 pm plus putting a few hours in at night is probably going to be expected in most decently-paying full-time positions in what I believe is his region — and may in fact reflect an accommodation for him as a new parent. OP, if I’m right on this: in my attorney-parent experience, the way others are making this work, to the extent they are, is through WAY more outsourcing household and child-care help than you are describing, and I gather you’re getting to that realization. And as a now-largely-remote worker, I’ll add: every hour of outside work your wife is putting in with a 5-month-old at home has been a miracle of her own creation that appears to have come at no small cost to her well-being, and should not be expected or counted on. If she desires to continue working from home, ultimately all of those hours are going to require her to have child care coverage by the time the kid becomes mobile, unless she has some oddball dream job requiring only intermittent attention that I can’t envision after a lot of pondering.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 6:48 PM on September 4, 2018 [18 favorites]

Lots of great answers already and the question was not about breastfeeding versus formula feeding, but I have to say, the feeling of being an overwhelmed mom went waaay down for me after I gave up breastfeeding. It was never easy for me and it made me too anxious, worried and tired. Even feeding myself correctly enough to “make good milk” felt like a chore. Just in case anyone needs permission to consider formula......
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:21 PM on September 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've never had to deal with caring for a baby, but I've had a lot of experience dealing with an eating disorder, and also just general executive function issues that make eating a challenge. Having ready access to meal replacement shakes has been a huge help for me. is your wife willing to drink them? Maybe keep some around for those days when managing other food is just too hard. I'm personally a fan of the Boost Plus chocolate flavor, both from a taste perspective and because it gives a better calorie/nutrient ratio per shake than some other variants. It's not a complete solution to the problem, but if she can tolerate the taste, they are convenient and shelf stable, ready made, relatively healthy in the scheme of things, and I can down one in 5 seconds, so it's quick too.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lots of great advice above. A few more ideas you guys maybe haven’t thought of:

* You can hire a night nurse/postpartum doula to come do all the night wake ups (if the baby will take a bottle/mom pumps), or even to bring the baby to mom to nurse so she doesn’t have to get out of bed/change diapers, etc. They tend to be pricey but a good nights’ sleep here and there, even twice a month or so, can be so helpful with mood and stress and everything. Plus the doula/night nurse should do chores between wakeups, so you get up to clean folded laundry and prepped meals in the fridge or whatever you guys agree on.

* With the helper, you may find it more useful for them to come over, say, two hours a day every weekday than five hours each twice a week. That means your SO gets to shower/go to the bathroom/eat a meal every day instead of doing those things twice a week and then using the rest of the time to work or whatever.

* Your SO’s restricted diet makes everything harder - it’s not just a matter of cramming food in her face, but reading all the labels, etc. etc. Someone suggested above a family trip to Whole Foods to pick out snacks, and that’s awesome. Depending on how much brainpower she has that day, either you or she or both can read labels while the baby is in the stroller and hopefully mesmerized by all the cool things on the shelves. Get two or three of everything that fits her diet and is remotely appealing. Then after she eats a few and decides which ones she likes, order in bulk from Amazon. It is GREAT to have an endless supply of, say, Luna Bars if you already know they’re tasty (or good enough) AND that they meet her dietary restrictions without having to read labels. Look for Epic Bars or similar for high-end meat snack bars, plus a million types of granola bars, etc. Mini chocolate almond milks, adult fruit snacks, veggie chips - whatever she wants.

* Do you guys have friends with kids, especially other stay at home/work from home moms? Reach out to them, tell them she’s having a rough time, and ask them to contact her to set up a play date/coffee/whatever. Just going for a walk with another mom, both kiddos in strollers, and getting to talk can be SO so nice.

* Yeah, slack off at work as much as possible. Take days off, wfh, take sick days - whatever you can do for the next few months. Even if you’re working from home - and not available for most of the day because you’re working, which is legit - you can make her lunch when you make yours, you can hold the baby for five minutes when you take a coffee break so she can pee, and all the time you would have spent commuting you can take the baby or cook or whatever. Similarly if any of the grandparents or your siblings or family friends are able to come over for a few hours now and then, even if they’re wf(your)h, just being able to say “Can you watch the baby for five minutes while I pee” is SO helpful.

Hang in there. This baby stuff is so hard! Good luck to you guys.
posted by bananacabana at 8:03 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is eating the real issue? If she were writing this, would it be about eating?
posted by slidell at 8:41 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Home with my first I pretty much lived on those yogurt tubes they make for kids (most popular brand is gogurt). One of the lowest points of my maternity leave was when my daughter was asleep on me in the carrier and I sneaked over to the kitchen and got out a yogurt tube and opened it all stealthily and then somehow managed to squish it too hard and, oh god, WAKE HER UP AND WE'RE BOTH COVERED IN CHERRY YOGURT AND BOTH SO ANGRY

But seriously homes I ate several a day. I kept them in the fridge door and just sucked one down whenever I had a free hand. No thinking, no prep, no nothing. Just water, sugar, protein, and calcium in a handy package a toddler can operate. Siggi's brand is relatively low sugar if you can get them near you.
posted by potrzebie at 10:47 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

My small children are challenging at the moment and meal prep and shopping for food pretty much sucks and makes a mess I have to then clean up- which is hard. Plus I don’t enjoy the food I make myself much. I also felt a bit crazy with a baby at home and going out to eat sounds nice and you can talk with your waiter too- so not lonely.

So my solution: I buy in bulk from a meal delivery service that has tasty food, like fish and sauce on potato’s and lovely soups... they taste very close to restaurant quality and I can choose out of the freezer like I would a menu.

Maybe your country has something similar?
posted by catspajammies at 2:19 AM on September 5, 2018

Talking about work situations a bit, because people are asking about that and it's a crucial factor:

I think from posting history that OP is an attorney, which means being out of the house 8 am to 6 pm plus putting a few hours in at night is probably going to be expected in most decently-paying full-time positions in what I believe is his region — and may in fact reflect an accommodation for him as a new parent.

Yep, that's true. I'm at the upper levels of efficiency for getting shit done from 9-5 and that cares of most stuff, but this is a brand new job I have and there's a lot of extra time simply getting up to speed on a lot of complicated stuff. Prior to this, I intentionally chose a job with low hours/demand and lower pay, but we live in the Bay Area (astronomical rents, high costs for childcare), her salary wasn't much, and our combined salary wasn't enough to pay rent, pay student and car loans, hire help, AND save up for eventual daily daycare/nanny and emergencies etc. We have dreams of being homeowners in 5-10 years but with my previous job that was unthinkable. It's crazy that with an attorney's salary we were struggling to live paycheck to paycheck and maxing out credit, but there it was. So I took the offer of New Job, which comes with dramatically increased salary, but also dramatically increased hours and responsibilities. For these first two months, I work at the office, but after this I can work from home 3-4 days a week. I realize that's a trap, though - working from home doesn't mean I get to spend those hours taking care of the baby, which would get me fired very quickly. But my proximity to home would mean that I'm "around" but not helping, which I can see would be frustrating for my wife. So that's a bridge we'll have to cross.

With the higher salary we're relieved that we can start hiring a helper to cook and clean here and there. Personally, I like the idea of hiring help for childcare, but my wife feels very strongly that the baby should spend almost all of his time with her or me during the critical first months, and she's not willing to compromise on that really. She will explore going back to full-time at her job in half a year or so, and then full time help or daycare will be critical, but he'll be old enough then that she won't feel it's crucial that baby is always with parents.

She's a relatively new immigrant to the US, and she's from a European country where every mother gets paid leave for a year. She's horrified at how things work here, and frankly it IS horrifying. She admits that most of her frustration isn't with me so much as it is with how we feel forced to live.
posted by naju at 3:02 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I mean, proof positive - it's 3am and I'm up all night catching up on work while the baby and mother sleep.
posted by naju at 3:04 AM on September 5, 2018

Personally, I like the idea of hiring help for childcare, but my wife feels very strongly that the baby should spend almost all of his time with her or me during the critical first months, and she's not willing to compromise on that really.

This echoes for me again too. I won’t comment on the choice except to say that where this led for me was when my child was 3 I got very, very sick - like cannot get up a flight of stairs sick. My anxiety about doing parenting (and work) 100% right led to a level of burnout and illness that was so not good. My judgement got increasingly impaired because of the lack of sleep mainly, but self-care, and it was so bad. I stand by my sleep first recommendation but you both need more people (friends, family, soon to be beloved knowledgeable part-time nanny, whatever) on Team You. But yes she will have to agree.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:37 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also you need sleep too!
posted by warriorqueen at 3:41 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of advice in this thread, and I didn't read all of it, but I didn't see something obvious brought up. Is she able to wear the baby?

She has a baby wrap she uses daily for walks. I find it complicated and fussy to put on, but we also have a carrier that's easy for me to use. The baby is super comfortable in the wrap, she uses it sometimes when she has to do other stuff, etc., but it's probably enough to have him in there for a couple hours a day for walks at maximum - I'm not sure either of us want to get in the habit of keeping him in there so we can multi-task all the time.

(Or maybe that's fine? I'm open to suggestions)
posted by naju at 4:02 AM on September 5, 2018

I'm reminded of this picture of Pink cooking while wearing her baby that drew attention and controversy - I have no strong opinion on it really other than "she's making things work however she can, good for her!" and a more muted "isn't front-facing discouraged"
posted by naju at 4:20 AM on September 5, 2018

Your wife might benefit from a baby group.

When I was at home with my then-baby, between pumping, feeding, getting him down for naps, and all the other chores of being alive, I felt more than a little isolated and overwhelmed.

1x/week a few women with babies the same age would come over, or I would go over to one of their houses. It helped with my sanity, tremendously.

The moms were of all backgrounds, but we all had something MAJOR in common. And some of them had older kids and hence were a great source of advice. It was fun to put the babies on a big blanket and see how they made friends with each other.

(if you google baby groups or baby meetups in your area, I bet you will find some.)
posted by 41swans at 4:35 AM on September 5, 2018

This level of perfectionism about whether the baby is facing the right way, et cetera, is exactly what I’m talking about. I wish I lived closer so I could come over and help with warmth. You and your wife are trying to optimize every minute of this baby’s experience, at the expense of her health and probably yours. Meanwhile, the baby is a flexible, resilient primate who is surrounded by love and care and going to be fine. And would be fine napping in a nanny’s arms.

But I get it, I did this too and the gut wrenching anxiety plus an “I’m tough enough” attitude was not penetrable at that time due in part to sleep deprivation.

I used an Ergo, facing in, constantly with both my kids (later on with my oldest as I had to discover it) and they are healthy active 13 + 8 year olds now. It was fine. They let me know when they needed out. I eventually learned that imperfect parenting is not just inevitable but necessary because my kids deserve the chance to, in an age-appropriate way and with the base of their connected and caring parents, learn to exercise their capacity to be flexible. So, now my 7 year old “has to” go to rock climbing while his dad and I work out, because we need to be healthy. When my oldest was 2, I had to go back to work and he went to a Montessori and learned that “strangers” would also care for him (not parent) and now he asks for help in school when he needs it. Backing up further, when my youngest was 6 weeks old my dad had an aneurysm and he spent a lot of time in his babyhood shlepping my dad to rehab and being in a car seat way more than I wanted. It’s all okay.

Your wife’s back brain doesn’t know that yet and she’s on a kind of low grade panic mode. A mom’s group might help, time will definitely help. Don’t berate her but try to help yourselves feel loved and competent and compassionate towards yourselves. Maybe start with more baby wearing or more help. Ease up if you can.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:40 AM on September 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

She's way more the perfectionist, definitely, and those enforced high standards are coming from her, but I don't know how to square that circle. Most suggestions that I give along the lines of "hey, this is probably fine, the baby's going to be fine" aren't taken well, and have I even done the research and read the literature and talked to people who've been there? Because she's done a bunch of that and I've done much less, so my take is usually dead in the water.
posted by naju at 4:54 AM on September 5, 2018

And, like, "hey, maybe we should ease up on XYZ" as a suggestion from me to her also comes across as telling her how she should be a mother, so it's the flipside of the OP problem of 'hey, please make sure to eat' that was also me telling her how she should be a mother. In general a major takeaway I'm reading from the thread has been that I should be way less about telling her how she should do things.
posted by naju at 5:05 AM on September 5, 2018

Smoothies sound like they would be a really easy option to quickly prepare and consume. They can be pre-made and put in the fridge for her, don't require fancy recipes and produce no dishes beyond shaker bottles and a blender. Just throw together almond milk, frozen fruit, some veggies (frozen spinach is great for this, and it's got iron), and preferably protein powder. Most types are whey, but I find casein tends to be the most filling. If she doesn't like the dairy there's also soy, pea, egg, and hemp. And there are so many reviews of brands and flavors out there that she's sure to find something she likes. If she's worried about quality then Labdoor has you covered. You can even buy vitamin mix-ins so she wouldn't have to remember to take vitamins (though Labdoor has vitamin reviews as well!).

For example, almond mix, frozen spinach, vanilla protein powder, frozen mixed berries, the vitamin mix-in, and she's got a great, complete meal.

Or if you want to go even easier and it's not considered too processed there's Soylent, which also has a powder form. I know, I know, it's associated with techbros but don't knock it to you try it. There are other meal-replacement powders and shakes too. She could use it to fully replace meals or as a supplement. It also wouldn't require either of you to make noise with a blender because you can drink the bottles or just use a shaker. Though you can get noise covers for blenders and some come with one!

There's even DIY recipes--though they can be a pain to prepare and most are in the "I'm eating this because it works but not enjoying it" category.
posted by schroedinger at 5:17 AM on September 5, 2018

"but my wife feels very strongly that the baby should spend almost all of his time with her or me during the critical first months, and she's not willing to compromise on that really."

If she's not willing to accept help, you're not going to be able to help her. Lots of good advice here about how to support her, but if she's determined to keep herself in a miserable situation and won't hear solutions, I'm not sure how much you can do. That must be very frustrating for you, I'm so sorry!

Is her mom available to come (from afar) for a period of time to help? Probably miserable for you to have MIL around, but maybe that would be a helper she could trust, and bonus points if her mom could cook food from her childhood/home country that would make her want to eat!!
posted by mccxxiii at 5:42 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not sure if I can add anything, but I have a friend like this from my mother's group who lost a serious amount of weight and really destroyed her health during her first year of parenthood. We met up a lot and talked and I think a big thing about it was that she really thought she should (and should be able to) do EVERYTHING herself. She wouldn't take any help from her husband, wouldn't bottle feed so he could do nights, would hardly let him hold him.

This doesn't sound quite like your wife, but it does sound similar. My friend is a perfectionist, and also had her own family issues, and also had read way too much about attachment parenting and completely misunderstood what that meant. She did get some counsellng, but this has continued even as her kid has gotten much, much older.

So I'll disagree a bit with people saying this just is how it is when you have a baby. Maybe it is for her, but it's not for everyone. I think it's fine to let a baby sit on a playmat, even if crying a bit, while you get some crackers or heat up a ready meal. I also think it sounds great to eat at an expensive restaurant and that is a good way to spend money -- when I got stressed out about having a baby, spending money on nice things actually worked in a way it has never worked for me before or since.

Good luck! But I think this is something that you guys should explore deeper, because I wouldn't assume that this will go away just when the baby gets older; it might be about underlying fears/anxieties/ideas. And if she won't let you help now, it won't come naturally or easily to either of you later.
posted by heavenknows at 6:01 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

A mother's helper every day for two hours, who can hold the baby for a bit, or make some lunch for your wife or do some cleaning, still maintains the setup where your baby has parents as its primary caretakers, but your wife gets a daily break to do things she needs or wants to do.

Your wife isn't telling you she's hungry. She's actually telling you she's completely overwhelmed. Telling her "YOU should do this thing differently" is clearly not okay for her to hear, because she can't even anymore. What can *you* do differently? What can *you* change about the entire situation that will give her a little more freedom?

If she's not from here, but she can work from home, can she go back home for a month or two to get family help with everything until the baby's a bit older and she's closer to returning to work full time?

It takes a village, even in countries with more civilized parental leave laws. If you can't get regular, reliable help from friends or family, then hire that help if you have the means.
posted by olinerd at 6:09 AM on September 5, 2018

(sorry if this is veering into threadsitting!)

It's somewhat complicated, from my perspective... her mindset starts to make more sense once you realize that from her perspective - and this has been borne out by our experiences spending time around her friends and family overseas - the absolute baseline level of parental involvement, childcare, resources, and knowledge of best practices that is just expected and taken as a given in her country is higher than even upper-middle class standards of the same within the US. It's a bit like she's coming from a world where top-notch Swedish/Danish/etc. childcare that people often talk about in glowing terms is just obvious and necessary to her. It's just that she has those expectations while living in a country where the work culture and lack of parent-friendly legislation don't really allow for that to be done easily, and she's cut off from the family and community that ordinarily would have shouldered that burden. So it's not that she's a perfectionist, so much as she's trying to do what she was always taught was necessary and non-negotiable and she finds herself on 'hard mode' to achieve it. Her answer so far is not to lower her childcare standards or ease up, but to try to keep that baseline and adjust our lives to make it work. I'm happy to work on that project with her, but being overextended is going to be a hurdle, to say the least, and it appears that she'll bear the brunt of it regardless of my best intentions and willingness to put in the work.

We've been working on plans to have someone from her family come and live with us for an extended period of time. We're also working on the possibility of her spending a month or two with her family to help them shoulder the burden, with me visiting as often as possible. My family is unhelpful to the point of being toxic, so they're off the table even though they've offered. Hiring full-time childcare help in the Bay Area is a major project of its own, too, and most people are on wait lists indefinitely for that help, so it's not a small piece of the puzzle to consider to even hire someone. We weren't in a financial position to hire someone until this new job started, so we're not even at the wait list stage yet.
posted by naju at 6:30 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

(Or maybe that's fine? I'm open to suggestions)

Yes, it's fine. There are cultures where babies are kept wrapped all day and parenting philosophies (google "continuum concept") that have cribbed this belief. Also your baby is old enough to start keeping on a blanket on the floor with some toys for short stretches of time while not wrapped. This will be the golden period when you can get a few things done in your kitchen without worrying about baby moving. Ask me how I know.

I'm sensing a tension in your situation between what your wife feels is ideal and what is actually possible, given your situation. And also a push toward parenting perfectionism for both of you--for example, your concerns about Pink's baby in an outward facing carrier (it's fine, it's an Ergo 360 that is specifically designed for outward facing and won't harm her baby at all).

I know what this is like, and know, too, what it's like to be put in an impossible position as a new mother--I thought I'd be able to work from home with an infant, couldn't, and ended up an accidental stay at home mom in my child's first year of life. It really sucked, though I rolled with it at the time because I'd swallowed attachment parenting propaganda about how it was best for my kid, anyway. I didn't realize how bad it was until I had a hormonal crash during my child's toddlerhood.

The best parenting advice I got while pregnant--and didn't follow--was "raise your first child like your second child." I think with regret how much easier my life would have been if we'd had more regular babysitting, ditched cloth diapers, given my child an occasional bottle, used that Rock n Play sooner. But a lot of those choices came out of anxiety for me and you can't really argue with anxiety, as you're seeing. Still, I wish I could assure your wife that someday, her child will be a healthy, normal preschooler who occasionally eats fruit snacks and loves some stupid kid's television has maybe broken a bone or two in the course of normal play and it will be completely fine. Hard to have that perspective when you're in it, though.

You're not in a situation--a society--that truly supports breastfeeding parents, with big networks of experienced parents, lots of other peer nursing parents around, ample leave, etc. We're just not. Your wife is not going to be able to create that situation wholecloth and so what this pressure to be the perfectly attached, organic-only, stay at home mother is going to do is to deplete your family in terms of health and emotional resources.

I say this as someone who just weaned her daughter at nearly 5, who exclusively breastfed, never pumped . . . your wife needs not only normal nutrition but needs an extra five hundred calories a day. Of course she's cranky and exhausted and your child is cranky and exhausted. They are not eating enough. Breastfeeding failure in any form puts your wife at high risk of PPD and PPA and she sounds socially isolated on top of that. I hope the help at home will truly help. I think you should throw more money on the problem, and if that's not in the form of childcare, it can be in the form of food delivery, precooked meals, a gift card to that restaurant she likes.

I also think you need to research and find a breastfeeding support/new mom's group near you. Take a few minutes out of your work day, find something, pay for it in advance if it's not free. Your wife needs the support of other parents who are going through it. Seriously, social support makes a HUGE difference to the wellbeing of a new parent.

Finally, I really do think that your wife could probably use an evaluation for postpartum anxiety. That's not to say that her anxiety is abnormal given her situation but it sounds like you guys are suffering right now, and she doesn't need to suffer.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:41 AM on September 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry you're having a hard time. It seems like you've made some economic choices that you're just now seeing are untenable for the near future, if you want to have any semblance of a good home life. I would strongly encourage you to consider making a big change, like having a family member come to your house, or her going abroad for a few months. And then, finding a different job and moving out of the Bay Area. You don't HAVE to live there.

As for your wife - I'm not sure you've answered the question about why she's working part-time, and I gather without childcare? That is a pretty untenable situation, even if everything else were going well. She's NOT going to be able to cope well if she keeps on doing that.

I also think your explanation about her perfectionism lacks a bit of insight. I'm not sure where she's from, but there's no culture where grinding the mother into the ground is acceptable (except the US). If your wife won't accept any help from a babysitter, then she's not acting rationally, and may need psychological support.
posted by yarly at 6:41 AM on September 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

You can find someone to do a few hours a day, even in the Bay Area. They may not have a Master's in early childhood education or be a certified EMT, but you can find someone. I had to hire a temporary nanny for six weeks when I moved to the Bay Area a couple of years ago, and I found someone wonderful who had previous babysitting and nanny experience, and she did a fabulous reliable job. You don't need to get into a waitlisted daycare to ease the pressure *right now*. Just find someone reliable for a couple of hours a day who can change diapers, play peek-a-boo, and do some cleaning.
posted by olinerd at 6:42 AM on September 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I struggled to eat enough with baby #4 and I lost a whole lot of weight. My husband did the cooking, but I lacked the time and energy to ever sit down for a full meal. Just chewing was sometimes too much effort. Both Boost and Ensure make weight gain formula shakes that got me past the hump. Plenty of calories and protein, quick and easy to get down, no prep, and no decision making required. I could just grab one for breakfast every day and drink it while I nursed. Eventually I stopped losing weight and got a better handle on everything so I could go back to a normal diet, but for a few months those shakes were a game changer.
posted by Dojie at 7:11 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Look to be honest I kind of feel like you *both* need some Bay-area parent friends. Do you have any? Having lived there for a bit myself with a kid, I totally get how there simply aren't that many around - most people with good sense get the fuck out of there because it is so hard and expensive to raise kids there and the high-paying 100 hr/week jobs aren't compatible with having a happy family life; hello from the greater Boston area where our lives are much easier - but you both need to find parent friends, for real. The idea that the only childcare is expensive full-time waitlisted daycares is simply not true. Other parents who *are* still in the Bay Area have found a lot of ways to make things work, and it's worth meeting them and learning from them - they might even be able to give referrals or recommendations! There are lots of workaholics out there, there are lots of type-A parents out there who want to do all the organic attachment non-GMO whatever style of parenting, and have figured out what is and isn't actually tenable given the way life actually is out there. You aren't the first or only people to face a scenario like this. So can you join parent groups? Mother's groups are a huge thing; there's a Golden Gate Mother's Group in particular that a friend of mine who similarly felt like she didn't have many parent friends joined. My husband, who was SAH while we were there, joined the SF Dad's Group, though their activity had dwindled a bit during the time we were there; not sure what the deal is now. Are there play meetups at local playgrounds? Are there breastfeeding support groups? Just go meet some other parents and get some sanity checks on the things you feel are unchangeable; on top of that, you (and more importantly, your wife) will get some adult conversation time.
posted by olinerd at 7:15 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

And, like, "hey, maybe we should ease up on XYZ" as a suggestion from me to her also comes across as telling her how she should be a mother, so it's the flipside of the OP problem of 'hey, please make sure to eat' that was also me telling her how she should be a mother. In general a major takeaway I'm reading from the thread has been that I should be way less about telling her how she should do things.

Yes and no. You are also the parent of this child. It's not like she's the parent and you're the roommate, or the occasional cuddler. You are this kid's parent, and your input, actions, and opinions are valuable. So if you feel strongly about how something should be done in order for your family to survive and eventually flourish, that's valid. It's not an either/or situation where any dissenting opinion from you equals criticism of her.
posted by witchen at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

It seems like we've come a long way in this thread from "how can my SO eat more while she's taking care of the baby" to "It seems like you've made some economic choices that you're just now seeing are untenable for the near future, if you want to have any semblance of a good home life. I would strongly encourage you to consider making a big change, including... finding a different job and moving out of the Bay Area."

Trying to rope this all in and make sense of it. To be clear, I'm not quite at the stage of realizing I've made horrible mistakes and can't survive this way and everything about our lives needs to change. And overall, we don't seem to be making out so bad. We're blessed that he sleeps well throughout the night and is a mellow, sweet, fun baby who only cries when he has good reason to. My job is tough now because it's new but it won't always require so much work - the goal is 40-50 hours once I get acclimated, which is plenty reasonable for my profession. The helper is coming today and will be here twice a week. I'm working on and improving on a lot of fronts in making life better for my SO. She seems happier than I've let on, all things considered. She's somewhat bemused by the reaction I've shared from all of you, and I don't get the sense she's in deep trouble. We'll get by OK, I think. We're new parents, not stuck deep in a hole we can't get out of.
posted by naju at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

Came on to say get sitters, but now I see you've already done that on preview. Just want to echo:
Get secure high chair and put baby in high chair. Figure out what things will entertain baby in high chair (Lamaze toys, pots and pans, spoon, Cheerios, etc.). This will buy you a lot of time, relatively speaking.
posted by luckdragon at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Or maybe that's fine? I'm open to suggestions)

Yes it is fine, both the sling and the multitasking.

You mention in your original question that other stay-at-home mothers manage to eat and take care of babies so there must be some way to do it. Well there is, but the way most of us do that is by being flexible, and you (collectively as a couple) don’t seem prepared to decide to flex on anything. That’s where it’s not sustainable. You can’t keep both “it is important that every meal is healthy and freshly-prepared” and also “it is important that time with the baby is 100% focused on the baby, no multitasking” and also also “it is important that all baby care is done by a parent” without flexing on at least one of them and usually more.

I also want to emphasise that this would be impossible for anyone, including us Europeans. I cannot speak for your wife’s immediate family but I can say with confidence that nobody anywhere can do baby care while simultaneously getting other tasks done and also not multitasking. None of my parent friends - British, Irish, Norwegian, Polish, French - are doing this or expecting to be able to do this. But many of us have had to deal with our unrealistic plans and ideals for parenting meeting the harsh reality of an actual baby, and feeling bad about not meeting our own unattainable parenting standards, and that in itself can be a hugely stressful thing. You (as a couple) urgently need to work out where you are prepared to flex on this because otherwise she is going to snap.
posted by Catseye at 9:27 AM on September 5, 2018 [15 favorites]

Personally, I like the idea of hiring help for childcare, but my wife feels very strongly that the baby should spend almost all of his time with her or me during the critical first months, and she's not willing to compromise on that really.

If you meet the right person, it will feel like "family" or like someone she trusts. Gently ask her if it would be just like having a cousin or auntie watching the child. I'm (kinda) from a similarly family-centric culture, and in that case, childcare is split among family and trusted friends, not just parents. So maybe gently encouraging that mindset (or even interviewing people to see if there's someone who feels "like" family and who she might be okay turning over more childcare to, even while she's in the apt) might be helpful.

I'm not sure either of us want to get in the habit of keeping him in there so we can multi-task all the time.

Babies are great communicators! They grow and develop a lot at this age just by being safe and snoozling around. If they are bored or restless, they will let you know.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:24 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Her spending time with her family seems like a fantastic idea, actually. It's common for women to feel much better about parenting and have better mental health when they are with "their" people instead of isolated or just with the baby's father.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:25 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have a good plan and a lot of things in flux right now. I would concentrate on the answers about how this exact stage is temporary, and maybe things will have to adjust over all as time goes on, but she won't be breastfeeding forever and you won't be new jobbing forever and little Naju will continue to grow and be loved and will present all new challenges and rewards 1,3,6 months from now and continuing on into adulthood. This is not the time for more huge changes unless things get worse. Hopefully the helper is good, hopefully you guys work out better eating situations, hopefully the new job is going well. If any of that isn't working, then look at it and readjust. I think your previous instinct in the thread is a good one - tell her less how to do things and figure out how to help more, either by just doing it or by asking "how can I help" instead of "but we have yogurt and almonds!" (please know I fully understand the second part because that's my nature as well, I just think you've gotten some good advice in the thread about how that might be coming across). Good luck to you and yours.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds like there are a lot of good suggestions here on helping your wife eat. However, in addition to those, I just want to suggest that you change your interaction style when these problems come up. It sounds like she is trying to tell you about her struggles and challenges and hard work during the day, and, although it isn't your intention, you respond by minimizing them away.

I suggest that instead of just responding to the content by e.g. preparing food for her, you also respond to the subtext. Try actually listening to her. When she tell you she hadn't had time to eat that day, be sympathetic instead of attacking her with a solution. Acknowledge that she worked hard during the day, that it must be difficult/exhausting/etc, that she is doing a good job and you appreciate her hard work. Ask about the restaurant she went to, if she liked it, if she met any interesting people there. Be interested in her experience, good or bad, instead of trying to "fix" it and alienating her more. Listen, affirm and empathise. Your wife is not stupid; she knows about hummus and boiled eggs. People need to be allowed to have problems and talk about them freely.
posted by windykites at 11:01 AM on September 5, 2018 [18 favorites]

Unfortunately as someone without the capacity to do it, I don't think you will ever truly understand how physically exhausting breastfeeding an infant is. My advice to you is basically let her eat at the restaraunt and then order out 3 more times a day if she has to. Easy prep salad isn't going to cut it right now. Breastfeeding makes you a bottomless food pit.

I am a petite person, I was about 115 lbs before pregnancy. I breastfed for a year. I worked out of the house full time and i would eat breakfast before going to work, 2 lunches that were dinner size meals at work (from a hospital cafeteria buffet), and then another big dinner when i got home, that my dude cooked. I ate more than i ever ate in my life and I was still dropping weight quickly and felt like i was starving. When i didnt eat, milk was less and if i fed myself like a 500 lbs man, milk was plentiful.

Provide your wife with big huge stick to your ribs meals. This may be something you need to adjust your budget to accomodate, but if you want to stick with breastfeeding i would do it. She might need double or more her normal food intake.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Condolence gift after a sudden passing   |   Looking for an online only English Literature... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.