Parents Attending Academic Conferences

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Need to take baby to conference - how to find childcare?

Nov 2009

My husband and I planning to attend a conference in St. Louis for 5 days at the end of December. We will be taking our (then) 9-month-old daughter with us, but the conference does not allow any children at the events. Therefore, we are in need of temporary childcare while we are there, about 4-5 hours/day.

ANY ideas on how we can go about finding quality childcare while traveling? All of the agencies I've been referred to so far charge too many fees. One that was recommended charges a $50 enrollment, plus $20 agency fee PER day, plus $14+/hr for the actual caregiver. Help me out, BPN! Traveling Momma

often hotels can help with child care needs, call the main hotel for the conference or call the conference director- make both calls before going to have arrangements in place Andrea


1. Is there a colleague going to the same conference who shares your need? Can you share the expenses of the costly agency sitter, or of bringing your own favorite sitter with you to St. Louis?

2. Urge the conference planners to provide a list of recommended sitters or drop- in day cares. Ask them to include the basis of their recommendations. (It's a more critical service than a list of restaurant recommendations!)

3. Are you acquainted with anyone in St. Louis that can recommend a sitter?

4. Contact the early childhood department at and ask if they will pass on your interest to students in the field of early childhood education along with the very best amount you can pay. Make sure applicants provide references. Be conscientious in conducting phone-interviews of all the references as well as of the applicants themselves.

5. Ditto, for contacting a St. Louis church or synagogue, asking them to post this in a membership newsletter or bulletin board. Then follow up with interviews.

The fact that the conference is during winter break may be helpful in getting really- good student sitters. Best wishes with getting someone qualified to care for your most precious possession! Anonymous

I thought the rates you were quoted by the agency that was recommended to you were pretty reasonable, actually. I think anything short-term like that is just going to be more expensive than a regular nanny or babysitter. And the peace of mind from getting someone who is professionally screened is probably worth it, too.

How do others manage conferences with kids?

Nov 2005

How do others manage conferences with kids? I'm the one who does most of the drop off/pick up of the kids from childcare since my spouse's hours don't allow him to do this. I've consequently said no to a lot of conferences because the logistics of childcare are so complicated, plus he can only handle being a single parent so long(i.e., one or two days). But saying no cuts off networking opportunities and access to knowing the cutting edge in my field. I took my baby to two conferences and hired babysitters, but this isn't ideal - it exhausts me, doesn't deal with the oldest child, plus hurts with the networking. (And, to be honest, I need the occasional break from motherhood to recharge my mothering batteries.)

Conferences are an integral part of academic life. Any suggestions on how to make the work/family balance work here?

-pulled in two directions

I have to go to a conference about once a year and what worked really well for us was for me to take my son with me to Ohio, drop him off with his grandparents, then continue to Boston. The University reimburses me for whatever the cost would be for me to go straight to the conference myself, and the grandparents help defray the cost of the rest.

Everybody wins! I get to go to my conference, my stay at home husband gets a baby break, my son gets drooled on and spoiled by his grandparents and aunts and uncles, and the grandparents are guaranteed a chance to see their grandson (who lives SO far away) once a year. ED

It is indeed important to attend conferences, and I think also that sometimes non-academic partners don't seem to understand this importance and how extra work may be required to help with the partner's career. This is not about a pleasure jaunt (though as the original poster admits, one can derive some energy from having a little time away from home and kids), nor is it possible to treat a conference like a family trip or pleasure jaunt (bringing a child is really not feasible, as the poster experienced). My husband resisted my attendance of conferences rather rigidly when our son was small, but I believe mostly because it was not convenient or pleasant for him to have full-time childcare duties. I caved to his pressure, but now would do things differently.

I think that a talk about how important conference attendance is for your career is key. The number of conferences to be attended within a given year, the amount of money to spent on them (invariably some personal funds seem to be necessary), and the length of stay for each can be discussed and negotiated, always keeping in mind that you MUST attend some conferences. Someone can be hired to pick up and sit for children if the partner's work schedule won't allow for that. Also if the partner feels burdened by the extra childcare duties, s/he can hire help or arrange for playdates during the conference.

Guilt trips for going to conferences are right out. Cooperation and mutual support are in. If the partner seems to be in need of some time away occasionally to parallel what is perceived as ''off time'' for the conference goer, that might be negotiated as well. But staying at home while your (let's face it, often childless or male) colleagues are forging networks is not an option. Remember how hard you worked for your Ph.D.? I thought you did...

going to conferences now

Going to conference without toddler, still nursing

July 2003

In mid-August, I have to go to two back-to-back conferences on the East Coast (and I might have to go out of town for a few days at a time a couple of times in the fall as well). In August, I'll be gone for three nights, back home for two, and then gone again for four nights. My daughter will be almost 15 months old when I go. My husband and our beloved nanny will take care of her. The thing that's making my stomach churn is that I still nurse her to sleep every night and that she nurses (early) in the morning when she wakes up. In addition, she nurses when she's upset about something in the middle of the night as that's the only thing that calms her down. This happens maybe once a week. When I planned to go to these conferences months ago, I thought I would separate going to sleep from night nursing a while before leaving but so far my (admittedly) half-hearted attempts to do this have failed. She's one of those generally very good-natured kids who does not cry unless she's really unhappy about something. The only time she's not good-natured is when my husband goes to her in the night and she wants me or when I try to put her down for the night without nursing her to sleep. At that point, she starts to cry hysterically and becomes heartbreakingly sad. I'd appreciate any suggestions about how to deal with her falling asleep pattern in the next four weeks (I have both the Ferber and no cry sleep solution books, but neither one quite suits us as my philosophy/practice is somewhat in between). In addition, I'd appreciate any advice on how to deal with my own anguish about abandoning her and her (potential) anguish at my not being there when she expects me. (and no, bagging these conferences is not really an option, even though at this point I might want to do that). Also, I'm not really ready to wean her all the way though I'm starting to think that that might be less traumatic than just leaving her without her mama's ready milk supply. -- Anna

My daughter was also an avid nurser and seemed to need me every night. I have two possible suggestions for you 1) it's possible if you're not there she will accept pumped milk from a bottle. I spent one night away from my daughter when she was still nursing and was very worried about her, but she took a bottle from my husband just fine and went to sleep that night. 2) Why not take your nanny and baby with you? Yes, it's more expensive, but you'll have the comfort of being with your child at night when she needs you. I did a lot of traveling with my daughter at that age and it worked out great! Attached to my baby

I went to a conference in Chicago in November just after my son had turned two, when I was still nursing him two or three times a day. I was a single mother at the time, and left him with a young woman who had been his babysitter during the summer. I had had her over for dinner a couple of times in the fall just to refresh his memory. She stayed at my apartment, drove my car, and (upon my request) slept with my son (as did I). It was just fine. He was used to being nursed to sleep by me, but Victoria had no problem getting him to sleep, or with any particuarly fussy behavior. I called every day on the phone, but he was always having such a good time with Victoria and her boyfriend that he wasn't interested it talking to me on the phone. In other words, he had a blast and was happy to see me, but I can't tell that he missed me in any substantial way. Of course he remembers nothing about it now. One thing that I worried about was a build up of milk in my breasts, but for some reason this just wasn't a problem at all. I never pumped or expressed the milk. I wondered if my body would stop producing milk and that would be it with the breast feeding, but no, once I got back we resumed and everything was as it had been.

So enjoy going to your conferences and don't worry. You child will have to adjust a little to having your husband take care of him more, but I'm sure it will go fine. He will probably be a little more flexible in being with his Dad or Mom afterwards, surely a good thing. Dianna

I was in a similar position when my daughter was 15 months. I was still nursing her before bed and had to go to a conference for 2 nights. I thought that would be a good time to wean her completely, but as it turned out neither of us was ready for that. Before I left I made sure that there was a good supply of milk in the freezer so my husband could give her a bottle before bed. I also brought my pump to keep my supply up while I was gone (although I just poured it down the sink at the hotel, heartbreakingly enough.) In our case, although she went back to the pre- bedtime nursing after I came home, while I was gone she didn't want a bottle at all. It was me or nothing.

Everyone is different, and it's hard to say how things will go for you. But it's safe to say that both your daughter and your husband will survive (although they might have some hard nights)! What I would do is try to encourage her to find other ways to soothe herself than nursing for example, continue to nurse her before bed, but stop before she falls asleep so she learns to go to sleep without it. Also in the middle of the night (that's got to be tiring and worthwhile to get her to stop even if you weren't going away.) Also have your husband and nanny do as much of the bedtime routine as possible for the few weeks before you leave, so when you're gone the nursing will be the only thing different.

I also have to say about Ferber we are very indulgent, family-bed type parents, but at about 14 months we felt that the bedtime situation was not working for us. We did Ferber and it was hard the first night, but it got easier and after 3 nights we were very glad we did it. (If you do it, there is no reason to stay right outside the door listening to the crying. Go in another room and put on some music or the tv so you can just barely hear the crying.) Good luck! Frances

Don't deprive your toddler of mama milk forever just because you think it will make the lack a little easier for a few days! Chances are, she will be much more amenable to being put to bed and comforted at night by her Daddy when you are not there. Most kids seem to just somehow know the difference between when Mama truly isn't available (which may be disappointing, but not too traumatic for a few days) and when Mama is home but withholding the good stuff (which is good reason to work up a royal fuss!).

When you return home, you may have to deal with a short term nursing strike, which you can turn into weaning if that's truly your preference, or use all the same methods to resolve that you would if she were younger if it's important to you to continue nursing until she is really ready to self-wean. Or she may basically attack you and want to nurse the instant she sees you again! Hard to predict. In any event, assuming you don't really want to force her to wean as a result of this trip, consider bringing a pump along and using it at night, to help maintain supply. Holly

I totally sympathize with your situation of leaving your baby. I too had to travel for extended overnight trips when my son was 7 and 13 months old (nursing and night nursing all this time).

At 13 months I had a conference to LA for 3 days (he and my husband followed for the long weekend). At this point we had night weaned him at 10 months old( a whole other story but in the end successful). My son is a very spirited child and with my husband's help, I was able to night wean (my son hated my husband coming in the middle of the night to comfort him- this took about 3 long hard nights)

He too nursed first thing in the morning and was also a comfort nurser and could not go to sleep without being nursed. At this point in time, HE DID NOT TAKE BOTTLES and I had stopped pumping as well so I was very worried he would not drink anything when I was away. I had been contemplating weaning him at this point as well since we had nursed for one year but because he did not take bottles and the fact that perhaps I was not ready to wean myself, I figured I would just let nature take it's course. However, with the LA trip coming up, I thought I would see how it would go when we were reunited. I would not offer but also I would not refuse if my son asked (my husband was very supportive of this). Also, I pumped and dumped just to keep my milk production up in case our nursing relationship was to continue. Low and behold, my husband reported that he slept through the night, and drank almost 23 oz of cow's milk while I was away! When we saw each other he was more into cuddling (he now uses a pacifier to go to bed) and did not ask to nurse! I have to say it was very bitter sweet as I did not want the weaning to be intentional. I am not sure if you plan to wean but if it in your thoughts and you feel like (you) and your baby might be ready, a trip away might surprise both of you. I do not advocate that going away from your child should be a form of weaning! However, in our case it ''just happened'' and to my surprise both of us delt with it with good feelings.

In terms of dealing with your guilt and the sadness of being away, I sympathize completely, I love my son more than anyone or anything in this world and it saddens me that at times we are away from each other. I chose to continue my career (I am lucky to work only part time in a fast track career for a very flexible employer), however, my son always comes first. On the otherhand, my experiences of going away without husband and baby have been very liberating for me. Both in LA and NYC I was able to visit with friends, and be responsible for only me. I got to enjoy the ammenities of nice hotels (mainly sleep)and not have to worry about who to feed what and when. I bring along a nice picture of my son and one of his onesies to sleep with! As long as you know your baby is in the best hands of your husband and nanny (I have a terrific nanny!), it makes the trip easier and you will probably be so busy in the conference, expanding your mind that when you return you will come back refreshed and liberated that you did something really good for yourself- which in turn makes a good mommie to your baby! It is a big step to go away for extended time from your baby but both you and your daugther might surprise each other on how well you can both get through the separation. Best of luck to you! Stephanie

Maybe it's too late for this, but can you bring her along? That's what I did with my daughter when I went to conferences up to about age 4. I'd take along my husband or a babysitter, or often, my mother would come and meet us when it was on the east coast. You might be able to line up a local babysitter in the area if you have any contacts out there. Worked great for us! karen

As the mom of a night-nursing toddler, I can sympathize with your plight. Have you considered having your daughter join you along with the nanny or your husband for the conferences? Obviously it will cost more, but these nursing months and years are so short and so precious. There are liksly lots of aftivities available to a toddler at your destinations - zoos, children's museums, parks, playgrounds, so she can be busy while you are conferencing. You can easily reunite for meals and in the evenings. Many conferences also offer tapes or CD-ROMs of conference sessions, so even if you choose not to attend, you can still gain the benefit of the knowledge. What do your daughter and your heart say? Jen

My daugher is just like yours, according to your description. Easy happy baby, no sleep issues at all, not demanding during the day either, but at night she usually insists on having me there when she wakes up. She typically wakes up or nursing once later in the evening, once in the middle of the night, and then - very hungry, but happy to keep sleeping through the nursing(s) until 8 or 9 - early in the morning. She loves her father, and he can sometimes calm her before she really wakes up - she would even try to pull his shirt to nurse... - but essentially she desperately wants me there when it's dark outside. Nighttime is a different stage, falling asleep a critical transition. She is a little over a year now, and I never came back later than 11 p.m. I don't know what would happen if I took the chance. She doesn't seem to be ready for this, and I am not either.

She actually falls asleep with her father very easily when he walks with her outside. An evening trip to the playground in the sling on his back (or baby backpack) works almost each time, and often she can betransitioned into the bed without waking up. A stroller trip may also do it. I don't know if that helps you with the problem on how to get her to sleep when the breast is thousand of miles away, but even if it still doesn't give an convenient answer to the question on how to get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. In any case, I would establish that routine now that you are still here as a backup.

I too have a conference coming up soon, and I arranged for the three of us to go together. It sounds a little crazy in the first place, but it actually was easy to sort out. We are probably lucky in that she is the only child and that my partner being in academia, too, has a flexible schedule and can use at least part of the time to meet with people on that campus, and get some reading and writing done. We are lucky with the hotel, they charge by room not by number of people, so we don't even have to pay extra for the accommodation. I don't know if that is an option for you. You may check it out at least, maybe even stay back East between the two conferences with your daugther instead of all the flying back and forth, and squeeze in family or friend visits, some work, whatever you can do over there. Can the nanny or your husband come along, or can you get a babysitter over there?

It may also all go well leaving her here, but I , honestly, wouldn't want to be in your husband's place when it doesn't go well, and, obviously, not in your daughter's place either. Maybe, if you do travel alone, it would help to break the routine, so she doesn't expect you to be there as much as if she would in her usual sleeping environment. They could sleep in a different room, in a relative's or friend's house, or even in a tent in the backyard. But take her blanket, favorite doll/stuffed animal, if she has anyting like that. I have heard from friends that their nursing babies travelling with the father for a couple of days were well. One of them weaned that way, the other one came back and latched on as usual - hard to predict what will happen. I doubt, by the way, that weaning her now would solve the problem. It's not only because of the milk that they want to be with their mothers at night. To me the milk seems to be just a symbol for that. Good luck, Julia

I had a lot of success taking my baby with me to conferences while we were still nursing. It was really great. I would find a babysitter locally (through local friends) and the sitter would come to the conference with me. She would play out in the halls with the baby, or take him on walks around the conference center. And I would tell her when and where we would meet so I could nurse him. Since your baby is under 2, you won't have to pay for an extra seat on the plane either. I have such fond memories of my son and I travelling together and a sense of competence in being a professional and a nursing mother at the same time. One of my fondest memories is delivering a keynote address while looking down at my sleeping baby in the front row! It also beats pumping!! Nursing Professional Mom

Have you thought about giving her a bottle at night instead of nursing her? You can still hold her and hug her, but instead of the breast, give her a bottle. Try that for a week or two and then try to switch to dad giviner her the bottle. If the bottle won't work, you can also try a sippy cup. To make it easier on her, you may want to pump and give her your milk instead of cow's milk.

I don't think you should feel too much anguish about leaving your daughter. I have a 15-month old baby, when she was younger she had to me with me all the time and would cry if I left her even for a couple of hours (though she was OK with dad). Now we can both leave her for hours at a time and she's fine. This will specially be the case for your baby as you are leaving her with her dad and nanny whom she trusts.

Have fun at the conference! anon