With many people still working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents have been forced to juggle caring for their children while working, which can get tricky when regular video calls are involved -- especially for new moms who are establishing and/or trying to maintain a nursing schedule.
Working remotely has made it easier for new moms to breastfeed, and as a result, recent studies have shown that approximately 40 percent of women indicate an increased commitment to providing breast milk to their babies and 25 percent are breastfeeding or pumping more now than before the pandemic.
While this can be great for both mom and baby, some moms may be experiencing insecurity about support from their employer and coworkers -- especially after reading stories of male employees complaining about coworkers breastfeeding on Zoom calls. There remains uncertainty about the “boundaries” when working from the comfort of your own home where you can nurse anytime, anywhere. Here are some tips to help navigate breastfeeding while working from home:
Know your rights as a working mother
Long before the pandemic hit, nursing mothers were protected by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law included under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This requires employers to provide reasonable break time for mothers to express breast milk for their newborn up to one year after birth. The second part of this law requires employers to provide a private space free from the intrusion of coworkers or the public, but the shift to remote work has made it much easier for moms to find a comfortable and safe place to nurse or pump.
Regardless of whether you’re in the office or not, you’re allowed adequate break time to nurse and should make sure these rights are acknowledged and enforced by your employer. Working moms should not tolerate workplace discrimination for feeding your child in a way that works best for you and you should absolutely advocate for these rights should conflict arise. Employers, managers, and co-workers are all responsible for creating a supportive environment for the breastfeeding women in their organization.
How to talk to your employer
If you’ve been feeling judged or unsupported by your employer or coworkers for balancing work and breastfeeding during this time, it’s time to have a conversation with your employer. This can often be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking, but properly preparing is key to success.
The first step is understanding your rights, which we outlined above. Next, you’ll want to determine your breastfeeding goals, including the number of times you’d like to breastfeed or pump per day and when, and lay out how your employer can support you in meeting those goals. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to hear and honestly address your employer’s concerns, if there are any.
This also presents the opportunity to highlight the employer benefits of supporting breastfeeding. There is plenty of research available about the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, which translates to an improved bottom line for employers who provide proper accommodations through lower healthcare costs, decrease in lost work and increased productivity and retention. This becomes increasingly important when you consider working mothers with children under the age of three comprise just under half of the workforce and are the fastest growing segment.
Keep in mind that this could be a first-time conversation for both parties, so be patient and don’t give up if it doesn’t go as planned.
Keep doing you, mama!
We’ve all been thrown into new routines since the start of this pandemic, including breastfeeding and pumping routines, and it’s important that employers, managers and coworkers are understanding and supportive of this--not only to help you reach your breastfeeding goals, but to also help normalize breastfeeding in general.
You should not feel guilty about maintaining your daily feeding or pumping schedule when working remotely, and you should do so in a way that makes you feel most comfortable. You have every right to block time on a shared calendar to prevent disruptions or coinciding meetings during feeding time, or if you prefer to multitask while pumping or breastfeeding, you should feel supported in doing so on your Zoom calls with or without the camera on.
Breastfeeding when your baby is hungry, in public or at home, is a right that is legally protected in all states, and we need to continue advocating for businesses to foster environments that welcome and encourage breastfeeding and overall aim to make new mothers feel supported.
Jennifer Jordan is the Director of Mom & Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, a durable medical equipment provider that has provided breast pumps through insurance to hundreds of thousands of women. A working and once-breastfeeding mom, Jennifer is committed to supporting all moms on their breastfeeding journey through support, education, and customer service.