Taking Baby to Conference: A Crowdsource Project

On Facebook in November, I posted this query: “A reader wonders about taking baby to conference: “I’m particularly interested to know if people (grad students in particular) walked around with their babies or if they kept them hidden away (oy). Organizing infant care (conference childcare doesn’t take babies under 6 months) is a big challenge and I’m trying to figure out it’ll hurt me too much professionally to drag the baby with me to meeting up with people (not faculty, but other grad student friends, etc.)”

It prompted an outpouring of responses. Here they are (as of 11/20/14).

Also, please see this excellent blog post on taking babies to conferences, by Jaime Teevan — who has four kids–as well as her follow-up on NOT taking kids to conferences.  Both edifying reading on this perennially fraught subject.


I don’t think having a baby affects how people will think of you, but it’s simply impossible to have a professional conversation when your baby needs attention, which is pretty much all the time they aren’t asleep. It’s like taking the baby to work – you won’t get much done. There aren’t many conferences and you need to establish professional relationships. It is really okay to take a few days off from your child – it is not harmful for him/her to be left with other parent for a few days. (Sometimes it helps to have someone say this)

  • Thank you. *It is ok to have someone else care for your baby!!*
  • Agreed, but your mileage may vary on baby, mom, other parent, baby’s age…
  • Ah, yes, this option is not available to those of us whose partner’s employment pays most of the bills through sixty hour work weeks. They’re unavailable for childcare, and the cost of childcare for 12+ hours for multiple days is as much or more than traveling to the conference with child in tow.
  • Keep in mind there is cost and there is cost – the point of going to a meeting is to gain professionally. In most cases you will gain little with a baby along preventing you from focusing, being able to go out late, etc. Paying for grandma/babysitter etc. whether at the conference or at home will help you make the most out of a conference. That is why some societies have decided to subsidize precisely these costs. I do sympathize, but I imagine you already pay for childcare up to 10 hours / day (that’s our max) so is the expense significant?
  • Maybe… It seems like we’re making assumptions about academic parents’ situations (spouse or grandparent able to take over for a few days) and judging their financial decisionmaking. There are plenty of reasons it’s better logistically to bring a baby. Maybe their home departments subsidize conference travel but not childcare. Maybe overnight care at home is unavailable. Maybe their budget only covers regular childcare at home (which you often need to pay while on vacation in order to keep your spot) and attending the conference with baby costs the same as attending solo, with no need to pay for any overnight care….
  • I agree that attending a conference with a baby probably means you’re not benefiting professionally as much as you would be without the baby, but for some the relevant calculus might be attending with baby vs. not attending.

Wait!! There is conference child care??

  • at many, yes!
  • The American Academy of Religion is this week-end in San Diego. The AAR has a service we like to call, AAR Camp. I’ve never made use of the service, but one of my male colleagues is bringing his child to AAR Camp this year. I’ll let you know how it goes for him. . .
  • For many conferences yes, but it’s often expensive. SMBE and Ent Society have extra grants to help – that includes bringing grandma to the meeting as a babysitter which is really cool.
  • Seems like for bigger conferences it is more common. My primary association told me that you have to hit like… 5k attendees to justify it.
  • SMBE is more like 1000
  • It also may be about what sort of services the hotel provides as part of their conference package and what sort of venues the association uses.
  • I was supposed to be presenting at a conference today but had to decline because babysitter cancelled on me. Wish I had asked about this!
  • Due to liability issues I’ve mostly seen dependent care grants that the recipient can do as they need with (defray cost of other parent attending, hire a babysitter, arrange visiting care for an elderly family member, etc.). At least at the conferences I attend they are never depleted and funds carry over to the next year.

As a grad student, I brought both of my children to conferences when they were about 3-4 months old. Most of the comments here cover my experience (difficulty of carrying on adult/professional conversations, having someone care for my child elsewhere while I present/attend presentations). For child care, I actually relied a lot on grad school friends who might be willing to take the baby for 90 minutes while I conferenced. If you do bring your baby, don’t expect to be a full conference participant. That said, every time I sat down with the baby, especially if I was nursing, another academic woman would come and thank me for bringing my baby and creating space where it is okay to be an academic and a mother. And I certainly wasn’t alone. There are almost always children with grad student/professor parents at the major academic conferences in education that I have been to. When I’ve had other parents ask me this question, I do say that they won’t be able to participate fully in the conference. Does the expense of / reason for attending the conference outweigh that? For me, it did — the conferences were my academic lifeline while having children, the way I kept myself active. And it in no way (that I’m aware of) had a bearing on my professional reputation or how people saw me…if anything, I got the, “Wow! You’re Super Mom!” comments.

I brought my 2 month old and partner to a conference (as a graduate student) last year and both to a workshop 7 months later. I carried the baby during the community events (receptions, dinners) and my partner took her during panels. Both graduate students and faculty members understood the circumstances and were extremely supportive of these choices. In turn, older members of the community shared stories of bringing their kids to these events- during the wrap up session of the workshop a faculty member shared pictures of her son at the same age as my daughter at the same workshop 10 years earlier. I felt really supported by my community of scholars (both male and female) and realized that it was really a small period of time when my life and career had to publicly intersect (and that people understood that it wouldn’t be forever). This year, I went to the same conference without my 13 month old.

I’ve brought my baby to several conferences, but never to panels. I’ve noticed that several faculty members, even those who are quite senior and well known in my field, took special care to stop by and say hello. They seemed to go out of their way to make sure that I knew I was welcome and to share some of their own experiences trying to balance parenthood and an academic career. Not everyone feels that way, and who knows what was said behind my back, but in general people were welcoming.

I’m at a conference right now and I’ve seen tons of babies this morning in the common areas.

Also now that I’m on the faculty side I feel like I worried about this too much as a grad student and that as a faculty member I would probably had more respect for a grad student with a child. On the other hand I heard a male colleague (in a different discipline) complain the other day about how much having a baby slowed down a particular grad student’s progress. Having a baby cost me time too, but I worked my ass off to make up for it. I joked with him… “I had more time to lose as a grad student than I do now, pre-tenure!”

It is so sad that still we feel that we need to hide some very important part of our life to be considered professionals. Men don’t go through this.

I left my baby at home while I went to a conference last year. She was roughly 7 months old, the conference city was just a three hour drive away, I pumped in between sessions and froze the milk in my room’s mini fridge, and I enjoyed the first uninterrupted nights’ sleep since she was born (and the last.) It was nice to get away for a couple nights but it would also be nice to see better acknowledgement of work/life balance on the conference circuit. If circumstances had been slightly different (further away, longer duration, etc) I might have done things differently too.


Ellie Louson, a grad student at York University wrote a blog post on her experiences taking a child to a conference: http://elouson.blogspot.ca/…/how-to-attend-conference…

How to attend a conference with a baby | Productive (adj)

I took my four month old to a conference in Texas (I’m from the midwest). I did have someone watch her while I presented, but she went to the sessions and meet and greets with me. Since I sat in the back I could leave if she started to fuss. Almost every woman there thanked me for bringing her. I think either way is ok – just make it work for you. Good luck with your decision.

There isn’t an easy answer. Do what you got to/want to do. You’ll live either way. And congrats on the wee one!

Bring the baby. However, I would be wary about taking the child into sessions unless it is a very quiet baby. Make sure you grab a seat in the back by the door so you can bail if the baby is restless (or if the presenter starts to read a paper out loud!).

I am a modular student and had my second child my first term. She has been to 3 Residencies with me and 1 conference. Infants are easier to take with you than older babies. Infants mostly sleep and nurse. I nursed my baby during classes, lectures, and presentations. Normally she would nurse to sleep. I think the key to successfully bringing a baby with you is knowing your baby’s diaper/eat/sleep rhythm. Babywearing is also very helpful. I received many compliments from colleagues and professors about how well my baby behaved during meetings. I also relied on fellow graduates to help watch the baby during meetings where I wished not to be distracted.

Baby is the reason I do not go to conferences right now: 1. Can’t afford sitter at home or to go with. 2. Can’t leave baby at home because of partner’s disability. 3. Nursing. 4. Partner gets no paid leave to come with. Cannot afford to miss work.

If I could, I would get someone to go with me, which would solve the nursing and care issues. Good luck to this mother! Many people are odious to academic women with children.

Depends on the discipline. I had a 1 year old (and then an 18 month old) traveling with me to conferences and worried just like you. I always had his dad or my mom keeping baby while I conferenced. In my field, it would not be acceptable to have a baby in a panel room or at a reception. If I were in your shoes I would try to convince someone to come with you so you can do both things… Parent (especially if you’re breastfeeding) and be “on” for conference activities… Running back to the room when you can. Good luck!

Just do it.


Good question to raise awareness

This came up at a recent women’s mentorship event at a conference I attended and an interesting point was made (by the mentors) – that demonstrating that you can successfully balance your personal and work life, multitask, and prioritize your career while also raising a child reflected extremely *well* on a person that chooses to bring their child to a conference (or on campus interview). All babies that I saw had both parents there (this conference offers dependent care grants that many use to bring a partner or family member with them). https://www.facebook.com/hssgecc/photos/pb.110597685695591.-2207520000.1416521488./720056011416419/?type=3&theater

History of Science Society Graduate and Early Career Caucus

“everything you wanted to know about job negotiation but were afraid to ask” workshop in progress #hsspsa14 #hssgcc

I’m Japanese and did my PhD at a US institution before taking my current job in Japan. I took my 4 year-old son to one of the monthly brown-bag talks on campus one time. I thought it went okay that time. But later when another talk was announced, my adviser casually asked me “you are not bringing your son with you, are you?” So that was when I decided I would not bring my kids into my professional space (although I did try to voice). Organizing infant care is such a pain, too, for me professionally and financially. I was a “physically” single mom (my husband was working in Japan) and if I wanted to travel, I had to either hire a nanny or babysitter to watch my kids at home or take the kids with me and use the childcare at the conference site. Either way, I simply couldn’t afford it. There was also one time when my daughter got sick and sent back from daycare a few hours before my presentation. Thankfully it was a regional conference and I asked my friend to watch her for a few hours. After this incident, I asked my parents, in-laws, and my sister to come all the way from Japan. Even if I could afford to ask someone or trade childcare with friends, I didn’t want to ask them to watch my kids when they’re sick or when they get sick.

Super thoughtless to take your baby to a student’s defence if you are a committee member -if it was the candidate -no problem but on a student’s most stressful high stakes day -it’s just cheap and thoughtless and yeah even people with children are judging you.

While a grad student, last year I was lucky enough to have a husband who could watch my little one while I gave a paper at the Chicago AAAs, and then surrounded by colleagues who were welcoming to my daughter joining us for lunch after sessions. Do you babywear? If the baby is young enough s/he might be comfy enough to snuggle in and fall asleep – then one can carry on as usual. Sometimes for committee meetings I’d put my little one on a blanket with toys and she’d be content enough – but it really depends on the personality of the baby. And whether or not this would all hurt you professionally might depend on the field you are in too! I

Just bring the baby! Especially if you have colleagues who will be attending who know about him/her (and probably would LIKE to meet him/her). I wouldn’t mind babysitting someone’s baby as a “break” from the scene for a bit (for free, of course).. Babies just bring smiles to my face and help me forget about whatever stress I’m dealing with.

I should add that one presenter was disappointed when I left her lecture in order to change a diaper. At one point in her paper she presented a view in Latina/o culture that the Virgin Mary’s milk is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. I had been nursing in the back of the room before I left and she referred to me. I was honored as a mother to receive recognition even though I had left. You may get negative responses, but in my experience colleagues and professors have been supportive.

I left my 7 month old baby at home to go to a conference when I was a graduate student and recently wrote a newsletter post about that and other academic parenting issues for the The Medieval Academy of America. In case you decide to leave the baby but are feeling daunted by the pumping while away part, you might find the detailed handout I made useful. It’s linked within this article: http://www.themedievalacademyblog.org/maa-news-parenting…/

MAA News – Parenting in Academia

I was in a panel last spring (a dozen people in a small hotel conference room) where two adults were with a noisy baby about 9 months of age in the back row. I suspected that mom was on the panel and the adults were dad and friend (or aunt). They kept trying to calm baby, give him iPad or food, then take him outside to the hallway, and then come back in with him once he was calmed and then repeat repeat repeat. The opening and closing of the door was really distracting. And I totally understand wanting to see your spouse’s paper but in this case I did not understand why baby was there and why adults thought it was okay to have him there. I guess there is some reason they were there… Maybe mom has social anxiety and needed dad there or something… Maybe? But oh, I was annoyed that baby kept shrieking during my talk.

It’s way too male dominated/hierarchical to walk around with your baby at an academic conference and assume you won’t be judged in some way by at least one possible employer. I also like to keep a nice separation between my work and private life.

I wouldn’t. It’s very difficult to be in your professional role and be mommy at the same time. I either don’t go to the conference or I leave the baby at home. I usually don’t go to conference until they are a year old. I have 3 kids.

A lot depends on the conference too. At something like WAWH or the Berks, no problem at all. For the AHA or other really high-stakes conferences, you may want to be able to devote more of your full attention to the professional aspects, so having a spouse, partner, or trusted friend available to spell you during panels, workshops, and especially job interviews would be a good idea. Receptions and maybe event meals are probably OK, as long as you can make a quick getaway if you need to.

As a grad student I took my 2 year old to a conference and put him in the conference childcare for a few hours so I could go to some sessions. He didn’t like the childcare too much but I pulled him out for lunch and when I went to the expo hall and the vendors were happy talking to him. I think they missed their own kids. I was fortunate to take him to two large conferences before he started elementary school. I don’t see anything wrong taking your child to a conference or sitting in a session if they can be quiet since I see it as a benefit for them to be in a social setting. He would have never traveled nor visited these conferences if I were not in a doc program.

I took my 9 m/o with me and had her with me in a sling on the back. But I also had daycare at the congress and went there to nurse in between sessions. Worked out fine, but was an exhausting enterprise…!

Depends on baby and you. It would have been hard with mine, but I once a friend who travelled from Australia with her 4 mo old and we had a wonderful time catching up at a conference. Her baby slept the whole time and my friend was as relaxed as could be. But once before I had kids I was frustrated by a friend who insisted on meeting with me (not very convenient, but ok, I wanted to see her too) but then was totally focused on her son and his needs as I followed her stroller around the streets.

I see lots of babies at conferences. My son went to his first one when he was 3 months old. I’ve always had a helper along. Sometimes my husband and more often my parents. When it is my husband, we split time at the conference since we are in similar fields. He is old enough now that he will be attending some talks in the january conference we are both attending (he is 10) so we can all see more.

Baby’s health and well-being should be the first criterion. I’ve taken child to conferences, but w the help of my spouse. If you can do it alone (with a little help from friends) go for it. I’ve not hidden child, but have also not taken her to panels. As said by others, it is also nice too to get a break

I took my baby to a conference when he was 4 months old. My husband watched him during the panels and I came out and nursed in the hallway every 2 hours. I met another grad student nursing her baby there at the same time. I’m going to my discipline’s big conference in December to present a panel 35 weeks into my 2nd pregnancy and my now 2 year old is coming. He’ll be occupied during the panels but absolutely will come to events with frineds/ mentors/ etc. I would not bring a baby to a job interview but aside from that, I would not see a problem with it.

In cognitive science conferences I see lots of babies/kids, in my other specializations, philosophy and the occasional religion conference, not so much. I took my 8-week-old son to a 3-day conf (he was exclusively breastfed, wouldn’t take a bottle, so that was the only solution). It did not hurt my career I think: many people came up to me and said they were sad to leave their babies at home. The baby is an excellent conversation starter (I got to talk to a very senior professor in my field who adored little babies). It’s no picnic but a baby < 6 months still sleeps a lot and you can quietly sit with him or her in a pram near an exit.

No, I think bringing a baby is just the normal thing to do in graduate circles. I always like to talk to the babies!

I have brought my babies to interviews and conferences that required travel. In one situation I didn’t have enough milk pumped, and in the other situation the conference told me that there would be NO space where I could pump during the day, so baby had to come with (I was staying at another hotel about 20 min away, so to leave the conference hotel to pump would have been ridiculous… and oh yeah I’m not interested in pumping in bathroom stall). If you don’t have enough milk pumped or if your baby is simply to little to leave with someone else, then you should bring him or her. This is reality and academics need to make room for new mothers at conferences. Do not be afraid of what others have to say. Most people will just ooh and ahh over your baby anyway (that’s my experience).

I’ve always done it, but I have also always had either my spouse or a good friend (another grad student) along with me to help with baby-wrangling during panels, meetings, etc. (eta–at one particular conference I attend annually I also spend part of the time as an exhibitor, so I usually have a minion with me at the booth. They always attract lots of friendly attention from passersby and, like others have commented, have been a great way to get a conversation going with someone who I may not have gotten to talk to otherwise)

I always see babies or young children at conferences. However, I am in the field of Child Development, so that may be part of the reason. I wouldn’t think anything of it to see a young one, especially since this baby is under 6 months!

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Taking Baby to Conference: A Crowdsource Project — 16 Comments

  1. There were a lot of kiddos at the AAAs this past week, and mine (almost 3 y.o.) was one of them. Here’s something I learned:

    See if you can get a local to organize activities for a cohort of friends who brought their kids (or spouses of friends who brought their kids).

    We live where the meetings were being held so we were planning a nice big outdoor adventure. But then: rain. So we hauled in arts and crafts supplies, dress-ups, blocks, and other stuff for the toddler/pre-school set, plus indoor picnic items for all. We took over a 10×10 area of a relatively un-used hallway and, basically, ran collective childcare for the day. Parent-friends brought their kids for drop-in playing. Attendees who missed their kids or needed a break joined us for levity. I chased my kid and another friend’s kid, barefoot and in full dress up gear (all of us) through the main meeting, and got nothing but smiles from attendees. It was, seriously, the most fun I had all conference.

  2. Physical science post-doc here.

    I brought my 18 month old to a conference when I was in grad school. He and his dad had a great time sight-seeing during the day while I was in meetings. It was a pretty good meeting for me, but I missed out on a lot of the valuable (and fun) evening socializing/networking. Since then I’ve left the kids at home. I’m about to go on my first trip away from baby #2.

    The baby’s personality is a big factor, too. Both of my kids are very active and talkative, even when they were tiny babies. Neither would have done well being brought into a meeting session.

    I fantasize about conferences with playdates, like the previous poster describes, in addition to beer dates.

  3. I have brought my (now two-year old) to many conferences and workshops. Luckily my husband was able to travel with me and he watched her while I was at the conferences. For most of these conferences, she was under 18 months old, and I nursed her every two hours or when needed, in between panels and presentations. Sometimes I nursed in the presentation room between presentations. For one of the conferences we were explicitly not allowed to bring spouses or family but they made a special exception since I was nursing. I also regularly brought my kid (when she was under 2) to meetings at work, including department meetings, school meetings, and the like. (I am a tt professor). If a conference was within 1.5 hours away, I would pump while away and leave my daughter with my husband. I would make special arrangements with the conferences to provide a place for me to pump (sometimes this was a bit humorous).
    Most of the conferences I go to are very male-dominated (tech field) and I think it’s important to bring the “mom” to it, and show that women can be super talented, smart professionals and caring moms at the same time.
    At one of the conferences where I brought my daughter, which was at a university I was carrying my daughter and walking around, post-nursing session. I heard a bunch of students pass me and comment on how unfortunate it was that I was a student with a baby. It’s extra ironic since I’m also 37 years old. I get a lot of looks at my college when I push my kid around campus, and strangers sometimes ask me, “is that your kid?” There is a lot of bias with mothers but I try to ignore it and most people have not been explicitly rude, though sometimes a bit surprised or confused.
    Now that I am pregnant with twins I think it will be too unwieldy to bring them to conferences.

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  6. I brought my 5-month old to the African Studies Association last year. She was young enough that she was very flexible. She managed 3 flights from Kenya to Indianapolis, work meetings, book meetings with publishers, and a couple of presentations. She was amazingly cooperative. When it was time for me to present, however, I asked the hotel to give me a list of their preferred vendors for childcare and had a professional sitter watch my girl for 3 hours. Some colleagues offered to watch her, but I didn’t want to get distracted during my presentation. I’m going to ISA this month, but I won’t be bringing her this time. At almost 8-months she wants more freedom.

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  12. Babies at conferences seems to be field-specific. In mine, I had never seen it until this past week. It’s an annual, expensive, 7000-delegate affair that doubles as the annual job fair and book fair too. It is hard to get into as panels are juried by the Chair and by the conference organizers. It is regularly where people do interviews and court publishers, and the panels and general tenor are quite formal with high stakes.

    The conference does have a daycare. Perhaps it doesn’t take babies – but that is no excuse for bringing them into sessions and staying there if they re noisy. I was astounded a parent did not leave the room during a panel when her baby woke up and began vocalizing – not crying, but cooing and mumbling loudly and the occasional shriek (some parents forget this is still noisy and disruptive, even if it isn’t outright crying). The speaker paused on two occasions to wait for the baby to quiet down, and I found it very difficult to follow the paper. Baby continued through the next paper too.

    If either of the speakers had in the audience a potential employer with whom they were interviewing (like I did during my own presentation on another panel), the interruption and distraction and competition for audience attention caused by the baby could have thrown the speaker at a crucial time. While it’s a nice thought for one mom to have same access as others to the sessions, it is highly unfair and no gain for feminism if one person’s experience comes at the cost of compromising two presenters’ and umpteen listeners’ experience (I’m in a female-dominated field). Parents need to remember it’s on THEM to remove a non-silent child, because everyone else is afraid to say something lest they appear misogynist or unsupportive. Indeed, I wonder if a parent such as this one is relying on an assumed essentialist idea of shared motherliness that she thought potentially derailing someone’s panel was ok and that all women love babies to the extent that they prioritize them above all else at all times? I venture to say, unpopular as it may be, that this kind of assumption does happen.

    Should babies come to conferences? Sure. Should babies get to trump everyone else’s rights? Nope.

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  14. I’m slightly surprised, given the rise of the “two body” problem (where both partners are academics) that there isn’t more cases of “I can’t leave baby with spouse because spouse has to attend the conference too.” I just tried for the first time bringing my two year old to a conference attended by both myself and my partner (we are in the same field) and it was ROUGH. Neither of us got to be full participants, and conferences are intense and require mental energy, which you do not have when your mornings and evenings are focused on feeding and bathing (read: coercing) your child. This is doubly true if you (and your spouse) are presenting and not just attending. In our case, that was the first and last time we would bring “baby.” Maybe when they are younger it’s easier. (We lucked out in prior years with conference locations where family lived and helped babysit.)

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