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OP-ED: Breastfeeding while working from home: Making it work

  • Published at 01:43 pm August 27th, 2021
breastfeeding-workplace
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The best way to protect babies during a pandemic

Durga, the Sanskrit of “the inaccessible,” is a principal form of the goddess in Hinduism. According to legend and Hindu mythology, Devi Durga was created by Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the other gods to slay the demon Mahisasur, as they were otherwise powerless to overcome the demon’s activities.

Embodying all the gods’ collective energy, or Shakti, Durga possesses both male divinities and inner powers. With all these divine inner powers, Durga is greater than any other god, and an intense menacing force to her enemies. She is usually depicted riding a lion with 10 arms, each holding the special weapon of one of the gods, who gave them to her for her battle against the buffalo demon.

OK! Enough mythology. But honestly, the reason why I started with this well-known story is because every time I see a working mother with a lactating child, I immediately envision 10 arms around her body, like Durga, using which she handles everything, like a real-life superhero or a goddess.

Every year in August, the global community observes World Breastfeeding Week. Understanding the enduring importance of breastfeeding, instead of just one day of recognition, the World Health Organization observes a full week for this important issue.

In 2021, while the world is fighting a pandemic and life as we know has changed forever, the theme of this year’s breastfeeding observance week is “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility.”

The benefit of breastfeeding is a well-known fact. It is the best way to provide babies with the essential nutrients required for optimum growth and development. The WHO says that breast milk is the ideal food for infants, as it is safe, clean, and acts as the babies’ first vaccine, by strengthening their immune systems and protecting them against many common childhood illnesses.

According to the Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18, 65% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed (meaning only breastfeeding until six months of age), an increase since 2014 (55%). However, the median duration of exclusive breastfeeding is 4.1 months, much shorter than the recommended length needed for exclusive breastfeeding (which is six months).

While we lack data on the proportion of breastfeeding among homemakers and working women in Bangladesh, anecdotal evidence suggests that working women are less likely to practice the recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding. In addition, the pandemic has changed the way people work. Except for those working on an assembly line or in the production sector (such as garment factories), virtually all office work is now being done remotely or from home.

One might think that being at home gives a breastfeeding working mother more time to spend with her baby and family members. However, working from home means that other family members are also at home, which often results in the mother having to care for more people. Juggling household chores, cooking, cleaning, feeding family members, and breastfeeding a child -- along with online office meetings and deadline projects -- is nothing but a deadly combination to burn the candle of every working woman from both ends.

If you are a breastfeeding working mother, please do not be disheartened reading this. Here are a few tips on how to facilitate breastfeeding while working from home.

  • Speak up about your needs: Work hours, days, and even work boundaries can become blurry in a work from home situation, but you need to be clear about your work setup and your needs as a breastfeeding mom. Be transparent about your schedule -- especially if your work requires you to be in front of your computer working for a set number of hours. Remember that feeding breaks for breastfeeding moms is not a luxury, but a necessity; therefore, you have every right to demand it. If you have a more flexible work schedule but your colleagues are sceptical about your productivity, reassure them that moms, including you, are some of the most efficient and productive workers there are. Be bold so that you can be heard.
  • Plan your breaks accordingly: Once you have scheduled your feeding breaks, plan them out accordingly. You can block off these breaks on your work calendar, so your colleagues are well-informed and will not set meetings during these times; or try to plan your meetings around them.
  • Make the most of working from home: Remember the pros of being at home. You have all your resources within easy reach. But at the same time, take care to not get caught up in household chores in the middle of work hours -- because it will not end. Breastfeeding takes precedence over regular household chores. Divide and conquer by sharing the household responsibilities among family members. Always remember that your baby and household chores are not solely your responsibility.

I started this op-ed writing about Durga, and how she fights evil. Remember that she has 10 arms equipped with powers from different gods. Those many hands help her conquer evil. In your own life, divide responsibilities and conquer any challenge that life throws at you.

Remember, breastfeeding is the special time that establishes a bond between the mother and her baby. So, enjoy this experience.

Happy breastfeeding!

Shusmita Khan is Research Associate at Data for Impact (D4I). This article was produced with the support of USAID under the terms of the Data for Impact (D4I) associate award, which is implemented by the Carolina Population Centre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in partnership with Palladium International, LLC; ICF Macro, Inc; John Snow, Inc; and Tulane University. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the US government. [email protected]

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