Category Archives: maternity leave

Advice for productive #naptimescience

Being still partly on maternity leave (I work 1 day a week in the lab, husband 4 days a week so Little Brother doesn’t have to start daycare until we are in the homecountry), I do most of my work as #naptimescience. This is tricky because you never know when it ends: sometimes you get a long stretch of productive time, but other times you have just laid out everything you needed to complete a task and then the baby wakes up and you have to stop. I guess kind of the same as for faculty as you never know when the next desperate grad student or disgruntled post-doc will run into your office to show you some ugly Western blog they just did. What I try to do to be productive during these unknown amounts of time is break things up in the smallest unit possible. When I have to write something I make bullet points of all the things that I have to write and then break the bullet points up into even smaller units. This way, I can take one unit at a time instead of being right in the middle of a lengthy discussion when the baby wakes up and then not know where you wanted to go next. When I do something else, like analyze data, do stats or make figures, I try to take notes of what I have been doing so that if I start again during the next bout of naptimescience I can pick up right where I have left off.


Filed under academia, baby, disgruntled postdoc, life in the lab, maternity leave, postdoc, science, work-life balance, working mom

So is breast truly NOT best on the long-term?

Yesterday, a new study came out on the long-term effects of breastfeeding. The major limitation of this kind of research is that sociodemographic factors are so intertwined with breastfeeding behavior and long-term outcomes that it is nearly impossible to correct for this statistically. So Cynthia Colen did something smart: she looked at families in which one sibling was breastfed while the other wasn’t and in this way was able to circumvent all the unknown confounding factors. Her results have been highlighted on many news websites because they show that there are virtually no long-term benefits of breastfeeding. The most important findings are explained here by The Skeptical OB.

However, when I read the paper I couldn’t find one important piece of information: how long did these mothers breastfeed for? In this news article it says an average of six months, but those data (and the standard deviation) are nowhere to be found in the paper (or is it me and did someone else find them?!). The authors of the paper do report that there is no correlation between the long-term outcomes and the duration of breastfeeding, but since an average of six months is a lot less than the AAP recommended year, I still wonder if we can draw these conclusions from this study. Another piece of information that I missed is if in the discordant sibling sample, the first sibling was more likely to be breastfed than the second or the other way around. I want to know these things so I can judge this paper better!

An important factor that I’m missing in the current news reporting on this paper is that breastfeeding does seem to have short-term benefits for children and both short- and long-term benefits for mothers (well of course journalists aren’t known for their nuance, but still).

So don’t get me wrong: I think it is super important to have real and reliable data in order to create recommendations for breastfeeding and whether or not we should encourage women to do so. I recognize that starting to breastfeed can be a huge struggle and it is important to have the right information. But I feel that the societal debate that is happening following the publication of this article misses these points A LOT.



Is Breast Truly Best? Estimating the Effects of Breastfeeding on Long-term Child Health and Wellbeing in the United States Using Sibling Comparisons. Cynthia G Colen, David M Ramey. 2014 Social Science & Medicine, available online Jan 29 2014


Filed under attachment parenting, baby, breastfeeding, maternity leave, parenting, pumping milk

Social media make my maternity leave so much more enjoyable!

I’ve written before that when BlueEyes was just born I had a hard time enjoying all of it. Now that Little Brother is over two months old I think it is safe to say that this time I am enjoying my maternity leave. So what is different this time?

First, I think a major difference is that I knew what was coming. I’m already used to the fact that I am someone’s mother: my personal space is no longer mine alone. I no longer decide when I wake up or how long I sleep, and I got used to caring for someone without having that feel like a huge burden. Also, Little Brother’s birth was a lot less intense than BlueEyes’.

Second, when you’re used to dealing with a toddler, a newborn is really not that much work: they eat, sleep and need clean diapers but that’s it. No arguing about what to wear, no wanting to climb in the carseat by themselves, etc. I have to add that I’m lucky that BlueEyes continues to go to daycare while I’m home with Little Brother. I get quite a lot of work done while Little Brother sleeps in the sling or on my lap. And this is nice, because then at the end of the day I feel like I did something useful.

Third, what really helps is that in my mind, Little Brother going to daycare is really far away. With BlueEyes I felt like I HAD to enjoy every second that I was home with him because soon he would go to daycare. Now, Little Brother is only going to start daycare after we have moved to Europe. And I can tell you that a looming transatlantic move is a really good way to keep your mind off of other things (I have to add though that it is also quite an expensive and time-consuming way to keep your mind off of other things).

But the most important difference is that when I was home with BlueEyes I felt pretty lonely. Going from a busy lab with colleagues to being home all day with a baby was quite a shocking change. Now on the other hand I feel surrounded by funny, interesting and caring people through social media. When I feel lonely I know there’s always people on twitter I can talk to. There’s blogs to read and Pubscience videos to watch. Even though I might not actually see someone IRL all day, at the end of the day it feels like I’ve interacted with lots of people and I find that this makes me very happy. So thank you!

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Filed under attachment parenting, baby, babywearing, birth, blogging, daycare, maternity leave, Pub-Style Science, twitter

Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part I

I have been in the US for nearly four years to do my post-doctoral training, and now that we’re almost moving back, I feel that I have a lot of useful information to share with the internet. Even though 90% of my readers are in the US, I hope that there are enough people out there that can benefit from the things I’ve encountered. And maybe it’s useful for USians as well. Because with many things, I realize now that I could have done things differently, hence the title.

For this first part, I want to talk about the thing that is on my mind right now: maternity leave. In my homecountry, women get 16 weeks off around the birth of their child. This is mandated by the government, so there are no differences in policies per university like in the US (where there is no such thing as paid maternity leave mandated by the government). When I talked about this on twitter today I discovered that for many, many graduate students and post-docs, there are no regulations regarding maternity, paternity or adoption leave at all. This leaves people very vulnerable, because it is up to your advisor to determine how long your leave can be and whether it is paid or unpaid. So if you’re looking for a post-doc and you have the intention to start a family in the near future, it might be wise to VERY CAREFULLY try to find out what your future PI’s view on leave is.

Some positions, like my current position, make you eligible to apply for Family and Medical Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, you might want to study this before starting your family, because it requires you for example to be employed for longer than a year before you have a baby and to work a certain amount of hours to be eligible. In my homecountry, there’s really not a lot you need to do to apply for this type of leave, but here in the US I found that you need to carefully follow the rules and make sure you are eligible before applying. This is especially important because if you don’t get paid during your leave, you still need to pay for your health insurance that is normally taken out of your paycheck. In my university, when applying for FMLA you first need to finish all your sick, annual and personal days before the unpaid leave starts. So when you’re considering having a baby it might be worth trying to save as many days as you can to make sure the unpaid portion of your leave is as short as possible. One might ask: but then what do you do when your baby is sick after you’ve gone back to work and you have no days left? I have no clue at all… Which brings me to the following question from twitter:

Please comment if your university or institute does, because others might be able to change this at their institute!
So as with many things my most important advice about maternity, paternity or adoption leave is: READ TEH FUCKING MANUAL!!


Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, health insurance, life in the lab, maternity leave

Guest Post: The Pregnant Post-Doc Search

Today, my fellow blogger and electrophysiologist (and soon-to-be mom!!) The Cellular Scale and I are swapping blog posts. I am over at her blog writing about science, and @TheCellularScale would like to hear your advice on the following:
Hi BabyAttachmode readers, thanks for letting me guest post here. Honestly, I am hoping for some advice. I am a (senior) graduate student in a computation/electrophysiology lab and am planning to graduate in December. Everything is lined up for this to happen provided I actually write a lot in the next few months. However, I am also 5 months pregnant (baby due in July). 
This pregnancy was planned, and my advisor even thinks it is good timing. She had her first child when she was finishing her Ph.D. as well, and now she has tenure (It is possible, folks). I didn’t necessarily want to try to have a baby right after I started a new post-doc position, but I also didn’t want to wait forever. In addition, my impression is that the ‘clock’ starts ticking after you get your Ph.D. (for early investigator status grants and so forth), so I rather delay graduation now than delay productivity later.
But here is my question: When should I apply for post-doctoral positions? 
Part of me would like to apply right away and have a settled position for January as soon as possible. Or alternatively if it is really difficult for me to find a position, I would like to find that out sooner rather than later. If I apply now, I could even work on submitting an F32 NRSA grant with someone, and possibly have my own funding. The thing I am hesitant about is that I am obviously pregnant, and if I get invited to interviews any time in the next 4 months, I will be HUGE. I am worried that I might not be a sharp and quick thinking as normal. But more importantly, I am worried about implicit bias against mothers and motherhood in academia. Will a potential advisor think that I’m not serious about science or that I won’t have time to devote to the lab? Should I hold off applying for positions for this reason? 
There are benefits to applying later too. I have 3 papers currently submitted (1 as first author), and it would be nice to have those accepted before sending out my CV. But I worry about applying to post-doc positions at the last minute. A recently graduated friend of mine (who had some great publications) sent out about 100 applications/letters of interest and got interviews for only 4 or 5. This is more or less terrifying to me, even though he ultimately landed a great position. Also, I won’t be pregnant ‘later’, but I will have a tiny baby… which I’m sure will present its own problems: For example maybe I won’t be well rested for my interviews.
Any pros or cons that I am not considering? Any advice from successful or unsuccessful post-doc applications?


Filed under academia, finding a job, guest post, maternity leave, postdoc, science

A Postdoc’s Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity leave

I only discovered today that the National Postdoctoral Association published “A Postdoc’s Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity leave”. It’s a short guide that tells you all the things that you should keep in mind before, during and after your pregnancy as a postdoc. That’s incredibly helpful, because as a postdoc you’re not a student but regularly not a real employee either, so it’s often vague what your rights are concerning things like maternity leave. 
Click here for a larger view.
The only slight flaw that I could discover is that they list ‘looking for childcare’ as something to do after the baby is born. In our case that would have been way too late. Our university only has one childcare center with about 12 spots for babies (!), so we were smart enough to put our names on the list when I was only 8 weeks pregnant. The daycare center knew I was expecting before my close friends did, just because otherwise we would probably not have got a spot.
Anyway, go and check it out if you’re a postdoc and pregnant or considering to get pregnant.
So long and thanks for the fish, National Postdoctoral Association!


Filed under daycare, maternity leave, postdoc, pregnancy, working mom

Do you put maternity leave on your CV?

Today @Scientistmother asked the following question on twitter:


It’s been something that I have struggled with too: do you let people know you have (a) child(ren) or not? On the one hand it will explain any gaps you might have in your CV, but on the other hand it may lead some people (let’s say the gray haired male subset of people) to think that you won’t work as hard. And that maybe they should hire/fund someone who doesn’t need to leave at 5 to pick their child up from daycare, or who won’t have to stay home when said child is ill. 
I remember that I went to a talk at SfN last year about work/life balance and the speaker told us that research (that I’ve been trying to cite, but haven’t been able to find yet) has shown that for men it looks good when their CV shows they have kids (for example by including that they are on the PTA of their kid’s school) but for women it doesn’t (and even looks bad).
To speak for myself: I don’t really have a gap in my CV due to BlueEyes being born (although if I hadn’t been tired, nauseous and unable to think coherently I may have got more work done…), so I generally don’t disclose this on my CV or when applying for fellowships, unless for example a fellowship allows you to submit longer after obtaining your PhD due to parental leave. What about you? Do you disclose this somewhere and if so where?



Filed under grant writing, maternity leave, work-life balance, working mom