Bringing Baby Along: The Baby Room
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-09, p. 36
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest! I am a mother of two and have exclusively breastfed both of my children. When I returned to work with my first child, six years ago, I continued to breastfeed. She was eight weeks old when I went back to work, and even though continuing to breastfeed her was definitely possible and worth all the hassle, it wasn't exactly easy. I had to pump during all my breaks and then have the child minder feed her my expressed milk. I spent nearly all of my free time locked in a stuffy room on my own, pumping.
With my current baby, things have been much easier. I again returned to work when my baby was very young, and I continued to breastfeed. But this time, I bring my baby to work with me. I am a teacher, and I am lucky enough to work in a school that has developed a "baby room," something I believe could be replicated in any workplace. What is a baby room? Well, obviously, it is a room for babies and their mums and nannies.
Having a baby room at work means that my son is close to me. I know he is safe and well looked after, and I can continue breastfeeding him without the hassle of pumping and sterilizing so many bottles. I am happier, and I have more time to spend with my baby. My little one gets to see me more often. It benefits my employer because I am more focused on my work, knowing he is safe and happy just down the hall. It also pays off for my employer because I came back to work after three months, rather than taking a longer maternity leave.
There are some challenges involved. In the beginning I felt like a wet nurse to my baby, as I seldom got time to do anything with him during my breaks except feed him. This feeling lasted for about a month, until we became a more efficient feeding "team." Even now I miss the social contact with my colleagues that I used to get during break time while eating my snack and lunch with them. Now, I grab my food and run to the baby room.
Despite some of the problems involved, having my son in the baby room is better than other alternatives. Last month, my baby was ill and stayed at home for five days. On the first two days, I stayed with him, but by the third day he was no longer really ill (he just couldn't be in contact with other babies). On these days I went to work and left him at home with his nanny. I pumped every morning and evening to make sure there was enough expressed milk for him, and I rushed home in a taxi every day at lunchtime to feed him. On the first day, I only just made it back to work on time. On the second, he was fast asleep and wouldn't feed while sleeping or wake to feed, and on the third day, it took me 20 minutes to find a taxi to bring me home, so I only ended up with 10 minutes to spend with him. These problems made me realize that feeling like a wet nurse or missing out on the lunchroom gossip are minor issues!
Our baby room was initiated by parents, and all of the organization and funding is done by us. We supply our own equipment, and we decide our own policies. The nannies are all hired and paid by the individual baby's parents. The school merely provides an empty room. This means that the school is not legally responsible should anything happen, Our policies are simple:
- Only babies, nannies, and parents are allowed in the room;
- Only six babies can be registered to attend at any one time; and
- Once a baby turns one year old, they can no longer be in the baby room.
- All parents must supply basic equipment for their baby, such as a cot, bedding, toys, nappy changing gear, and a play mat for the floor.
- Every baby must have their own nanny, and if a baby is ill s/he must stay at home so as not to infect the other children.
Parents contribute a (very small) monthly fee toward necessary improvements for the room. This money has been used for painting a mural on the wall and purchasing a fridge, sterilizer, microwave, cupboards, storage tubs, a sealed rubbish bin, and a water dispenser. The school did pay for the room to be carpeted, and had an air-conditioner/heater installed, although we offered to pay for those items ourselves.
The idea is so simple, and yet so unusual. I have never heard of another workplace having such a room. I wasn't involved in the planning stages, but I am so grateful to those mums and dads who had the idea and convinced the administration to let us implement it. I hope this article encourages more parents to lobby for a baby room at their own workplaces. It never hurts to ask. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest!