Returning to Work in a Pandemic
Texas has begun phased reopening of businesses. Many people in essential occupations have been working throughout the pandemic, others have been furloughed or laid off, but many have made adjustments to work from home for the last several weeks. As businesses reopen, companies may start to request or require that their employees return to the workplace.
For a breastfeeding mother who works outside the home, the pandemic presents concerns about how to safely continue providing breastmilk while working. The CDC and WHO both recommend supporting mothers who choose to breastfeed to continue breastfeeding during the pandemic. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for the majority of infants, and we know that breastfeeding provides significant benefits to the immune system in particular.
Mothers who need to express breastmilk while working outside the home should be provided a clean, private area at their workplace that is not a bathroom where they can go to take breaks to pump. Read more about the federal and Texas state laws regarding nursing mothers from the Texas Workforce Commission here. Hand hygiene is always important while expressing breastmilk, and mothers should continue to practice hand hygiene practices as well as sanitizing the area around them while pumping. Pumps, pump parts, and bottles should be cared for as usual according to manufacturer recommendations. No additional sanitation of breastmilk is needed. There is no evidence that the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted through breastmilk.
Mothers should be provided adequate personal protective equipment while working to limit their risk of becoming infected and developing COVID-19. Mothers with symptoms of COVID-19 can continue to breastfeed, but it is important that precautions are taken to avoid spreading the virus to the infant. These precautions should include at a minimum maternal masking and hand hygiene. If a mother is too ill to breastfeed, she should be supported to continue providing breastmilk either by expressing milk to be fed to the infant by a well caregiver, or donor milk can be provided.
If we have learned nothing else from this pandemic, we have learned that companies are capable of quickly adapting to new circumstances when necessary. Many companies that previously did not offer employees the ability to work from home were able to rapidly initiate remote working policies. It is my hope that after this experience, companies will continue to realize the benefits of being flexible for the health and well-being of their employees. For years, many parents have had denied their requests for more flexible schedules and work environments to accommodate their families and provide better work-life balance. Hopefully these flexible measures will continue into the future to support working parents.