A working mother's story: Breastfeeding while responding to a global pandemic
Managing lifesaving supplies during COVID-19 while breastfeeding
Amna Osman Mohammed Osman is a 33-year-old logistics officer with UNICEF Sudan. When she is not supervising the end to end logistics of responding and dispatching of program and lifesaving emergency supplies in Sudan, she takes care of her 22-month-old daughter Dima.
One minute she is tracking critical supplies and ensuring they reach the warehouse and ready to be dispatched to the field, the next she is pumping or rushing home to ensure her daughter Dima that is still breastfeeding has everything that she needs.
Amna like many working moms wears many hats and at times it can be challenging, although her career presented her with many challenges she has been able to overcome them. The current pandemic added another layer of stress.
Amna is not new to challenges and has faced many stressful situations in her 12-year career in the humanitarian sector where her vast experience was in emergencies. She was part of the team tackling the Darfur crisis, Ebola preparedness, the cholera outbreak, civil unrest and the current COVID-19 response. Prior to joining UNICEF Amna worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) where she was based in Yemen and witnessed the crisis in 2015.
UNICEF Sudan spoke to Amna about her journey as a working mother while breastfeeding and responding to a pandemic. Here is her story.
Q: Can you describe your experience as a first-time working mother?
I must say it was not an easy experience and unfortunately while lactating we faced a lot of crises both in-country and globally. Starting from the 2019 revolution in Sudan when my child was just five months to the flood and cholera outbreak last year, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic this year.
All of these crises required my physical presence ensuring that life-saving supplies are being timely dispatched. As a first-time mom it was indeed very stressful and required faith and great commitment to continue.
No one understood this virus, how it spreads and exactly what it is. This caused me so much stress. At the start of the pandemic where we had very limited knowledge about it, I had at the back of my mind the thought that this is a killing disease, and anyone can die from COVID.
Unfortunately, at the very start of the outbreak of the virus in Sudan I was in contact with a positive case and this was very devastating.
I remember crying for many nights, especially when I was first asked to wean off my baby and then advised by colleagues that I can continue lactating but with a mask.
The distance I had to keep away from my child during the quarantine days was devastating and I couldn’t handle it. My daughter is still very young and couldn’t understand why suddenly, I was not hugging her anymore.
After the required quarantine days were over, I went back to work in the office.
In the past anytime I would come back home from work, as soon as I would walk in my daughter would come running to me. But since the pandemic I had to stop her, and this would cause her a lot of distress.
This was and still is a very difficult time, and with my husband locked out of the country it was indeed not an easy period. But we managed and we are still going strong despite the challenges.
Q: What type of support and challenges did you experience while breastfeeding your baby?
From the moment I gave birth to Dima I was determined to breastfeed my child, it was really painful the first few weeks, but I made a promise to myself that I will never give my child formula as long as I was able to breastfeed.
There were many times when I was almost giving up and switching to formula but then my husband and a friend, who was then working as an infant and young child feeding (IYCF) officer, both kept on motivating and encouraging me to breastfeed.
I faced a lot of challenges from very close people who kept on telling me that I should stop because I was losing weight, I faced many comments such as ‘'your baby will not grow and gain weight except with formulas, she will get dehydrated give her water.'
Other people wanted me to start feeding my baby solid food at 4-months, I did my best to avoid all of this and continued to breastfeed which was actually very challenging but rewarding. There were days where I would stay very late working and had to drive in between the office and my home to come breastfeed and go back to work.
I was also pumping as I resumed work after 5-months of giving birth. Sometimes I would notice the stress would reduce my milk production and I had to start taking care of my diet to ensure I still have milk.
"I encourage all mothers to breastfeed as this really has a great impact on the child’s immunity and even teething goes very smoothly. Breastfeeding is an amazing feeling and the bonding is like no other, it’s such a beautiful bonding experience for a mother and child."
Q: What type of advice/benefits would you share with other women and families regarding breastfeeding?
My advice to all mothers is to breastfeed and follow the protocols of exclusive 6-month breastfeeding. If you are determined to do it, it will work and the most important is to have supportive people around, this is very much needed for a lactating mom.
I encourage all mothers to breastfeed as this really has a great impact on the child’s immunity and even teething goes very smoothly. Breastfeeding is an amazing feeling and the bonding is like no other, it’s such a beautiful bonding experience for a mother and child.
Q: What are the most important lessons you have learned during COVID-19 to ensure your wellbeing and that of your loved ones?
COVID-19 has changed a lot in my life and the way I see things. I appreciate and I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my family as we don’t know what tomorrow will hold. Family is everything.
When we have each other we have everything, and other things may change and affect us, but we start and end with the family. We need to stay physically safe from the virus by staying home when we can, and when we are outside our homes, we must wash our hands frequently and thoroughly. I would also advise people to limit the flow and intake of social media and news in general to reduce anxiety.
For all the working mothers and breastfeeding mothers, don’t give up! You are not alone. It’s hard but worth it.
However, one can use technology to receive and send warm comforting social support by video calls or text. We should take time to share our feelings, express ourselves, listen and support each other. And for all the working mothers and breastfeeding mothers, don’t give up! You are not alone. It’s hard but worth it.