I had the privilege of attending the UX London conference earlier in the month. I was accompanied by my then 5 week old baby. I’ve not taken a baby so young to a conference before, and you don’t tend to see many of them at conferences. I thought you might be interested in what the experience was like in case you’re considering it for yourself.
When contemplating the event there were a few things I was concerned about:
- equipment – what gear to bring and what to leave behind
- noise and disruption – how bad would it be, how can I minimise it
- effort v return – would the hassle and hard work of taking a baby to a conference allow participation make it worthwhile
- is it appropriate to bring your baby to a professional conference?
With the benefit of hindsight, here are my thoughts.
Travel light but invest in the right gear
Having as little gear as possible but the right gear is, I think, key to giving you as much flexibility as you can possibly have with a babe in arms. Personally, I find a buggy to be high risk for hassle – it makes it difficult to do public transport in peak hour (which you’ll no doubt have to do) and it makes getting from place to place, often up and down stairs, more difficult. I used a Moby Wrap sling most of the time I was at UX London and found it fantastic for moving around, for hands-free holding while attending talks (allowing me to tweet through the sessions when my baby slept or was sufficiently settled), and for relatively discreet feeding.
The other essential piece of kit was the Samsonite Pop-Up Travel Bassinette which gave me somewhere to lay him down when he was settled in for a good sleep (and when I wanted to participate in the workshop activities). The bassinette fits in my small backpack and weighs less than a kilo (more than can be said for my MacBook which I had to swap for my husband’s tiny netbook on this occasion!). It was quick and easy to put up and take down and gave us both a bit of a break from each other!
Don’t forget to bring your own decent changing mat – the chances of finding a changing table in the bathrooms at a conference centre are pretty remote so you’ll probably find yourself doing rapid changes in the field (often at the back of conference rooms in my experience!). You can get those great clutch style mats that are sufficiently robust but small – Isoki is my clutch changing mat of choice.
Minimising noise & disruption
The younger your baby, the more likely they are to sleep all day and make hardly a peep, thus nearly-newborns make ideal conference companions. I tried to sit close to an exit point so I could get out the door really quickly if we were going to be making a disruptive amount of noise, but found that the close cuddly sling meant that he did sleep quite a lot and when he woke, giving him a quick feed (yes, in my seat at the conference, apologies to the squeamish) worked most of the time. We did miss bits and pieces of a few talks throughout the days, but saw the majority of proceedings.
The biggest tip I have is to get to the conference room early to stake out and secure the ideal seat in the house for you (usually closest to the door!) You *really* want to get this seat and, although it’s far from the best vantage point in the house, you’ll be surprised how quickly it seems to get snapped up.
Effort vs Return: was it worth it?
It was really very hard work taking a 5wk old baby to a 3 day conference and, I confess, we did sneak away early on the afternoon of the second day for an afternoon nap. (Having said that, we were at the conference from 9am until 9pm the previous day attending the UX Bookclub in the evening).
Personally, I found that I was able to attend many of the sessions and actually pay attention to most of them, I was able to meet with lots of people who I haven’t seen for a while and to meet some new people as well, and – most importantly – I was able to escape from the relative isolation of maternity leave, to keep in touch, to feel active and engaged in my community and profession, all of which are very rewarding. So, on balance, I did find that it was worth the effort and, if needs be, I’d do it again and encourage others to do likewise.
It’s certainly very different from doing your conference solo, and you’re not allowed in the bar for drinks because you’ve got an underage drinker with you (yes, even at 5wks they’re still apparently worried they might accidently be served alcohol). I think it’s important to keep your expectations pretty low – I was prepared to turn around and head home without seeing a thing if it came to it – then hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Is it appropriate to bring your baby to a professional conference?
I have to say, this is actually the issue that plagued me most of all. I don’t bring my baby to my meetings, but I do take on work while I’m still at home with him and often do phone conferences with him on my shoulder and many of my clients are aware that my working schedule is sometimes impacted by his sleeping (or not) schedule.
I didn’t experience any negative feedback whilst at the conference or since then, and I had several people approach me to tell me they thought it was great to see a baby at the conference and that they’ll do it themselves or tell someone they know etc. I’m very aware that I’m probably the last person to hear any negative feedback though… so I’m not assuming it didn’t exist.
Ultimately – tiny babies are very portable and very sleepy and much less noisy (mostly) than you’d imagine. They’re also far to young to be separated from their mothers. If said mother particularly wants to attend a conference and has a very small baby, I think there’s no reason why she should feel that it was inappropriate for her to attend. So, it is appropriate and perhaps even necessary. I look forward to helping other mum’s at conferences in the same way that others were able to help me at UX London.
Meanwhile, interested in your thoughts, experiences & tips…