How to wear your baby to work

Genoa R. Warner found a new way to manage her work–life balance.
Genoa R. Warner is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Comparative Biosciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Back view of a woman with a baby strapped to her back in a rainbow-coloured piece of cloth.

Genoa Warner’s children became experts at parentwearing.Credit: Genoa Warner

In 2015, while we were both in graduate school, my partner and I decided we were ready to start a family. I meticulously planned the last year of graduate school around my pregnancy, hoping to defend my thesis just before giving birth and then take three months off to be with my child. Things generally went according to plan; I wrote my thesis, defended it successfully and accepted a postdoctoral position in a reproductive-biology laboratory halfway across the country. A few days after turning in my final thesis edits, I became a mother.

When my daughter was nine days old, I took her to visit my new lab and by chance made a new friend in the hallway: a woman who works in the dean’s office nearby. She was the president of the local babywearing meetup group and suggested that I join.

Babywearing involves using a wrap, sling or carrier to hold your child to your body. It is beneficial for bonding and breastfeeding, but it’s also amazing because it’s hands-free. Instead of sitting with a sleeping baby in my arms, I could wear her around with me. She snoozed and I was liberated; suddenly, I could do things.

I knew that science doesn’t wait for new mothers, so I started showing up to my department’s weekly environmental-toxicology seminars with my baby strapped to my chest. I hadn’t started my postdoc at this point, and this was my first interaction with most of my colleagues. I came to every Friday seminar and stood at the back of the room, swaying and bouncing to keep the baby asleep.

Three months later, when my postdoc started, the plans I made for childcare fell through. Luckily, my adviser permitted me to start wearing the baby to the lab full-time. This meant that I wasn’t able to do experiments, but I had plenty of writing and office work to do, and I was thankful not to have had to delay the start of my postdoc. Bringing the baby in was a great experience. I was lucky to have a supportive environment, and everybody loved seeing her every day. It was fitting to have a baby as the newest member of our female-reproductive-biology lab.

Baby and I developed a routine that involved a lot of napping while I read and wrote articles, planned experiments and attended departmental activities. I quickly became a babywearing expert and, later that year, I completed a certification course to become an educator who helps others learn how freeing babywearing can be.

Fast forward three years to the birth of my second child earlier this year, and I am a senior postdoc and the president of our local babywearing group. I started wearing number 2 to the lab two weeks after she was born, because I was planning to apply for faculty jobs, and I was worried that taking time off would weaken my applications. I wanted to get two more studies published before September, the start of ‘application season’ — the fall semester, when most applications for tenure-track faculty jobs are written and submitted in the United States. It felt so good not to be pregnant any more and I knew I could pull it off from my experience with number 1.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and shut down my university in March, number 2 was two months old and number 1 was almost 3. Suddenly, both children were at home and working was reduced to nap times only, about 1–2 hours per day. With my eldest in her bed and my youngest in a sling, I submitted one manuscript, but by the middle of the year I needed to collect more data for the second. In my spare bedroom, I set up a small microscope and for two months, during almost every nap, I counted cells with the baby wrapped on my chest.

Now, both children are at day care (with appropriate precautions) and I am back in the lab. My workday babywearing time might be over, but I wouldn’t pass up the chance to recommend it to other working parents. I wouldn’t be where I am now as a scientist without it; nor would I have been satisfied with the amount of time I had to bond with my new babies before they started nursery. Babywearing has enabled me to pursue my career without compromising my research or my family.

This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged.

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