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The child care industry was already a broken system—but this pandemic is exposing even more cracks

The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly laid bare some important truths: Children love video-conferencing with each other. Mo Willems is as amazing in person as his books suggest. We all could have taken more than 4 ounces of liquid onto airplanes all along. And speaking more soberly: Our centuries-long lack of public investment in childcare has created a huge problem.

While parents across the nation are struggling with what to do now that they've abruptly opened a homeschool, parents of young children are in a particularly crushing double bind.

In addition to having their kids home, they can either:

A) shell out thousands of dollars per month for childcare that they now either cannot use or are being encouraged not to use.

B) unenroll their child and give up a childcare spot that was likely hard to come by to begin with, thanks to the prevalence of childcare deserts in America.

Childcare providers are in a crushing bind, too. Unlike public schools, which can continue paying teachers during school closures without charging parents, the childcare industry is on financial life support for lack of government funding.

The U.S. spends over $700 billion of federal, state, and local money on K-12 public education each year. That's enough to put us above average among 34 developed nations in spending as a percentage of GDP. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks a whopping third-to-last in spending on early care and education (thanks, Ireland and Turkey!).

This is especially absurd when you consider that childcare is significantly more expensive than K-12 education. Adult-to-child ratios are required to be significantly lower in early childcare settings—one infant caregiver can legally care for only four children, versus a middle school teacher who can have thirty or more in their classroom—so the human capital costs explode.

As a result, despite charging fees so high it makes many parents want to weep, most childcare providers operate on margins of less than 1%, and the average daycare center teacher makes around $11 an hour, with limited if any benefits. In fact, more than half of early childhood practitioners qualify for public assistance.

This is, of course, a ridiculous state of affairs. It was ridiculous before COVID-19 ever appeared, and now, unfortunately, it's gone past ridiculous to take the shape of a true crisis. As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson has written, "Most Americans accept—even demand—the public subsidy of education from the moment kids turn five and enter kindergarten to the day they graduate from a state university or community college. But from birth to the fifth birthday, children are on their own—or, more precisely, their parents are."

It shouldn't be lost on us that it took the Great Depression to give us Social Security, and World War II to give Great Britain its National Health Service; human nature is such that it sometimes takes a crisis to get us to where we should have been all along.

So what does this mean in practice?

First, we need to start treating childcare like public schools in the sense of being government-funded with no parent fees. We could start by having the federal government step in now to assume the parental portion of childcare funding until the pandemic passes. The childcare industry is asking for a $50 billion dollar bailout. It sounds like a lot, but other (arguably less essential) industries are asking for even more.

Federal support will at least provide a bridge that keeps care providers open and takes the boot off the neck of parents, as opposed to the wasteland of care we'll be facing otherwise: A survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children has found that two-thirds of programs can't survive a closure of even one month.

We are a resilient people, but we require resilient institutions. This crisis has shown us the deep fault lines in our childcare infrastructure. As we battle back the disease, we cannot simply return to business as usual. No one can any longer doubt the importance of childcare; now it's time to convert that understanding into action.

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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My belly has been through some things.

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It's my personal opinion that this belly deserves some love. So starting with my second pregnancy, I've relied on Belly Bandit's postpartum belly bands (which I own in three sizes) to help support my core, reduce swelling, and begin to activate my midsection after nine months of being stretched to the max.

Here's why I love Belly Bandit:

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Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


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