10 Tips for Bringing Your Baby to Work

Earlier this month I brought a baby to a board meeting. I’m on the board for a non-profit that runs after school programs for children. We meet monthly on a Thursday evening on the other side of town from where I live so I’m usually gone for 3 and a half hours by the time I go there, attend the meeting, and get back home. My youngest daughter is 7 months now, which means that she doesn’t easily sleep through the whole ordeal (while Scott carries her in the Ergo) as she used to. It’s not about hunger either. Bottle or no, she’s in a phase where she wants Mommy at night. The meeting before this last one she spent almost the entire time crying.

Last month I was gearing up for (read: dreading) the next board meeting, when it struck me that I could just take Luna with me. Two things inspired this thought: 1. A recent email exchange between two friends, one who has been bringing her babies to work at different stages (and for varying amounts of time) over the last four years, and another who is nearing the end of her maternity leave and considering bringing her own baby to work. 2. I view so many things differently than I did with my first child. The biggest is this: when it comes to needing to be home with your baby (or needing to have your baby with you) there is no shame, and it’s not because you are doing something incorrectly.

As a new parent you second guess everything you do. Add to this that when it comes to work, our culture is built around the idea that it’s no big deal to just leave the kids in care and put a priority on work no matter what. The truth is that being successful at work doesn’t always require total separation between work time and care taking time. As any parent knows, parent and child are intertwined, and “getting a sitter” doesn’t solve every problem of needing time to attend meetings, do work, or travel for a conference. (The separation attitude also reveals a complete misunderstanding of how breastfeeding works. Nursing isn’t just about eating, and the rhythm that develops if you are with your baby most of the time can’t just be turned off for a meeting.)

Given all of this, I sent a quick text to my friend (author of the excellent suggestions written below). It read: “Have you ever taken a baby to a board meeting?” She wrote back simply: “Actually, yes!” This was all the inspiration I needed. I hammered out an email to my fellow board members, asking if they wouldn’t mind if I brought my baby to the meeting. I went into detail about what we could expect as far as any interruptions and what I would do to make sure business would be put first (in summary, hold Luna in the baby carrier where she was most likely to sleep through the whole thing). I asked them to let me know if they had any questions or concerns. All but two board members wrote back in full support, the others stayed silent. I went with it.

Thankfully, Luna slept through almost the whole thing (I have to admit, this meeting included the presentation of our annual audit by the CPA, and I was kind of holding my breath through that entire phase of the meeting). After Luna woke up I held her in my arms and did some nursing and she barely made a peep. Something to note for next time: the other board members were more distracted than I was, since I was holding an adorable baby in my arms. But any distraction was far less than the emotional distraction I would have experienced knowing that my baby was at home crying for 3 hours straight. I call it a success.

Bringing babies to work is becoming more accepted, and its popularity will increase the more parents suggest it. It may not be for everyone, but for those considering the possibility my friend offers the following advice:

10 tips for bringing your baby to the office:

  1. I wear my baby a lot when he’s at work with me. I have an Ergo and he takes naps in it. Especially when he was younger he’d spend most of his time in it.
  2. I’ve made my desk into a standing desk (by putting my laptop on a Rubbermaid). This way I can stand and bounce my son while I’m wearing him.
  3. I use this website to provide some white noise for background during naps: rainycafe.com
  4. I have a pack and play in my office as well. He’ll hang out in there with toys.
  5. When he was younger and liked it I also had a bouncy seat next to my desk.
  6. Especially when they’re so young, nursing usually solves any problem (or a little change of scenery – step outside your office, the building, whatever).
  7. I often structure my week so that I am doing more active, moving type work when my baby is with me (e.g. running “errands” in my department like making photo copies, turning in paperwork/checking in with the department accountant, manager, etc). I never schedule formal meetings for when he is with me.
  8. Things change – something that might work for a few weeks will suddenly not work. As my baby (who is 10 months now) became more and more alert to the world and had a harder time napping when there were distractions (people walking into my office, the phone ringing) I started using the white noise maker. I sometimes will find an empty lecture hall or classroom during nap time and move my laptop into there so I can keep the lighting down.
  9. Just this past week I hired a sitter to watch my son at work. They go on walks but hang out nearby (I work on campus, and there is an area in my building near my office where they can play and hang out while I’m in my office). When it gets warmer they’ll go to nearby parks and the zoo. It was super easy to find a sitter using the UW Job Board since it’s a sitting job on campus. This became necessary since my baby is walking now and really doesn’t want to just hang out in his pack and play for very long. But it’s nice that he’s nearby and can nurse if needed.
  10. Here’s a website that may help you get your head around bringing your baby to work: babiesatwork.org

UW Madison is currently creating a policy regarding children in the workplace. My friend is on the committee and they are writing it in such a way to try to build in as much flexibility as possible – while respecting the integrity of the workplace and colleagues. Perhaps once finalized this policy could be used as a model for other work places.

Many thanks to my friend for sharing all of this. Her final advice could apply to almost any aspect of parenting, but it took me having a second child to accept it: Know that so many parents are in the same boat. Remaining flexible and responding to what you and your baby need is the most important thing. You may find it easier than you had anticipated. You may hate it. You won’t know until you try!

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