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Background: two or three times a year, I travel to conferences for work. I'm usually gone for about a week. I can miss some of these conferences, but missing all of them would be very detrimental to my career. Since I go all over the world, my husband usually comes with me and we turn the trip into a vacation for the two of us.

Problem: I'm expecting my first child in September and I'm not sure how to handle the travel once the baby arrives. I have two basic options:

  1. Travel without the baby. Since my husband usually comes along on the trips, this would mean leaving the baby with his grandparents.

  2. Travel with both the baby and my husband.

My main concern with 1 is that I'll be the baby's primary caregiver, and I'm not sure if he'll feel abandoned if I leave him with someone else, especially when he's very young. With an older child I could at least explain why I'm leaving and when I'll get home. My main concern with 2 is that I'm not sure if travelling with a young baby is safe. For example, my last trip was to India, where mosquito-borne illnesses are an issue. In addition, the travel can be physically exhausting -- the India trip took twenty hours of flying and a twelve hour time change.

Question: are there long-term psychological consequences to leaving a young baby with another caregiver for a week? Is doing so worse than exposing the baby to the risks of travel?

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At a couple months of age, I took my daughter across the country (4 timezones, not 12). I would suggest that with the father there, you and he will be the primary caregiver. IMO, it is always better for a child to be with the parents than with any other person, regardless of how wonderfult that person is. –  Jeremy Miller Jun 22 at 6:04
    
Also, newborns don't "per se" feel abandoned (that's a term relative to the past)... they develop attachments. Much better, again IMO, to establish that attachment with you and the father than with any other person (even awesome ones!) Just have to balance the medical issues with the area where you are going and a Doc is the best for that. –  Jeremy Miller Jun 22 at 6:07
    
@JeremyMiller My husband will have to go back to work a few weeks after the birth, but I get a lot more leave. So I meant that I will be the primary caregiver at home for at least the first few months. That's why I would feel bad leaving the baby with his grandparents for a week or more when, up until that point, he would have been with me practically 24/7. –  lmi Jun 25 at 19:23

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are several complicated issues you will need to resolve, some of which may not be issues for you depending on your approach to child rearing. This is very complicated for a young baby (let's say, under 1); after 1 it's less complicated (though certainly not 'easy').

Challenges to leaving the child home

First off, are you planning to exclusively breastfeed the infant (ie, no formula)? If you are, then you will need to ensure you can build up a large enough 'stash' for the duration of the trip, or fedex overnight frozen bottles (which is not as crazy as it sounds).

You also will need to pump regularly during the trip, as often as your infant would normally feed (or pump an equivalent amount to a normal day's feeding with at least some frequency) in order to ensure your supply does not dwindle as a result of the missed days (and to avoid the discomfort of oversupply). This milk may need to be stored, depending on your needs (some women easily produce enough to store, some do not; further, a small percentage are unable to store their milk for more than a few days, and so cannot build up a stash).

Secondly, if you are planning to at least partially breastfeed, the infant will miss that and may be difficult to get to sleep. This varies by infant and by mother, both due to temperament and due to your beliefs towards things like sleep training. Your parents may have a difficult time getting the baby to sleep comfortably, at least at first, which may be something they're unwilling to put up with (potentially multiple entirely sleepless nights). This may actually be beneficial for the baby and your sleep habits in the long run (this is hotly debated), but it may be difficult in the short run.

Thirdly, you may have difficulty emotionally parting from your child. Even if you don't expect this now, your feelings on this matter likely will change at least to some extent once you have the baby, due to maternal hormonal changes. Many women find it very difficult to part with their baby even for a work day; being away for several days can be extremely difficult. Certainly this is not an obstacle for everyone, but it's something that can be hard to overcome for some.

Finally, how comfortable will you be with your parents taking care of your son? This is a more complicated question than you'd think; different parenting styles, plus changes over time in personality, can often lead to significant conflict between new parents and grandparents as to what's acceptable. Some of that is differences in generations - we now realize a lot of things are dangerous that we didn't realize before (carcinogens in plastics, the value of breastfeeding over formula, even C-section versus natural birth, have all changed significantly since your parents had you). Some of it is also simply a matter of control and 'doing it your way'; your parents may have seemingly unimportant differences in approach (when they change diapers, how they do chores while watching the baby, TV on/off, etc.) that can easily turn into major conflicts post-birth. You need to be very comfortable with them to ask them to watch your child for several days in a row, or you will end up both being stressed out by the distance and having a higher level of interpersonal conflict that you may wish to avoid.

Challenges to taking the child along

The major challenge will be simply performing normal vacation activities. Going out to dinner, seeing the sites, etc., will all take a back seat to childcare. His schedule will to some extent dictate when you can do things - dinner will probably be earlier, lunch will be in a limited time span around naps, sightseeing will be limited to an hour or two at most at a time (or she'll overtire, unless she's really good at napping in strollers). Vacationing with children can be exhausting, at any age.

You may be able to overcome this in part by taking along another caregiver(s). Can you take your parents along with on the trip, and ask them to take care of the baby part of the time? That might be a good compromise - you still get lunches, dinners, sightseeing in to some extent, but you still have baby nearby.

Also, there are the risks you noted of disease. Air travel with a very young child (under 3 months) is a very bad idea, as their immune system isn't up to full strength yet. Under six months is still somewhat risky. Even an older child will still have a reasonably high chance of getting sick simply from air travel (many adults do as well, after all) as you are in an enclosed environment with partially recycled air and lots of people from often different environments that have diseases you've never been exposed to. Add on somewhere like India or Brazil (or really, any other country not near your own) with significantly different diseases, as well as tropical diseases (malaria, etc.), and you have much higher risks to the baby. Some of these can be mitigated by limiting your child's exposure to other people, not drinking water (which a 3 month old wouldn't anyway if you breastfeed), and by breastfeeding (which will give some of your immunity to the child), but they can't be entirely eliminated. If you do go with the child, make sure you have a good strategy for what to do if he gets sick; who you are calling first (your pediatrician? local doctor?), what doctor or ER you would go to if he needed attention, and where the local pharmacy is to obtain Tylenol or similar.


Ultimately this is a fairly personal decision, and comparing the consequences of each situation is not something you can really do at an impersonal level. It is unlikely that there would be significant long term consequences to the child either way (as long as they don't catch a serious disease, I suppose); the most significant would likely be the change in your and his relationship with his grandparents, for better and/or for worse. Realistically, the best advice I'd give you is simply to not make a decision now. Try to put off planning your next trip until after you've had the baby, and after you know how you will change psychologically and emotionally as a result of having a child. This change is unpredictable, even if you think you know how you'll feel, odds are you will be surprised by your emotions in some way. Evaluate how things are a few weeks or a month after birth, and then make your decision at that point.

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Thanks for the very detailed response. There are a lot of things to think about here. The point about parents is particularly relevant: my parents haven't retired yet, so realistically, the baby would be staying with my inlaws. They're nice people, but frankly, I would be much more comfortable leaving him with my own parents. I think that's part of why I feel uneasy leaving him behind. –  lmi Jun 20 at 19:49
    
I think you're right: the best approach is to wait and decide on a case-by-case basis. Invite the grandparents if I'm going somewhere they would enjoy (Florence is coming up next year), leave the baby or skip the trip if I'm going somewhere more risky, or go with just my husband if we're dying for some couple time. –  lmi Jun 20 at 19:54

I think there are a few separate questions in here, and I'm not sure how to unpick them. The one about leaving the child with another caregiver seems to be very easy to disprove - people have been doing this since the dawn of time, in fact many cultures leave children with grandparents as standard.

We certainly have taken as many opportunities to leave our kids with grandparents in order to get away for a week or two whenever we can. The grandparents love it, and the kids get a chance to bond with them.

So the headline question seems to be simple - you have identified risks (such as illnesses etc) that you rate as dangerous, so it appears that you should leave the baby at home. As the baby gets older this decision may change - they are able to help with protecting themselves, and they may be more able to enjoy the journey.

That said, however, many people take their young children, and many leave them - it's entirely up to you.

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"The one about leaving the child with another caregiver seems to be very easy to disprove" -- I'm not sure it's that simple. Our parents live out of town, so I wouldn't be leaving the baby with people he knows well, I would be leaving him with people he sees a few times a year. They also live far enough that we can't work up to it by leaving him for an afternoon, then overnight, etc. I'd feel a lot better about it if he were older: I wouldn't have any issue leaving a five year old with his grandparents for a week. –  lmi Jun 20 at 20:02
    
That said, you've made me realize that the problem is mostly that I feel bad leaving him; the actual risks to him are probably minimal. That's something to think about. –  lmi Jun 20 at 20:04

I actually feel there are a couple of more options you could consider, along with the ones presented, as well as some pros/cons:

Travel with husband and baby

Pros:

  • Allows you to do what usually do, just with the baby.
  • Lets you stay close to the baby without missing conferences (You will probably be emotionally attached)

Cons:

  • Safety
  • Since you on a conference, you may still need to pump even with the baby with you
  • long travel time is hard with a baby
  • Given the baby's sleep/feeding it may not be possible doing anything other than conference & hotel anyway.
  • Cost (usually lap infants costs 10% of ticket price on flights, but for 20 hours you may want to get seat. In addition you may want to rent roll-away cribs etc.)

Leave baby with caregivers

Pros:

  • baby will have time to bond with grandparents and vice versa
  • gives you the freedom to be just with your husband
  • You will be able to keep up with work conferences

Cons:

  • Missing the baby
  • How will the baby be fed? Do you plan on pumping? Pumping at the conference is not fun. It is not talked about that much, but the baby is on a clock and so are you. It is a biological need, like needing to pee. You can wait, but only for so long. You have to have a good stock up front, not possible for everyone.
  • The grandparents might not be able to take care of a baby full time. Getting up in the middle of the night to feed/hold is hard work. I don't know what age they are, but for my own parents, who are now 70, I would not think they even COULD take care of an infant full time.
  • Logistics of getting baby to grandparents, making sure they have all equipment needed.
  • Different parenting styles (how/when do you soothe baby?)
  • Things have changed since the grandparents were parents, like the recommendations for how babies should sleep and many other things. How to get all that information to grandparents that you get from pediatricians and more?

Travel without baby and husband

I would add this option. If the conferences are important to your career, and they are more than just an opportunity for a holiday this would be a solution. Even if you are the primary caregiver, your husband will be too.

Pros:

  • You get to go to conferences without worrying about the baby.
  • Your husband gets bonding time with the baby.
  • The baby is taken of by a parent, in your home. Much less worry.

Cons:

  • Your husband may have to take time off.
  • Feeding the baby may still be an issue.
  • You will still miss the baby
  • You might also miss your husband on top of it

Not going for some time

If the conferences are not that important to your career, you could not go for a little while. I personally have not felt comfortable leaving my to babies for more than 12 hours when they are less than a year old. This is very personal (and different feelings about this are not more right and wrong - we are different).

Pros:

  • This is the easiest! No worries!

Cons:

  • You don't get to go to your conferences, possibly impacting your career.
  • You don't get alone time.

Travelling with caregivers

Bring grandparents, or a nanny along!

Pros:

  • you are still around your baby
  • you and your husband have time to yourself

Cons:

  • pumping at conference still applies
  • cost!
  • caregivers intruding on vacation

All this being said, I have an acquaintance in academia, and she has been travelling to conferences far and wide with her daughter, who is now 4.5. I think she has flown more than 100k miles. She keeps a personal blog, partly about flying with her kid.

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I hadn't really thought about travelling by myself. It seemed unfair somehow for my husband to take time off work without getting to go on the trip. :) It might be a necessary sacrifice, though. Incidentally, I'm also in academia. Thanks for the blog link, it's interesting. –  lmi Jul 10 at 23:32

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