I’m breastfeeding an infant during a pandemic, and I’m starting to panic

While panic shoppers hoard frozen steaks and toilet paper, I’m trying to stockpile foods that promote lactation.

Struggling to breastfeed a newborn during a pandemic wasn’t exactly how I imagined spending my maternity leave. My fragmentary understanding of both the human mammary and national agricultural supply chains led to nightly panic-Googling sessions, soundtracked by the eerily similar snores of my partner and son. For a while I was convinced that the national run on dry goods, oats in particular, would take an immediate hit on my milk supply. Oats are a—wait for it—galactagogue, a food that promotes lactation. I feared that, without them, our infant would starve. 

I briefly considered bulk-ordering formula, but one night tapped one too many links in the wrong direction and found myself scurrying down a rabbit hole of local dairy farm listings. Maybe we could just procure some raw milk straight from another mammal’s teat, if mine wasn’t going to prove up to the task.

Kitchen table piled with grocery items from Trader Joe's. (June 2020)

Ilana Sichel

Since then, I’ve been shopping like a doomsday prepper and eating like a homesteading millennial, just with an added tinge of baby survival panic. I’ve harnessed atmospheric yeasts in a sourdough mother. I’ve curdled milk into yogurt. I’ve started harvesting lettuce and scallions from their humble, scruffy little butts, all while gulping down fenugreek supplements and lactation tea.

Then, one day, my cousin came back from Costco hauling twenty pounds of rolled oats. I officially called off my search for a black-market dairy farmer and fell asleep that night researching oat milk recipes. She also fetched us five pounds of bananas that threatened to turn to mush on the counter before I could clear room in the freezer. Instead of saving them for future smoothies, I mixed them into multiplying loaves of banana bread—treats I whipped up in such a frenzy that I accidentally omitted all the sugar from one loaf, and quadrupled the salt in the next.

These culinary mishaps were oddly comforting, because, despite beating myself up over all the waste—precious flour! butter! eggs!—they allowed me to tell myself that I am too busy to care about trivialities like sugar and salt measurements. For in addition to mammalian lactation research and inadvertent culinary experimentation, I am also very busy these days attempting to chill out—which they say is very good for lactation. 

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Ilana Sichel 's writing has been published in a variety of outlets, including Prairie Schooner, Narrative, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Haaretz. She lives in Brooklyn and is working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology.