This weekend I was at Write! Vancouver, the second conference I’ve attended in the past month with Jade. Being there with a baby made me appreciate how easy it was to attend last year by myself! Jade received lots of compliments for being a cute and quiet baby, and while having an easy baby does help, here are a few things I’ve learned about attending conferences with a baby.
1. Arrive at the venue early.
When attending conferences with a baby, do your best to arrive at the venue early. If you are bringing a stroller, it may take longer to find ramps and stroller-accessible doors. You’ll also want to be able to choose a good seat, with space for you and baby (and your stroller). Plus, if you’re at the table first, other conference guests can decide whether or not they want to sit with a baby, instead of having you show up and ask for a seat.
I sat by the door so I could scoot out quickly if Jade started fussing. Sitting at the back of the room is a good idea so you can breastfeed discretely or pace with the baby to keep her quiet. If you’re stuck in the middle of the room or at the front, you can’t stand up to bounce the baby while still listening to the speaker.
You’ll also want to find out where the washrooms are (and whether they have change tables). If the washrooms don’t have change tables, locate the nearest handicap washroom to give yourself more space to change baby on the floor.
2. Attend conferences with a baby and a friend.
This way you have someone to hold the baby if you need to use the washroom or to watch your stuff if you have to take the baby out. Your friend can also share her notes with you. My mother-in-law went to a writer’s conference with me when Sunshine was a baby and was a huge support during the day. When I went to BConnected in Ottawa with Pearl in tow, I traveled and stayed at the conference with my friend and fellow blogger Debbie. She was a huge help with my baby and even went on a late-night excursion to find a soother after I thought I’d lost Pearl’s and she wouldn’t fall asleep without it!
As a blogger, I often take business trips that I know some of my fellow blogger mama friends are planning to go on as well. Go together. Room up. Sit together and catch up during breaks. Some of my greatest memories have been made during these rendezvous trips with a fellow working mom. ~ Debalino, founder of Sass & Smalls
(Note in the photo above—even if you go to the conference with a friend, you’ll likely make new friends who’ll offer to hold the baby! That’s me on the left smiling, my friend Deb just behind me, and over in this corner is Pearl making friends on her own…)
3. Find accommodation nearby.
If you are attending an out-of-town conference, I highly recommend staying as close to the conference venue as you can. Many conferences are hosted in hotels, which offer special rates for rooms right in the hotel. Take advantage of that! If the conference isn’t hosted in a hotel, find the closest accommodations that you can.
With a baby, it’s handy to be able to pop up to your room between sessions to change diapers, nurse, take a nap, put the baby down in a safe place for a few moments, etc. If your room is nearby, you can also take a smaller stash of baby items than you’d have to bring along for an entire day, because you can go back to your room to restock on baby food or diapers.
While you might be able to save money by staying further away, you’ll spend more time and stress in traveling back and forth.
4. Dress comfortably.
For BloggersBrandsYVR, I was worried about dressing to impress the brands I wanted to work with—and also being able to breastfeed. I shouldn’t have worried about looking professional; the brands wanted to meet me, not a businesswoman in a suit. I ended up wearing what I usually wear and didn’t feel out of place among fashion bloggers, mom bloggers, and others. Be yourself, dress comfortably, and have a spare shirt in case of spit-up or accidents.
Bonus tip: check out Momzelle for fashionable, comfortable breastfeeding apparel to wear while attending conferences with a baby!
5. Bring a stroller or baby carrier.
Should you bring a stroller or baby carrier to the conference? This depends on you and your baby—and the venue.
For BloggersBrandsYVR, I took a stroller because I didn’t want to carry Jade and the diaper bag all day. However, the venue had stair-seating and the stroller was very awkward in a crowd. Plus, Jade preferred to be held and only slept briefly in the stroller. For BConnected, I took my stroller for use in the airport and getting to the hotel, but used my sling in getting around the hotel.
For Write! Vancouver, I took my sling. The venue would have been stroller accessible, but Jade slept through most of the sessions on both days in the sling. When my shoulder got tired, I just held her on my lap or found a couch for her to play on. If you can, research the venue ahead of time and decide what to take based on the age and preference of your baby.
6. Pack light when attending conferences with baby.
I love my cloth diapers, but for Write! Vancouver I took disposable diapers. I took a very small notebook I could hold in one hand (or on those small tables that flip up from some chairs). I still ended up with a few things I didn’t use, like a blanket for Jade.
For BloggersBrandsYVR, I took my Netbook (after much debate about it) and used it for only half a session because it was too awkward to hold Jade and type (taking notes by hand is easier with a baby). I couldn’t access WiFi there and didn’t have time to, so I wished I’d just left it behind and saved myself some weight.
If you are going for a two-day or longer conference, you’ll obviously need to pack more. However, consider how you are getting to and from the conference. If you have to take planes and taxis or buses, you’ll still want to pack light. A stroller may help you in airports and outside the hotel, but make sure that what you need to bring with you will fit into your stroller. Navigating an airport while pushing a stroller, carrying a diaper bag, and dragging a rollie suitcase is not the most fun.
7. Be realistic and respectful.
With a baby, you probably won’t make it to the late night networking session and you might not catch every workshop. Prioritize what you want to attend and plan ahead. If the session you really want to hear is in the late afternoon when baby is grouchy, consider skipping an earlier session and finding a place to take a rest (or return to your hotel if possible).
You also need to be realistic about your expectations for yourself and your baby. An older baby may nap less and want to explore more. A younger baby may be fussier for no reason. Different babies have different personalities, and different conferences also have different vibes. Do you take your baby to other places (such as church) where he has to be quiet and still? How does that work? Can you talk to a previous conference attendee to see if this is this conference would be welcoming to a mom with a baby?
Know when you and your baby have hit your limit. I know it’s so temping to want to catch just one more session or even just the end of a talk, but you also need to be respectful of other conference attendees and leave when baby is fussing. Be realistic about what your baby can handle and be respectful of others attending the conference, and you’ll all have a better experience.
8. Keep business cards handy.
I started off with my business cards in my bag, and then after fishing for them a couple times, just put them in my back pocket. You want to be able to pull them out quickly and easily while chatting with people (especially at a blogging conference or during networking sessions).
9. Have fun and make friends.
I often feel self-conscious when attending conferences with a baby (especially at Write! Vancouver, when I was the only mom there), but everyone was gracious about her. Even when I thought she was fussing and I had to pop in or out several times, people smiled at me and said she was such a good baby. She was a great conversation starter as everyone wanted to know how old she was (and since I’m a bit of an introvert, it’s easy to have someone walking up to me starting a conversation about something I love talking about, instead of me trying to start a conversation with a stranger!).
Have you tried attending conferences with a baby? What tips would you give to other moms?