Category Archives: working mom

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.


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

The suckiest part of being a scientist and a mom…

… to me right now is the unpredictability of sleep. In order to function at a decent level I need a certain amount of sleep. And being pregnant I need a little more too I think. Pre-baby I knew that if I had important stuff to write (like the pile of grants and fellowships that I’m writing now), I would go to bed early and make sure I’m rested so that I can be focused the next day. Now, I can go to bed however early I want, but if BlueEyes is having a crappy night, then so am I.

I haven’t written a lot about baby sleep recently, but it’s still not awesome. A great night is when BlueEyes wakes up for the first time around 2 pm and an awesome night is when he doesn’t wake up at all, but these awesome nights can be counted on the fingers of half a hand. Most of the time I’m okay with that. I know that after a crappy night, a better night will follow. But in these pre-deadline days when I’m slightly stressed about funding and what that means for my career (slightly is really a huge understatement) I find myself having a hard time to keep my cool about this. And it has been proven now that me panicking about lack of sleep in the middle of the night does not increase sleep for anyone in this family. So there’s that. Back to grant writing (1 down, 3 to go).


Filed under grant writing, science, sleep, working mom

If I stand for too long I faint

Both pregnancies I’ve had this annoying thing that if I stand for longer than 30-40 minutes, I get lightheaded and am on my way to fainting. I don’t know why this happens, because my blood pressure does not drop very low; last time when my midwife measured it, it was a very average 120/70. Usually this is not a big deal, because if I sit down for a little bit it goes away. But sometimes there’s nowhere to sit, for example when waiting in line at a very busy restaurant that just opened. This happened a couple months ago and I was put on a chair by a colleague just before falling to the floor. Or when waiting in line at the airport, but then I can usually move my legs enough to prevent actually fainting. 
Another occasion where you have to stand for this amount of time is when giving a talk about science. That happened yesterday. My talk went very well I think, but a couple minutes into the questions I felt kind of lightheaded. I was hoping it would go away but I felt myself get more and more dizzy and was hoping people couldn’t see anything… At some point, when I realized I wasn’t done answering questions anytime soon and I just had to sit down. So I did, mumbled some apology for it and luckily the two fellow post-doc moms that I knew in the audience looked very understanding. I felt embarrassed, but I guess fainting in front of an entire audience would have been worse. I finished answering questions and the PI that invited me said he was impressed that I came to deliver my talk at 7 months pregnant, so I guess it wasn’t a big deal. But I did leave the talk feeling a bit embarrassed about the situation.

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Filed under giving a talk, networking, pregnancy, work-life balance, working mom

When do you stop pumping milk at work?

A while back I wrote about pumping milk at work and the other day I got an email from a reader asking me the following:

Hi Babyattachmode,
I came across your blog while looking for some guides to breastfeeding and pumping at work. I am about to go back to work as a postdoc, and I’m wondering whether it is possible to not pump at work at all and will my milk supply go down if I skip my work pump. Any advice is appreciated!
Best [anonymous]

Even though I’m not a lactation consultant, I do have some experience and heard a lot of advice and experiences from women around me, so I told her this:

It really depends on the age of your baby and on your supply. For most women, their milk supply starts to be stable between 9 months and a year. So if you baby is older than 9 months, I think you should be okay not pumping at work and just nursing him at home. However, if your baby is younger than that, I think not pumping will affect your supply and it’s up to you how much you don’t want that. If you’re okay with your supply dropping and slowly moving over to formula, then you can do it and any breastmilk he gets from you is something of course! However, if you plan to nurse longer and your baby is younger than 9 months, I wouldn’t advice not pumping at work.
Another thing to consider is your own comfort. When I stopped pumping when my son was 1 year, I still got pretty engorged at the end of a workday and had my handpump in my office to relieve the pressure on days when it got too bad. I’m sure my breasts could not have handled an 8+ hour workday without pumping in the first year, but I know this is different for different women too.
A last thing to add is that for me, pumping was not that much work. It’s another thing to add to your routine, but I was usually done within 15 minutes per session, and I pumped twice a day. I had an extra set of tubing and breastshields so that I didn’t have to wash those in between pumping sessions for example.

To which she replied that her baby was 9 months and that she had pumped twice daily since she went back to work when her baby was 2 months.
So I told her:

When your baby is already nine months, you’re likely going to be okay not pumping and continuing to nurse. I dropped one pumping session at 9 months and the other at 12, but you might be okay just not pumping during the day. Just see how it goes and if your supply drops dramatically you can always decide to continue pumping for a couple more weeks/months and then try again. For a while I pumped during breakfast to have an extra bottle and leave home with empty breasts for the day (especially when BlueEyes decided not to nurse a lot in the morning).

I thought I’d post this conversation on my blog too, as it might be helpful to others too!


Filed under breastfeeding, parenting, pumping milk, working mom

#PubScience #scimom edition

Yesterday I stayed up past my normal bedtime to participate in #PubScience organized by @DrIsis and @MTomasson. We talked about being a parent in science, and you can watch the episode here and below (do it! It’s a lot of fun and an interesting conversation).
I had to leave about an hour in because BlueEyes woke up and needed some comforting. And then I fell asleep, because as I said: this was past my tired-pregnant-self bedtime. Talking about being a scimom.
What I wanted to clarify is that when I talked about one of the parents stepping back to make sure the other can excel in their job, both Dr. Isis and Dr. Rubidium said that that was a very privileged situation being able to take a step back. I agree that parents that have to work double shifts at McDonalds in order to be able to support their families probably have a way harder time than us academics do. But while there are usually people that have a harder time than others in whichever aspect of their life, for me this is still an issue in my life and therefore worth discussing. I see people around me where one of the parents decide to take a step back, taking a job where you are not expected to travel to meetings, you are not expected to work late nights to make deadlines and you don’t need to be in the lab on the weekend because your experiments require that. By doing this, they give up the dream of becoming a tenure track scientist. Even though I think doing this will increase the chances for my husband (and the other way around) neither of us is ready to do this.
Also, while we were discussing all this, on twitter some people were wondering if, after hearing all this, they were ever going to want to have babies. I have this to say about that (and I may have said this before on my blog or anywhere else): For me, having a baby was an entirely different desire than wanting to be a kick-ass scientist (preferable in academia). I know I would be very sad if I would be forced to leave science because I cannot work hard enough/publish enough papers/get enough grants, but I would have been heartbroken if I didn’t have kids. So for me it’s not kids or career, it’s kids and then see how far I can get in my career.


Filed under baby, birth, blogging, parenting, Pub-Style Science, twitter, work-life balance, working mom

Like a deer in the headlights

I often think about what kind of qualities a scientist should have. I think a scientist should be curious, adventurous (science-wise, not necessarily bungee-jump-wise) and inventive. But lately, it also seems like an important part is to be resilient to stress about having an insecure job. As I said before, whether or not I will have the position I want in the homecountry depends on whether I get a grant (any grant) before next year when we are moving back. This type of insecurity, that I know almost every scientist faces, does not make me work better. To be honest, it stresses me to the point that when I have to write a grant, I can’t because I keep thinking: ‘this has to be awesome, or else’. I think some people excel under pressure, but I’m currently not one of those.
You have to understand that I was raised in a country that has a lot of social security. Everybody has healthcare – and with that I mean real healthcare, not the one where you have to co-pay 20%, leaving you bankrupt after an expensive procedure – and it’s a lot harder for employers to fire people with a contract than in the US. Deep down, I did not envision being older than 30, not knowing where I would work next year or whether I would be able to afford a house.
You also have to understand that wanting to get a grant funded to secure a position seems to be my type of nesting. Being pregnant has amplified these feelings enormously, because I seem to want to imagine what life will look like when this prospective baby is born, and moving countries when he or she is only 5 or 6 months does not really help in this process.
It would help if Dr. BrownEyes would have be a millionaire, or at least have a job that we would know he could keep and that would bring in money, but he doesn’t, because he’s also a scientist. This is great, and his enthusiasm for science is one of the things I like about him, but it doesn’t help in my anxiety about getting a job.
So does this make me a bad scientist? It did for a while, because I really felt like a deer in the headlights trying to write grants and papers, but now that I know that I can at least get bread on the table doing another post-doc that gives me some room to breathe, and to be good and creative while writing grants again. But why aren’t there more scientist-jobs for people who don’t love insecurity about grants and their future (and the future of those in their labs)??


Filed under finding a job, imposter syndrome, postdoc, pregnancy, work-life balance, working mom

The part-time paradise

My home country is the country in Europe where most people work part-time. Nearly half of the workforce (both male and female) work part-time (meaning less than 38 hours a week). And if that is broken down for gender you can see that 75% of women work part-time.
Source. I couldn’t find this figure in English, but the X-axis shows the percentage of working people, and my homecountry is the longest blue line all the way at the bottom.
You might say: ‘Oh nice, there are so many jobs that people can do part-time and they get to spend more time with their family’. True, but the downside of this is that daycare providers often also work part-time. This means that if you are one of those few mothers that want to work full-time, you will almost certainly put your child in a daycare where it does not have one steady care provider, but different ones for almost every day, making it much harder for your child to form a bond with their care provider. 
And that is not even the worst part of it. Because the reality is that because so many women work part-time, it is almost seen as a crime when you have children and decide to work full-time. Almost no child goes to a daycare 5 days a week, and if you ask if that’s a possibility, the answer we got was:”I guess, if you insist”. I won’t even get started about the judgmental looks and comments from other mothers. It is just not done. 
So can you science part-time? I think you can, because as a matter of fact a couple of my mentors from grad school (both men and women) worked four days a week. Some of them worked 4 times 9 hours (technically full-time but with one day to be home with their kids), others worked 4 ‘regular’ days. I’m not saying that these people did not work at nights and on the weekend, because I’m pretty sure most of them did. And I guess in about a year from now (if all goes well, we get some kind of grant, etc etc) we will try for ourselves. Both Dr. BrownEyes and I are considering working 4 days a week, so that BlueEyes and prospective baby can go to daycare 3 days a week, just like their fellow homecountry kids.


Filed under academia, cultural differences, daycare, science, work-life balance, working mom