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I have a 3 month old daughter and have just started working again for my employer full-time from home after maternity leave. She is quite a needy baby and will sometimes cry if I'm not holding her.

I'm currently trying to schedule my meetings when she naps, but this has proven to be really difficult because she still naps very irregularly. I have had to resort to holding her in my lap, and once now even breastfeeding her, while I'm in my meetings. I know it's not ideal but this is the only solution I've come up with. I can't afford childcare right now.

I don't need to talk a lot in these meetings, so can mute my mic some of the time, but will need to talk occasionally. She can be noisy and make the usual baby cooing noises. She isn't super loud.

I live in the UK and my employer is in Texas, USA. I don't know if it's appropriate to do this, and also if I do have to as a last resort I don't know how to bring it up. Should I excuse the baby noises in the background?

  • Do I ask permission? ("Is it ok if I feed my daughter?")
  • Do I mention it up front? ("Excuse the baby noises, my daughter is in my lap/being fed, etc")
  • Do I only mention it if she makes a noise ("Sorry about that, my daughter is noisy!")
  • Do I just not say anything and ignore her noises?
  • Do I find some way to work childcare into my already tight budget because this is completely inappropriate?

So far I have just ignored her noises, but I have no idea if that's the right thing to do. There are usually 3-4 people in the meeting, my boss and colleagues. They all know I have a baby.

I do plan on organising childcare in a couple of months time when she becomes more mobile. I work flexible hours and currently only work when I'm not tending to her (usually when she's sleeping or playing happily). I have been careful to not have her interfere with my work productivity and deadlines.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Feb 7 at 6:52
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First, as a tip, try to mute your microphone unless you have to speak. That way you will minimize the noise the others in the meeting perceive.

Now, given you are this baby's mother and it's perfectly natural to care for them and feed them, I don't think you have to ask for permission, nor do I think it's possible (or even legal) for them to forbid you to feed your baby.

However, what I suggest is that you inform the others at the beginning of the meeting that your baby is awake, and that some noises may be heard. That way they aren't caught by surprise in case some noises are made.


Per your comments, seems that you have not discussed with your employer about you caring for your baby while working remote. I second Joe's comment and suggest you bring this up with your manager ASAP, so he/she is also aware of the situation and to see if it's ok for them.

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    I spoke to my boss and he's fine with me looking after her, he said I'm doing a great job. I'm just so relieved. – singlemom Feb 6 at 19:30
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    @singlemom that's great to hear! It was great you clarified with your boss swiftly :) glad I could help, and welcome to The Workplace BTW – DarkCygnus Feb 6 at 19:32
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    @singlemom as someone in a similar position as your employer, I second this is the way to go. We appreciate a heads up there will be extra noise, but it doesn't need much explanation; "just a heads up in case there's extra noise on my end - baby/kids are awake, I'll mute my mic unless needed". We understand & respect the need for this remote employee to care for her kids; out of common humanity, and probably legal requirement. This employee does great work anyway, so even when she's mid-sentence and a kid screams & interrupts, her own effort on the team buys a lot of patience – cr0 Feb 7 at 14:55
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    I second the first tip: mute your microphone if you aren't speaking. I'd prefer people do that regardless of their situation, and I do it on every conference call in which I participate. It cuts down on so much background noise, echo, etc. – Tristan Feb 7 at 17:05
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    Another option (if available) is PTT (Push-To-Talk)... your mic is only active while you're holding down the right button. I use it for almost everything... it becomes second nature if you do it enough and then the only sound will be when you're actively talking over it. – TemporalWolf Feb 7 at 22:14
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It sounds as if the impact on the calls have thus far been minimal - so I don't think you have anything to worry about. An occasional baby gurgling or cooing noise is going to be far less disruptive than a baby screaming in the background because they want to be held and you being distracted with the urge to respond.

Do I ask permission? ("Is it ok if I feed my daughter?")

I'd say no - everyone knows your situation in general terms. Babies don't wait for workplace lunchtimes.

Do I mention it up front? ("Excuse the baby noises, my daughter is in my lap/being fed, etc")

Again I'd say no - you don't, can't know in advance if she's going to have a particularly noisy day. And for the general case, as before, everyone knows your situation and that a baby will be in your vicinity.

Do I only mention it if she makes a noise ("Sorry about that, my daughter is noisy!")

Only if the noise is actually disruptive to the call - say for example you have to ask someone to repeat something because of the noise. And in that scenario it's fine to say something like "Sorry, could you say that again - my daughter made a noise and I didn't catch what you said" - it sounds like most of the time this isn't what's happening though.

Do I just not say anything and ignore her noises?

If they are just in the background and not actually disrupting anything I'd just ignore them.

Do I find some way to work childcare into my already tight budget because this is completely inappropriate?

Unless things change significantly for the worse than what you've described I don't think you need to concern yourself with this. If your work (and those of your colleagues) isn't being significantly impacted then it sounds like the the situation is working as intended - the company gets the benefits of you working earlier than they would have done otherwise and you get the benefits of more time at home with your daughter before returning to the office. If your employer was more of the "Work and babies must never, ever, ever mix!!" persuasion then they probably wouldn't have agreed to your current work-from-home situation in the first place.

PS: Congratulations on the new family member!

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    Just missing the "please mute when not speaking" point, which applies whether there's a baby there or not! – WBT Feb 7 at 15:25
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Can you afford a noise-cancelling microphone? (Here's one example on Amazon.)

If yes then go buy one.

After you buy one then have another person help you test out its noise-cancelling power since every brand could have different levels of noise-cancelling effect.

You should always mute yourself when you are not speaking but for the times that you do need to speak your microphone can help to mitigate background noises.

If the noises are troublesome then hopefully someone makes you aware that they cannot hear/understand you and you can use that opportunity to briefly apologize.

If the noises are frequently interfering with the meeting then you must figure out a different arrangement for your child during these meetings.

  • Oh, nice, I didn't know those existed. That doesn't seem too expensive either as far as microphones go. I'm currently using a pair of earbuds with the mic in the cable, but those need to go at some point before my daughter starts grabbing the wires. This is a good candidate for the replacement. – singlemom Feb 6 at 19:46
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    @singlemom You can also look into noise cancelling headsets jabra.com/fq/best-noise-cancelling-headsets-for-a-call-center so that you can go completely hands and wire-free. bestbuy.com/site/… – MonkeyZeus Feb 6 at 20:04
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    +1 I was going to suggest the same, some noise cancelling headsets just like the ones used in a call center, plus muting yourself when only listening and maybe a polite announcing the baby is awake at the beginning of the meeting if someone who is not aware of your situation is in the meeting should be enough. – fireshark519 Feb 7 at 12:06
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For meetings with your immediate team: don't mention it unless they do, and try to keep on mute during noisy times. If they bring it up, a brief apology or joking it off works. I also work remote full time, and that's how I handle my sometimes-noisy dogs. If you have a headset instead of a microphone that picks up more ambient noise, that helps too.

For higher profile meetings: try to arrange for a babysitter or schedule during naps so you can focus solely on your job. If baby makes a loud noise, apologize when it happens and not in advance.

I would also have a conversation now with your boss about if they expect you to have childcare while you are working, especially when your baby starts crawling around and needing more stimulation. Better to be prepared and start budgeting for it now than be surprised later on.

  • For a contrary view. A client I was working for, another party had a dog that barked during calls. It happened once, and then the second day it happened the person was summarily terminated directly after the meeting because of it. It's something you have to be careful about. – Fattie Feb 6 at 18:15
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    Fortunately I'm not involved in high-profile calls. But I do plan on organising some kind of childcare in a couple of months time. – singlemom Feb 6 at 18:17
  • @Fattie wow that seems really extreme! Hopefully they at least got a warning about it the first time so they could take measures against the noise. – taffy Feb 6 at 18:46
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    @Fattie lol.. Ive gotten in trouble for saying "that is some sexy looking code" at the wrong time... I think I am learning that you and I have similar scars from the High Power Enterprise Software wars of the last decade – Smitty Feb 6 at 18:55
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    @TheGreatDuck Duplicate accounts aren't forbidden, as long as you don't use one to give rep to the other, or similar things. Source: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/260430/… – Fabio Turati Feb 9 at 23:40
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It depends somewhat on your relationship to the other folks in the meeting, but for routine meetings with team members, I wouldn’t say anything until and unless it becomes a problem for someone. Just use the mute button when you’re not talking and everything should be fine.

For special meetings with higher-ups or new clients, I’d try as hard as possible to hold them during naps, but failing that, I’d still do things the same way: apologize if and only if it becomes necessary.

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As everyone has said, for God's sake do not do either of these two

  • Do I ask permission? ("Is it ok if I feed my daughter?")

  • Do I mention it up front? ("Excuse the baby noises, my daughter is in my lap/being fed, etc")

With this one:

  • Do I only mention it if she makes a noise ("Sorry about that, my daughter is noisy!")

If there is unfortunately a noise, just say "oh sorry" and press on. Do NOT say "oh sorry the dog barked / baby woke / UPS arrived". It's wholly annoying.

  • Do I find some way to work childcare into my already tight budget because this is completely inappropriate?

Unfortunately, do not dismiss this. Your AAAAA priority is keeping your career absolutely on track. Be aware, let us say, that in some situations this would indeed be the answer. Example: you find yourself in a higher paying remote job (yay!); then yes, you need some sort of au pair, a local teenager who is there some hours, or the like.

On the technical front:

  1. as everyone has said, get good at using the mute button

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  1. it could be (I don't know - let's hear from a geeky audio expert) that one of those headset microphones has some sort of noise cancelling effect, or at least reduces ambient noise

Now, as everyone has said:

You need to talk to your boss about this up front now!

Naturally, you then ask ......

But Fattie, what language do I use?

You want to keep it minimal, clear, professional and a fait accompli.

Do NOT beg or ask for favors. Do NOT minimize the situation - but do not maximize it.

DO NOT specifically mention "feeding" or "breast feeding" - just "baby noise in general".

Example emails:

"Hey Steve, one thing. As you know I now have the baby. This is great as I'm working harder than ever - no distractions, no going out! One thing Im concerned about - what if there's ever some baby noise in the background, when we're having a call with the guys? Would you give me your thoughts on this?

or what about

"Hey Steve, I have a concern about our daily calls. As you know there's a baby in my house here now! Im concerned ... what if there's ever some baby noise in the background, when we're having a call with the guys? As you know I'm more dedicated to the project than ever now there's a baby around - but this one thing has me nervous. I'd die if there was some sudden baby noise during a call - can you give me your thoughts?

(As always in negotiation, end with a question to the other party.)

Notice you are being

  • Brief - BREIF, BRIEF, BRIEF, do not make this an issue. It isn't
  • Overboard with positveness
  • NOT mentioning detail like the "type" of noise
  • as always, end with a question

You should essentially send one of these emails or texts now today. (It's 12 in Dallas!) If using skype/chat whatever, I'd possibly send it on the everyone channel, but addressed to "Steve" (Boss) as here - it makes it less dramatic and includes everyone.

I'd give more examples but I have to go help some adult babies! :O

  • I like the first example email, as it's on point and asks for boss' thoughts (rather than saying, "this is a problem, right?") – DarkCygnus Feb 6 at 18:50
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    I spoke to my boss about everything. He's fine with it. Yay! I feel so much better. He said it's no problem and he understands and I'm doing a great job. – singlemom Feb 6 at 19:33
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    WHOOT ! MISSION SUCCESS! if you can patch ffmpeg you can work for us anytime. this calls for more champagne. Goddamnit, I am out of champagne – Fattie Feb 6 at 19:49
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One thing worth noting is that breast-feeding sometimes isn't enough and the babies keep crying and seem needy. usually an extra bottle is enough, sometimes it's just a few milliliters they need.

About the question: I would wait until you have a really noisy episode and then ask "sorry, is it too loud? the baby is very hungry today." but in general that is more distracting than if you just ignore it and repeat the part that probably got lost. Too many explanations and excuses will distract everyone, so just go like "We should use framework XY because it has ... SLUUURP ... because it has features A, B and C while the other frameworks usua .... SLUUUUUUURP .. usually have only two of them."

After having conferences with customers who had their windows open all the time near a fire station. My coworker kept asking if I watch movies because he could hear the fire trucks through my headphones. Some baby noises seem like nothing compared to that.

About daycare: Not all, but some kids are just not happy if you leave them too early in daycare, so you should have a plan B. Our parents were sometimes watching our baby and always said it's fine and look it's sleeping, but one day we came home earlier and it was crying nonstop and they admitted that it cried itself to sleep every time. Wouldn't trust the daycare center that "all is good" without staying a few days there (usually in the next room) and checking how it goes.

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Noise Canceling Headsets and Directional Microphones are your friend!!!!! I've been doing the caregiver/assisted living thing for my parents for the last 20 years and while most employers are understanding about the reasons one has for working from home, it can be helpful in general to have good audio equipment for that. Personally I use a directional Mic with a squelch filter on my usb audio interface with a foot pedal on my desktop, and a noise canceling truckdrivers headset on my laptop, the advantage of my desktop setup is I can have my hands full and still be able to mute/unmute myself and even when unmuted the directional nature of the mic gives me quite a in front of it. Just make sure you find someone to give you feedback for setting your level and such and that will mitigate quite a few of the background noise problems.

Also, mention your situation to your boss/coworkers for whatever level you feel comfortable with.

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I totally agree with the mute/better microphone advice, that'll minimize any noises. And I would also totally mention up front that the baby might wake up, and that you'll try to minimize any related noise. Not as in asking for permission, as in simple information.

But there's another angle to your question. You're talking to Texas? Are you aware that it's only recently that breastfeeding in public has been legal in every US state? And the South has been lagging way behind, due to some messed-up confusion in good ol'boys about the real function of breasts. So while I wouldn't worry too much about baby noises, if I were you I'd strenuously avoid mentioning any actual breastfeeding, especially while it's in progress..

protected by mcknz Feb 7 at 21:16

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