Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Milk at the Seattle American Astronomical Society Meeting

So I was able to bring my 9.5 month old daughter to Seattle to the American Astronomical Society meeting last week. I think I can summarize the entire experience by saying that it was really nice to not have to worry about how I was going to incorporate caring for my daughter, and specifically maintaining breastfeeding, into the conference. This was possible due to the on-site childcare sponsored by the society and a “breastfeeding room” reserved by the very capable AAS staff.

It wasn’t without some slight hang-ups as I was a bit frazzled in my preparations for this very busy meeting, especially considering that I was staying with a relative of my husband’s that week (the slightly longer commute was more than compensated for by easy access to a washer and dryer as well as a completely separate room for the baby). I walked into the conference hall on the first morning to ask about the location of the on-site childcare (yes, I am very sure someone must have told me ahead of time but I was more concerned about being ready for the science sessions). It turns out that the on-site childcare was at the Sheraton across the street. This is obviously very good for the vast majority of conference attendees who are staying in the conference hotel but it took me by surprise (hey, I printed 12 copies of the agenda for the high energy astrophysics executive committee meeting, who had time to look this stuff up?). I guess I was expecting a little cage full of babies among the book vendors or something (the Sheraton was perhaps more logical?). We found it and got Anya dropped off.

Once we had that worked out though it was really wonderful. I was able to stop in to nurse Anya at midday, carry her around the poster hall (she loves lanyards apparently), take her to a lunchtime session on how men can help women in astronomy (until she woke up, I even breast-fed her in the back of the room!) and then after putting her in the daycare for the afternoon breast-fed her once more before returning her to my husband so I could attend my late night executive committee dinner (the day finished at 11PM Seattle time).

The AAS was even good enough to arrange for a breastfeeding room. The AAS staff were not entirely thrilled with it, nor was I (it was a converted coat room for the coat check, kind of grungy) but it met the important basic requirements: proximity to the meeting (it was immediately outside the poster hall, perfect!) and privacy (hey, there are no windows in coat closets, perfect!). Once again, if you are going to pump on the road, bring those Medela wipes in case you are pumping milk around coat closet dust bunnies.

So, I think it went well. I’m grateful that our community is open-minded enough to have on-site childcare and breastfeeding rooms.