Working from Home with a Baby in the Time of COVID-19

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If you’re able to do your work from home during this pandemic, you might be feeling thankful. But if you have kids at home, especially if any of those kids are babies, working from home can be really challenging. In this post, we’ll talk about ways to make working from home with a baby actually work for you.

Develop a routine

Getting your baby into as much of a routine and schedule as possible is a good idea for regular times, but crucial when you’re all home together all the time. Depending upon how old your baby is, your routine may have to be flexible, but it’s possible to put a routine in place even with really little babies. My favorite baby-friendly routine is Eat Play Sleep. It works just like it sounds. Soon after waking, baby eats. Then they play (we’ll talk about this more in the next section). Once they’re done playing and get their diaper changed, it’s time for sleep again.

The Eat Play Sleep routine is great because you can adapt it to the age that your baby is. If you have a four month old, the awake part of their routine will be short—maybe only an hour or hour and a half at a time. If you have an eleven month old, you can stretch their time awake and they will likely take longer naps than they did when they were younger. You can even do a modified version of this routine for a toddler or preschooler—maybe something like, Eat Play Eat Rest. The other benefit of this routine for a younger baby is that it separates Eat and Sleep, which means your baby will likely not nurse to sleep, making it easier for you to put them down and get work done.

Create a completely safe space for baby

Now that you’re working on a routine, the locations where baby eats and sleeps are probably self-explanatory. But where can you put your baby to play? If you want to get work done, you probably can’t play with them all the time—though maybe that would be better than working. The key here is to create a completely safe space where baby can hang out with only loose supervision. The size of the space will vary with baby’s age and developmental needs.

A really young baby who can’t move much on their own yet might be content on a quilt on the floor with a few toys close by. A baby who is rolling, sitting, and crawling is well served by a six or eight sided play yard set up near where you are working. An older toddler might do well in a gated off section of the family living area. In these spaces, provide enough toys that baby doesn’t get bored, but not so many that they are overwhelmed by choices. Provide some non-toy playthings, too; my kids love clean yogurt containers and wooden spoons from the kitchen.

Once you have baby’s safe space set up, practice leaving them there for gradually increasing periods of time. As long as they are well fed and have a clean diaper and comfy clothes, they are safe. Some babies do better when they can see you close by, while others do better if you’re out of sight (a video monitor can be helpful if you feel worried that you can’t see them). If babies have been used to being with you all the time or always having someone entertain them, they may protest at first. Acknowledge their protests by saying something like, “I hear you. You are letting me know that it’s hard to play by yourself. I think you can do it.” If your baby is really upset, get them and try again a little bit later.

Adjust your expectations

As your baby adjusts to playing on his or her own and gets into a routine with sleeping, you’ll be able to get more work done. In all likelihood, though, you’ll probably be less productive than you were when you weren’t working at home while simultaneously taking care of your baby. Give yourself and your baby some grace. If you have a partner, try to split time when each of you are parenting. Trust that your baby will get better at sleeping and playing on their own, and that soon you will both fall into the rhythm of your new normal. All of the changes that have come along with this coronavirus are disruptive and worrying, but they won’t last forever.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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