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Breastfeeding During A Pandemic: Making it Work (From Home)

Amanda with her babyAmanda Sweet, Cincinnati, Ohio

Like many people in early spring of 2020, my spouse and I found ourselves unexpectedly working from home during stay-at-home orders and school cancellations. And like many parents, we found ourselves having to balance working from home with caring for our three children. For many weeks, our only contact with the outside world was our regular babysitter, who graciously watched all three kids, even though normally she would only care for our toddler. But our sitter was not always available, and a medical emergency left us without her help for several weeks. Pre-pandemic, I would have had help from family, friends, and neighbors. In 2020, however, these backups were not possible.

My husband shared responsibilities, but he had less flexibility during the workday and worked more hours, so the bulk of childcare fell to me. I made a lot of compromises to my normal parenting convictions: screen time limits, home-cooked meals, clean laundry, tidy kitchen, etc. I had to learn to let it go and use shortcuts to juggle it all.

All this happened as I navigated my fourth pregnancy during an unprecedented pandemic filled with fear and uncertainty. Pre-pandemic, my workday normally “filled my cup” with lots of social interaction with my beloved coworkers and clients. But my love for my job waned as these fulfilling parts of my job were replaced with technology struggles and isolation. Between my anxiety surrounding my pregnancy and loneliness from feeling “trapped” at home, I struggled quite a bit with my mental health. I’m not ashamed to say I utilized telehealth appointments with a therapist during my pregnancy.

Still, in spite of everything, we settled into a routine and managed to function, survive, and occasionally thrive! My kids were healthy, happy, and fed. And I managed to get my work done each day, one way or another.

In August, our routine came to a halt with the birth of our beautiful, perfect fourth baby. Her birth was the most healing, empowering experience I could have asked for. All my fear and anxiety subsided as we welcomed her and brought her home. But my flexibility, patience, and multitasking would be tested in the coming weeks as my older daughters started virtual school and I “returned” to work with my toddler and tiny breastfed baby needing lots of care and attention.

I always kept the baby with me, and my oldest daughters were truly amazing as they independently navigated a new, virtual way of learning. But the toddler needed lots of attention and supervision, so I continued to employ our babysitter whenever possible. But many days, she was not available. So I muddled through Zoom meetings and phone calls and one-handed typing of emails with a toddler climbing on me and a baby at my breast. I relied heavily on my baby carrier to keep my nursling close and content while typing away. I would try to time my calls and zoom meetings for the afternoon, when my toddler would take a nap, and the mornings were spent on the work that could be interrupted by my toddler’s needs. Some days I would start work early and end work late to make up for the hundreds of little interruptions during the day.

Breastfeeding has been a major help with working from home. All the usual conveniences I love about breastfeeding (no prep, no clean up, quick and easy way to quiet a fussy baby) became extra important working from home. And the most amazing benefit of working from home with my baby nearby- NO PUMPING! Many parents will probably understand the love/hate relationship with the pump when you have to be separated from the baby. Having to take pump breaks, wash pump parts, pump enough milk, balance breast and bottle, etc, all were challenges I’ve had to deal with during my breastfeeding journeys with my three older children. Not having to pump during the day has been a game changer! Now the only “issue” we have is that she doesn’t really care for a bottle- but we are together almost all the time anyway, so it hasn’t impacted us in any way.

There were times when I had to nurse during Zoom meetings and phone calls- it wasn’t quite as difficult as I thought it might be. Tilting the webcam up a bit is all I needed to do to avoid exposing myself on camera.  I have relied on some gear to help make my workspace comfortable: pillows, footstool, and baby carriers have all helped me with positioning my baby to latch and nurse while I work.

Another thing that helped was taking a maternity leave. It was tempting to go back early since my work was just a laptop away, but I decided to take as long of a maternity leave as possible so I could really focus on my baby and get the hang of nursing. Working from home was such a juggling act, and I needed a little time with one less ball in the air as my baby and I learned how to breastfeed.

When all this first started, I thought for sure it would be over in a few weeks. The weeks turned into months and soon the months will have turned into a full year. Many workplaces have learned the benefits of a work-from-home option for their employees: more productivity, lower cost of overhead for office spaces, less sick time used, etc. Increased amounts of working from home may be here to stay even after the pandemic, and that can be good news or bad news depending on how you look at it. When it comes to breastfeeding and parenting, working from home has had plenty of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, I look at my family and I’m overcome with gratitude that we are all able to stay safe and healthy. The flexibility of working from home has also allowed me to have a breastfeeding experience unlike the others – one where I can keep my baby close at all times.

So, to all my fellow parents who work from home while breastfeeding and/or care for kids of all ages: You can do this! Enjoy your baby. It’s okay if you miss the office sometimes, or even go back part or full time! You can adapt and still provide milk and a loving nursing relationship, even if you have to pump at home or at the office. Do your best and it’s okay if you make mistakes or feel overwhelmed. If things get tough, take it day by day, hour by hour. Try to make time for a virtual La Leche League meeting to connect with other nursing parents who may be going through the same things you are. You are doing your best and your baby is so lucky to have you!

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