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To be clear, being a working mother and parent in the United States has always been a juggling act of Cirque du Soleil proportions.Jane Helpern
Moms are magic
It’s my first morning back from maternity leave, and I’ve already pumped during a zoom magic show (yes, there was an actual magician and it was indeed phantasmagorical). In a plea to prove that I’ve still got it — it being an exhausting mix of ambition and working mom guilt — I Instagram a blurry selfie accompanied by a caption contemplating all of the places I’ll wear my shiny new Elvie while covertly lactating under the constraints of capitalism.
“I once breastfed my kid during a mandatory, company-wide anti-harassment training,” my friend Allie, a brand director, mom of two, and avid combo feeder, DMs me. “Looking back, it was sort of insane. I was, like, crying, but we were required to keep the cameras on.”
Next to straight up profanities, it might just be the most momming-in-2021 thing I’ve ever heard.
Where’s the support for new moms?
To be clear, even without the crush of covid, being a working mother and parent in the United States has always been a juggling act of Cirque du Soleil proportions (cue spinning dirty dishes on a unicycle). As the only major country without a single day of guaranteed paid maternity leave, our support for new parents is infamously subpar. Add to that the rampant bias against mothers in the workplace and the nonexistent caregiving infrastructure, it’s no surprise that since the onset of the pandemic, millions of employees have resigned from their posts. And throngs of working moms have been pushed out — especially moms of color — forced to make the impossible choice between a career and caregiving.
The great merging of crib and cubicle.Jane Helpern
Work from home hugely helped me with breastfeeding
Still, the widespread adoption of remote work has created one surprising silver lining (not counting the rise of elastic waistbands as office attire).
No longer relegated to stuffy utility closets nor forced to suffer the indignity of washing labyrinthian pump parts next to Kevin in biz dev while he whips up an egg salad sando for lunch, some working moms testify that being home has made their feeding goals more attainable.
“WFH hugely helped me,” says Gabi, an event producer who had her second baby in October of 2020, during the initial throes of lockdown. “With my first, I was constantly pumping and trying to store milk, when in reality I just do not overproduce. This time, I was much more calm and didn’t stress about storing up a stash. I fed my baby when he was hungry, and didn’t pump at all.” While one obligatory troll took to Reddit to whine about a breastfeeding coworker during a zoom, Gabi’s on-screen debut went off without a hitch — er, tit. “I didn’t mute myself or turn off my camera, I just let it happen and no one blinked. It was so cool.”
Work from home is almost like an extended maternity leave
Quinn, a Creative Director who also welcomed her second child during the first wave of safer-at-home, feels she “benefited tremendously” from the extra time out of office. Quinn breastfed and pumped on zooms 3-5x/day, almost always with the camera on.
“Being close to my baby helped my supply, I was less stressed, produced more, and breastfed longer than I did with my first, who I left to return to the office after 12 weeks. My PPD was also easier to manage because I didn’t have milk anxiety at work.” Despite being on the clock, Quinn described this bonus time at home as “almost like an extended maternity leave.”
Work from home has been a nightmare for some moms
But not everyone is thrilled about the overnight obliteration of personal and professional boundaries. Or, as we call it, the great merging of crib and cubical. For many, becoming an on-demand breastmilk buffet in the middle of the workday brings new challenges — like increasingly clingy kiddos, difficulty focusing on work-related tasks, unwanted delays to weaning, or accidentally showing up to a virtual team meeting with a breast completely out, a #nipslip that neither involved party ever spoke about.
“WFH has been a nightmare,” admits Ashley, a mom of two who quit her full-time job last month, buried under the demands of jobbing and momming. For Ashley, being at home has only complicated things in the feeding department. “There’s never really been an opportunity to wean my daughter, and I have a lot of guilt about it since I’m with her all the time…I’d like some separation, personally.”
The Feeding Revolution may be calendarized
Like all parenting decisions, there’s no one-size-fits all approach to this new height of multi-tasking. The question of whether to go camera-off or let it all Google-hangout requires the careful calculation of many personal factors such as your individual comfort level, workplace culture, the nature of the meeting, and your feeding dynamic.
Ellen, a first-time mom and creative talent agent, supplements with formula once a day and exclusively bottle feeds. She says this has made things a little bit easier for her, “as I don’t have to worry about my breasts being out with male colleagues or clients on the line.”
However, just because you’re at home with your kid doesn’t mean you’re required to feed on screen. After all, hungry babies can be quite demanding and distracting — not exactly a recipe for nailing a team meeting or knocking out a presentation. “Don’t feel guilty for blocking off your calendar for 30 minutes to feed and be with your baby uninterrupted”, says Ellen, “but, if your day doesn’t allow for that, there’s no shame in feeding during a meeting. Do what’s absolutely best for you, baby, and your mental health.”
The future of work from home for moms is flexibility
Wherever, whenever (insert Shakira voice) you feed your child, most experts can agree that the future of work — certainly for the whopping 70% of working moms struggling to maintain a career and meet their feeding goals — is flexibility.
Melissa Nuñez, mom to a preschooler and toddler and Bobbie’s Talent Lead, reflects on her own experience carting pump parts to and from the office when her kids were younger. “Personally, I think it’s ok to breastfeed/bottle feed on meetings. Lord knows I made and served my kids lunch dozens of times while on Zoom during the last 15 months.” It’s an important reminder that the invisible labor doesn’t just magically stop when your baby moves on to solids.
“Companies being flexible with parents is going to help employers keep them longer. I know a lot of women who are leaving or wanting to leave their companies because their offices are forcing them to return to work…[flexibility] is a game changer for a lot of these women.”