Breastfeeding at the AHA: Nursing Mothers and Academic Conferences

By December 27, 2013

Note: I haven?t been purposefully lewd in this post, but if you find discussions of women?s body parts and nursing uncomfortable, you should 1) probably never have a kid and 2) not read this post.

A few days ago, I decided to look at the program for the 2014 Meeting of the American Historical Association where I?ll be presenting in a few weeks. One of the things that surprised me was that they have a nursing room. As a mother of an almost entirely breastfed infant (no formula but she ate her first spoonful of pureed carrots the other day), my first thought was SCORE! Honestly, I have been to too many conferences that offered little to no support for young mothers in attendance. Typically, you are on your own to find a plug-in for your breast pump that is anywhere near the conference sessions, and the conference hotel may or not have a refrigerator to store pumped milk. The conference schedule is also usually too jam-packed to allow you to attend more than one session in a row without being so full that your breasts hurt.

As I look forward to AHA, I thought it might be helpful to me and other nursing mothers to create a document full of advice for new moms who may be attending their first conference.

The first decision that any new mom has to make is whether to take her child with her. The benefits of bringing kidlet along: female academics who have had children often feel a responsibility to make young mothers feel comfortable at a conference. As a result, many will come up to talk to young women with children, allowing them to make contacts that would have otherwise been out of their reach. I?ve met scholars who would never have had a reason to approach me otherwise. Most of them ask how I am feeling, whether or not my work is progressing, and offer sympathetic stories from earlier in their careers. The disadvantage is that the baby can be a distraction and that not all academics are sympathetic to young mothers. There are many, many academics who feel that children are a hindrance to a woman?s career and that any woman who has children has compromised her value as an academic.

Taking children with you as an academic also requires that you have a helpful spouse. My husband has been fantastic in this regard. He comes to conferences without complaint, taking the baby to national parks so she can get stamps on her National Parks Passport, visiting aquariums with her in tow, and using the Ergo to make it possible for him to tour baseball stadiums with him.

  • Whether or not you decide to take your child with you, you?ll need to pump unless your significant other is willing to bring the baby to see you every two to four hours to eat. Here?s how I manage pumping while at a conference:
  • I always book a hotel with at least a mini-fridge and hopefully, a full freezer. Doing so allows me to store pumped milk for the baby if she?s with me and to avoid pumping and dumping if she?s not. Breast milk will last in a refrigerator from 4 ? 8 days and can last for up to 3 months in a freezer.
  • I bring an electronic pump with me AND a hand pump. Electronic pumps allow you to pump both breasts at the same time and allow me to pump without getting a full letdown. The hand pump is great for in the car and for bathroom stalls. I?ve discovered that the hand pump actually allows me to get more milk IF I can get a full letdown. Sometimes that?s impossible. It?s made even more difficult by the lack of plugs in hotels. Many hotels do not have plugs in the handicap stall and my pump is crap when being used with batteries. It?s possible to pump by plugging into the outlet near the sinks but I?m always too worried that someone famous and important will see me pumping. If they exist, handicapped or family restrooms are fantastic.
  • Bring a freezer bag with you while you are out and about to store the milk.
  • Dress for pumping. You either need to wear a shirt you can lift up or a dress that is easily pulled down for pumping.
  • Often, I find that it?s difficult to attend more than one session in a row. In order to produce enough milk, I have to pump every two hours. That means that unless there is enough time built in the schedule for me to run to my hotel room, I have to either miss a session or cut a session short. I usually choose to skip a session and spend the time working on an article or a dissertation chapter.
  • Some people find that they can go three or four hours without pumping as long as they pump for 30 minutes afterwards. That?s not possible for me.
  • At the end of each day, I freeze any milk that I?ve produced if the baby isn?t with me. When I fly, I pack all of the frozen milk in the same freezer pack. Usually, some of the milk will still be frozen if my travel time is less than 7 or 8 hours. If some of the milk is still frozen when I get home, the milk can be refrozen. If it?s not, I treat it like regular pumped milk and try to use it within a week. Technically, it?s supposed to be used within 24 hours but I?ve never had an issue with it going bad. Spoiled milk can be easily identified. It usually smells quite strongly and tastes sour.
  • I?ve also heard it suggested that you e-mail the conference coordinators and see if they have suggestions. Personally, I?m always too chicken to do this, but it might be worth a shot. I plan to e-mail the AHA coordinating committee a thank you after the conference this year.
  • Finally, this information isn?t helpful for faithful Mormon mothers, but you don?t have to pump and dump if you?ve chosen to drink alcohol at a party. The official recommendations by the La Leche League and others is that you only have a single drink every couple of hours and wait at least two hours after your last drink before nursing. Alcohol doesn?t stay in breast milk and is filtered out of it just like it?s filtered out of your blood. One doctor told me that if I am safe to drive, I?m safe to nurse. The reverse is also true: If you can?t drive or feel noticeably different when walking, do not nurse your baby.

What recommendations do you have for nursing and/or pumping at a conference? Any personal stories you?d like to share? Also, this isn?t included in the post but do you have any good places to nurse or pump around SLC or Provo for moms who are using the archives there? I would personally like to suggest the special needs bathroom in the Harold B. Lee Library on the same floor as the Family History Library and the nursing mothers rooms in City Creek. Any others?


Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This is some good advice. One of my friends in the public health community helps run the breastfeeding task force in New Mexico. Utah has a similar coalition. These organizations generally do a good job of educating employers and universities and showing them how to set up a room for pumping:

    Comment by sterflu — December 27, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  2. Sterflu – That’s really helpful. I had a hard time finding a spot on BYU’s campus to breastfeed and would have appreciated a nice environment for nursing.

    Comment by Amanda — December 27, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

  3. It still amazes me BYU isn’t conducive to nursing. I can see happening at my university in Germany where having kids in school is really not the norm (even grad school), but BYU?! Anyway, thanks for this informative post.

    Comment by Saskia — December 30, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  4. I once saw a T shirt with the message – “If you don’t want to see me breast feeding put a blanket over your head”

    I thought it was really good, putting the problem where it belonged.

    Comment by Geoff - A — January 2, 2014 @ 2:01 am

  5. You’ll be glad to know my time breastfeeding at the AHA was uneventful except for a flashed breast and a baby who squirms too much and grabs things at the wrong time!

    Comment by Amanda HK — January 5, 2014 @ 6:29 pm


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