Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The cost (and value!) of breastfeeding and doing astrophysics

Only now do I realize that while folks were sharing stories with me about breastfeeding and working, no one said it would be easy. My own mother, who has been an elected judge for over 30 years, breast-fed all three of us for a year. For some reason I figured it wasn’t too hard. The answer is, it isn’t too hard (it is possible to do this).

I also remember reading quite a bit about how much less expensive breastfeeding is than formula-feeding. This is quite true, but those figures don’t take into account the real cost of traveling with an infant. Disclaimer: I am traveling with my daughter. I know it is possible to pump and bring the milk back, but I made the choice (an expensive one) to keep her with me. This is an account of things you need to consider if you want to do the same.

I just embarked on a major international trip for a 10 day astronomy conference. We spent substantial additional money to pay for my husband and daughter to attend with me to keep breastfeeding going during the trip (note: children held on your lap are not free on flights, you have to pay hundreds of dollars in airport taxes/fees). Since I needed my daughter nearby, we didn’t find a cheaper hotel, we stuck with the conference hotel, which was a larger drain on my research grants. I was harassed a bit by airport security in Athens, Greece about my breast pump (what is this? Can we take it apart to scan it! Answer: NO!).

The expense and headache did yield results: I got to ask questions about accreting X-ray binaries, pop into the coffee break to chat, pop into the hotel room to nurse a fussy Anya, and then pop back into the conference. I nuzzled my daughter at lunchtime and I nursed her at night. So, it was a real pain and our bank account is now depleted, but I am very glad we did it that way.

Next up, I head to Cambridge, MA for the Chandra User’s Committee meeting. I am learning about day care in other cities. I had no idea how expensive this can be! Rates in Boston and Chicago (the two cities I’ve checked) range from $12-$20/hour and if you’re using a service there is an agency fee ($20-$40/day). To do the math, it can cost you a cool $140-$160/day for reliable child care in another city if you have to make a ‘cold call’. Lucky for me, I have a grandmother that I could fly in for $190 for a Southwest ticket. At these prices, it becomes worth it to call everyone you are related to and that you know well to find out if there are other options. However, all those phone calls and emails cost you time. Again, no one said this would be simple.

Part of the solution is to turn down some of the travel, which I have done too. However, my decision at this stage of my astrophysics career is that it would be detrimental not to travel at all. I also feel (my opinion!) that being separated from my daughter for more than an overnight right now is not good for the breastfeeding relationship. So, my decision is to do both.

Luckily, it is not too hard.


Eilat said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for these posts! This is the kind of support that women need: examples of those who are able to do it, and who give details on how.

You are right that it is not *too* hard, but there are challenges that need to be met face-on.
I too feel that being with my babies is important, especially when they are really small. The childcare at the AAS was invaluable to me last winter.

I just got back from a 2 day meeting and my poor breastpump was scrutinized by TSA both times. Beyond ridiculous!

AnnH said...

I am actually very excited about the day care at the AAS. Even though my husband is coming, I think this may help me a lot (hey, I don't have to pump, I can visit my kid!).

Thanks for the nice comment too. This is most appreciated. I figured I should write some of this down while I still remember it.

Alycia said...

Still, how many men at the Users committee meeting have infants under a year old? I think service work should be sacrificed by parents of infants. I remember the first time (only time) I heard a man say, no, I won't chair the committee next year because I have young children and I can't travel that much. And I was very happy to hear it because I feel it makes it more acceptable for me to say the same thing without it just being a women's issue.

Becky said...

Glad to see another post about the details of juggling breastfeeding and travel!

(note: children held on your lap are not free on flights, you have to pay hundreds of dollars in airport taxes/fees)

Bit of a tangent, but does this vary by airline? Or is it only for international flights? I have never had to pay a dime for a lap child, and most recently flew (domestically) with him on United in July 2010. We are considering a trip to Norway before he turns 2, in order to save on airfare, but maybe that's not worth it. Hrm.

TJ said...

Thank you for this post! I am currently dealing with these exact same issues, and I have so far only planned trips where my husband and/or grandparents would be available. (By the way, the fee I paid for an international trip for my son was 10% of the adult fare and maybe some taxes.)

I had been invited and wanted to attend a workshop several months from now. This is the one work trip I was planning for myself (not because my husband was also planning to attend), but I am not very happy about how it has been handled. It is the type of workshop that encourages a longer visit, and when they wrote me about planning the time for my visit it was going to be near or overalapping with a conference my husband is helping to organize. This and the uncertainty of finding daycare made me nervous about committing to a long trip 6 months in advance (at that point I had never traveled with my son).

In any case, I said I was not sure how long I would be able to come at that time, but I would definitely come for some of the proposed visit (note I said "not sure" not "definitely not"). The response I got was essentially that I was no longer invited becuase they cannot support visits of less than two weeks. I understand there are probably requirements for their funding, but something more moderate like "We can only support visits of two weeks or more, so please keep that in mind and let us know when you can finalize your plans" or "Can you come for a longer visit later in the workshop?" or "Here are some helpful links for finding daycare" would have been nice.

AnnH said...

TJ, that is awful!

About holding children on your lap:

This is only for INTERNATIONAL flights and generally you pay taxes/fees rather than for the ticket. However, those taxes/fees can be a lot depending on the airport.