Breastfeeding and Smoking on Zoom. What Would HR Say?

Is it okay to breastfeed on camera on a video conference? The Society for Human Resources asked this question.

I’m glad whoever wrote that is not this woman’s HR person either. Because here is what I would do.

Ask for a picture of the baby.

Because babies are so cute and I like to see baby pictures. Even of the babies that are kind of funny looking. (Don’t lie: you’ve seen funny looking babies.)

Is it okay to breastfeed while on a video conference? I’m all about politeness and not making other people feel uncomfortable. If the mother in question stripped down completely to breastfeed, or spent long amounts of time with an exposed breast with no baby attached, then yes, it’s a problem.

But, if the woman was breastfeeding like either the stock photo I used or the one SHRM used then it is just fine. Babies get hungry. Would you like the baby to scream or would you like to have it happy and fed?

And really, I do video conferences and record YouTube videos all the time, and it’s rare that you see below my shoulders. It would be odd if the Zoom participants were seeing anything other than a bit of exposed neck. (Gasp! Clutch your pearls if you must!)

Personally, I’ve nursed two babies for a total of 36 months. I’ve breastfeed at work. (I was working from home but needed to come in and I lived an hour away and the baby was exclusively breastfed, wouldn’t take a bottle, and I had no babysitter close to the office, so into the office he came.) This is that baby:

(My job share partner made his onesie. We ran layoffs. She runs a creative business now.)

So, as long as the baby wasn’t screaming and the mother wasn’t trying to offend but rather trying to feed her baby, then it’s fine. The test is, would you be okay with her bottle feeding the baby during the meeting? If the answer is yes, then breastfeeding is okay as well.

Now, when I logged onto Twitter this morning to embedd the SHRM tweet, I swear this was the very first tweet in my feed:

Now my very first thought was “No! Gross!”

And then I thought about it and thought, “He’s in his own home. If he wants to smoke in his own home, it’s fine. Gross, but fine.” Could someone give a presentation while smoking?

Having seen every episode of The Crown where Princess Margaret smokes like a chimney while participating in all sorts of antics. And think of how much got done while smoking in Mad Men.

So, while I don’t like smoking, again, it’s his house. I can’t say it’s a big deal.

Now, someone will say, “What about Jeffrey Toobin?”

What about him? His behavior would have been inappropriate even if he turned his camera off. Breastfeeding is not sexual. Smoking is not sexual. The end.

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5 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Smoking on Zoom. What Would HR Say?

  1. Disclaimer: I breastfed my own Son, and adamantly agree that breastfeeding is not sexual. However, I am aware that there are a lot of perverts out there who claim that it is, or is somehow shameful or inappropriate in public. Obviously, most of those same people would have no objection were the same parent bottle-feeding their baby. That being said, the entire controversy could be eliminated by the Mother simply cutting her video feed while breastfeeding. Regarding smoking, it’s legal and — while inappropriate in most current office settings, due to the danger of second-hand smoke — it’s difficult to lodge a valid objection to it being done in ones own home. But, drinking in ones own home is legal, too. If it were a lunch ZOOM meeting, would someone object if a participant’s beverage was a single bottle of beer? Again, inappropriate at work, but not at home, and not enough to cause impairment. Apart from the issue of whether or not something is verboten, is the issue of judgment. Is this how you want to present yourself — or your employees to present themselves — in a work meeting?

  2. You’re totally right; even the funny-looking babies are cute. lol

    Also breastfeeding is just feeding a baby; get over it, folks.

  3. I have never understood the need to have video on during conference calls/meetings anyway. What possible value is my face adding to the conversation? I’ll grant that I’m not bad-looking, but I also know I’m not that good-looking!

    I’ve spent much of this week on calls, and will spend the remainder of the week on and off of calls. None of them have or are planned to include video of our faces. There is more important information to provide–charts, maps, report sections, and the like. Screen real estate is valuable, and faces don’t provide good ROI. Not showing your face on video also prevents irrelevant distractions. I have no idea if the people I had meetings with were inside or outside, in their home or elsewhere, naked or clothed. I couldn’t pick half of them out of a police lineup (I’ve only interacted with them via phone/email). Nor do I care about any of that. The point of the meeting was to discuss specific issues, none of which included personal habits or location.

    If you adopt not using video as your default you avoid all of these issues and, as far as I can see, lose nothing.

  4. I am not PC or easily offended but that onesie is tone deaf beyond measure. Totally gross.

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