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Making It Work

Baby in the Classroom

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 6 November-December 1999 pp. 220-22

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

Next semester, I will be returning to college classes as a student. My baby will be about three months old at the start of the semester. I would like to bring her to class with me regularly rather than leave her home with her dad or a sitter. Has anyone tried this? Any helpful hints about making this work?

Response

Here are a few hints, from my multiple points of view as a college English professor, a student, and a mother. Talk your situation over with a few instructors before finalizing your schedule. You may find that some of them will be adamantly opposed to the presence of a baby, while some will be more open to the possibility. Some may let you attend different sections of the same class if you have to miss your scheduled class. Many will probably be helpful and sympathetic.

Try to sign up for small classes, which are usually more casual and discussion-oriented. When I was in graduate school, a student regularly brought her newborn to a small class on women's poetry, and it worked out wonderfully! Sometimes, the baby's father would come and pick him up during a break, but often the baby just slept through the whole thing.

A three-month-old will probably sleep and nurse happily in a sling, especially if you try to schedule your classes at times when your baby is likely to be sleepy. Most people probably won't even know she's with you! You will also have your hands free for taking notes, and you won't have to worry about a bulky carriage or stroller blocking classroom aisles or busy hallways.

Try to carry everything you need for school and baby in just one bag, in case you need to leave in a hurry. And don't forget to carry a water bottle with you! Classrooms are often dry, dusty, and overheated, and you will need to drink lots of fluids. Good luck. It can be done!

Sonia Michaels 
Victoria BC Canada

Response

As a recently graduated college student and a mother who takes her baby to work, I think I can offer some advice. First, meet with each professor before the start of the semester. Most professors will realize that if your baby cries, you can just walk out of the room to avoid affecting the whole class. Then, invest in a good backpack or carrier. You'll appreciate the hands-free convenience. If possible, arrange your schedule so that you take classes during nap time. The most important rule is to be flexible. Some days your baby is just not going to be a polite visitor in class! For those instances, try to set up a network with other students so you can each exchange notes on days you miss class.

I've often wondered why you almost never see babies on college campuses when women of childbearing age are becoming the majority there. Why should women have to give up mothering just so they can have a degree? Men don't seem to have the same constraint. I believe the issue of bringing babies to class is one of equal access to education. So, not only are you taking good care of your baby by bringing her to school, you are setting an example for other mothers. Good luck.

Christy Bills
Salt Lake City UT USA

Response

I am a mother of three children and a college professor. I understand the desire to be with your child. When considering whether to bring a baby to class, be respectful of the other students in the class. You are all paying for this class, and it is considerate not to disrupt the experience of the other students. Some classes will work better than others. First, the instructor needs to be supportive. Second, it helps if there is enough space in the room so you do not have to sit right next to another student. Third, the class needs to be appropriate for a baby. For example, many lab classes can be dangerous for babies. Classes that expect student participation, such as language classes, computer classes, or classes with in-class group work would be more difficult. Finally, it depends on your baby. At three months, I might have been able to bring my third child because he slept a lot, but by six months he wanted to be up and about playing. It would also help to share notes and tapes with classmates. Be careful however about skipping class. It will be tempting to miss class if you have the notes and tapes, but you will get more from the class if you are there every day. My baby liked a backpack so he could see. You might be able to quietly walk your daughter in the back of class on days when she needs movement.

I also suggest you not overload yourself with school. School is important, but your child is much more important. Your child will only be young once. School you can do anytime, and when you do it, you want to do well. Don't take a full load. One or two classes would be a lot with a young child. It's okay to be with your family and enjoy your baby! I do wish you the best. If you were in my class, I would work with you to help you.

Anne Sergeant
Ames IA USA

Response

What worked for me was taking the baby and a caretaker to school. They spent the day on campus, browsing in the bookstore, sitting on the grass, and walking around campus. My son really liked his stroller, so he slept for longer periods of time than he usually did at home.

Establish yourself with your professors as a serious student. Sit in the front of the class, and ask lots of questions. You may be surprised how flexible and supportive your professors will be when they see you are committed to learning. If you have to miss a class, call or email your instructor as soon as possible to ask about assignments or handouts. Email is a great way to communicate with professors, because you can write any time of the day or night. Keep up with your work, and work ahead whenever you can. Assume that problems will come up, and plan accordingly.

Approach the situation with confidence. I refuse to feel self-conscious about nursing regardless of where I am, but especially on college campuses. People go to college to get an education. If college students don't know how important human milk is for growing babies, they should. Finally, I am surprised and overwhelmed by the positive response my baby gets on college campuses. Everyone has stopped to talk to us—from professors to young male students to secretaries to pregnant women. People will respect and admire you for being dedicated to your child while furthering your own academic and professional growth. Best of luck to you!

Judy Sides
Lancaster PA USA

Response

I have very fond memories of attending college classes while breastfeeding. I attended college for six years and had two babies during my pursuit of a degree. I approached all my professors during my pregnancy and explained how I would continue to attend classes with my baby. I tried to cover every contingency so that I would be prepared to respond to their questions. I assured my instructors that I would leave immediately if the baby caused any disruption.

I had very supportive friends to take notes for me, and I tape-recorded most lectures. I would discreetly nurse the baby in the back of the room, and I often sat by the door so that if she cried, we could make a quick exit. Because I was majoring in child development, my babies were often the source of much learning and laughter. My instructors would occasionally use my daughter to demonstrate a certain theory or behavior such as a reflex, which made learning even more fun.

I would use nap times and evenings to complete assignments, and I made sure to attend La Leche League meetings where I received the support and information I needed. During exams and finals, I arranged to have a family member care for my baby on campus, often right outside of my classroom.

Be prepared to research laws protecting breastfeeding. Many states in the US have passed laws protecting a woman 's right to breastfeed in any public or private place where she has a right to be. I did encounter one professor who continued to resist the idea, despite numerous meetings and mediation with the college dean. After I gathered letters of support from my pediatrician and other professors, my baby was finally allowed to attend class with me.

I found it easier to schedule classes with a break between each one, instead of one after the other. This allowed us to walk at a leisurely pace, have a snack, and take care of diaper changes and other needs between classes. You can do it. Good luck with your educational endeavors!

Heidi S. Roibal 
Albuquerque NM USA

Response

I began taking our oldest child, Gregory, to school with me when he was three months old. Before the first day of classes, I talked to each professor. All of the professors were skeptical. They were concerned about my getting anything out of the class. However, it ended up working beautifully. Gregory became the "official mascot " of the classes. One of my professors who had grown kids told me that if he could have a baby who was that happy all of the time, he would have another one. I carried Gregory in a front carrier and I finished the semester with a 3.8 grade point average to the amazement of many. I began leaving him at home with his dad after he reached seven months, when he began crawling and cruising. I think his younger sisters would have been able to continue attending classes with me for another year at least, because they were not nearly as mobile.

I used a stroller to carry a small diaper bag and my heavy backpack of books and notebooks, as I had to walk long distances between classes. If you don 't have a lot of books, I would suggest using a large backpack and a sling. As baby gets older, I would suggest having a couple of baby toys, especially extra pens and pencils because he will grab the ones you are trying to write with! Allow plenty of time between classes if possible for diaper changes and settling-in time. Arrive early, and get a seat close to the door, so that if you have to get up and go out of class you can do it without disrupting the other students. If you can, sit in a chair without an attached desk to make nursing your baby easier, and put another desk with chair next to your chair. Put your backpack in the second chair so that you don 't have to bend down to get things out of your backpack. I found the afternoon classes to be the easiest, because Gregory would take his nap in the stroller next to me. I would hang a blanket over the hood of the stroller to shut out as much light and noise as possible. I remember fondly our going to school together. We educated many people at the university about how simple, portable, and happy a breastfeeding baby is.

Lisa Papas
St. Clair Shores MI USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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