Tips for surviving a job interview season as a breastfeeding mom

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I had to leave my 6-month-old son when I started my faculty job interviews. In the beginning, it seemed impossible to survive the 3-month interview season and visit 15+ schools as a breastfeeding mom. However, with all the help and support, I am still able to breastfeed my son today when he is 15 months old. I am not trying to encourage or discourage people to have a young child or breastfeed them when they start to look for jobs. After all, it is all personal choices. But I want to share some tips based on my own experience that might be helpful for moms in a similar situation. All I want to say is that both your baby and your career are invaluable, and you don’t have to choose between them.

It is completely manageable, but the necessary conditions are

  • You have a very supportive advisor
  • You have a very supportive spouse
  • The baby is healthy and happy without you for a couple of days

Early preparations

  • If you don’t plan to wean your child from breastfeeding, I would recommend getting a deep freezer and starting to store extra breastmilk from at least 3 months before your travel begins, so that the little one doesn’t have to switch between breastmilk and formula. Also, being away from your baby will usually reduce your supply, so if you want your little one to have enough breast milk when you’re away, it is better to over-produce in the beginning.
  • Train your partner to take good care of the baby by himself/herself. Find a daycare or babysitter if necessary and give your little one some time to get used to the new environment.
  • Notify your interviewers about your situation. You should ask for
    • A modified schedule with pumping breaks every 3-4 hours. Each nursing break should take at least 30 mins
    • A private room with access to a power outlet, a water sink, and a microwave
    • Special dietary restrictions like no alcohol and less saturated fat (to prevent clogged milk ducts)
    • A babysitter if you want to bring your little one with you during your interviews
    • Access to a fridge if you plan to store the milk and bring it back to home with you

Most universities I visited were super supportive. A lot of places have a dedicated nursing room. Some of them are even equipped with a hospital-grade pump. You never know before you ask! However, also be prepared when none of the above are available. I will also share some experience on how to handle this situation later.

Now you are ready for your trips, and the next question is

What to pack (other than the normal things)

  • A very reliable double electric breast pump
  • A manual breast pump (this is very very important since you will face a million situations when you don’t have access to the power outlet)
  • A lot of photos of your little one on your phone
  • A hands-free pumping bra (so that you get your hands free to look at the photos)
  • Microwave sanitizing bags (so that you don’t have to use soap to clean the bottles every time. This can save you a lot of time)
  • Milk storage bags (I just tossed the milk afterward so I am not sure how to travel with frozen breast milk. Maybe you can read this article)
  • Some extra parts for your pumps like the valves
  • Lecithin (which helped me a lot when I had clogged milk ducts and my son was not around. read more)
  • A nursing cover (just in case there is no private room available) and nursing pads

Don’t forget your suits, cosmetics, and much more importantly, your laptop for the presentation! When you are traveling, the most important thing is to empty your breast on a regular basis. Every breastfeeding mom knows how terrible it could be if you don’t do it.

Tips when you are traveling

  • Never ever check your bag which has your pump and suits
  • If you have to gate-check your carry-on bag, make sure to bring your manual pump with you
  • Be prepared to bring your pump out at the security checkpoint. If you feel embarrassed, try to ask a female staff for help
  • If there is no direct flight
    • When you book your flight, make sure to leave some connection time. In my experience, >1.5 hrs would be ideal
    • Find out the locations for the nursing rooms. Almost all major airports have nursing rooms. Some others use Mamava, a small mobile suite. You can easily find the locations using your airline app or Mamava app
    • If there is no nursing room, try the family restrooms, and
    • If none of those are available, that’s when you will need your manual pump
  • This is less relevant, but you may want to put some stickers on your laptop to make it stand out if you are using a very popular laptop like Macbook or Thinkpad. Someone took my laptop by mistake when the security folks were checking my pump and I almost lost my laptop…

After you have arrived, the most important thing to do is to have a good rest. Faculty job interviews are very exhausting, not to say that you will have to wake up and pump in the middle of the night and rush to pump multiple times between your one-on-one meetings.

During the interviews

  • During the break, try to relax a little bit and look at the photos of your little ones. Believe me, you will feel much more refreshed!
  • Gently remind your interviewers if your one-on-one meeting before the break runs late. Sometimes they think your break is just “a break” so they want to take more time
  • Make sure you have started to clean things up when there are 8 mins left in your break. You don’t want to run late for your next meeting. But if you skip the cleaning, mold will grow in your bottles soon…
  • If the water sink is not in your pumping room, you may want to use an opaque bag to carry things because there might be a lot of students in the corridor
  • You may want to wear nursing pads. Every breastfeeding mom has been there…
  • You may not want to wear dresses, tight tops, or jumpsuits

Rare but inconvenient situations

  • When there is no nursing room available during your interview, you can ask for a private office, a storage room, etc. You don’t want to compromise and use the restroom unless it is a clean private restroom with power outlets.
  • If your flight is super long or gets delayed, you may have to pump on the plane. You can try to use your manual pump in the restroom, or ask the flight attendant to switch your seat to one with only female neighbors.
  • If your pump gets broken, find the closest Target/Walmart immediately and get a replacement.
  • If you feel stressed, think about the positive things. For example, you are burning an extra 500 calories per day. You can just enjoy the nice food provided by your host without worrying about overeating!
  • If you have a sequence of back-to-back interviews but you don’t want to leave your baby for too long, then try to reschedule with the universities (it is always a good idea to take a break between interviews), or you can bring your little one with you.

Interviewing with your little one

Yes, it is possible to bring your little one to the interviews! I have done that for 4 of my interviews and they all went well. You will need someone to travel with you and in most cases, universities are very generous to cover their flight tickets as well. Some other universities even offered to hire a local babysitter for me during my meetings. Again, you never know before you ask!

The downside of traveling with your little one is that both of you may get sick. We were once trapped in an airport for more than a day due to a snowstorm. My arms got sore after holding my son for too long, and it was very inconvenient to feed everyone at the airport. I didn’t sleep at all before my next interview. However, it was very satisfiable to be with my son during that week-long trip.

I heard that some lady scheduled her interviews as a month-long road trip. I think it is a brilliant idea! However, you may not get all your interview invitations ahead of time.

All in all, don’t be afraid to be a mom at any point in your life. The supporting system is getting much better nowadays. All you need to do is to ask for help and enjoy the trip.

Me and my happy little boy at the Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, IL