Q&A: commuting out-of-town two days a week

Maggie writes:

"I was hoping you could offer some advice for my upcoming work travel plans. I have a nine-month old daughter, and from September to December, I will be commuting to another city two days a week, leaving early one morning and returning home the next evening. While I am gone, she will be cared for by my husband, who has taken a very active role in her care since she was born, and my mother, who has been caring for her several days a week during the day for the past several months. The rest of the week, she will be cared for by an in-house nanny while I work out of my home office. (For the record, I have been working part-time since she was three months old, usually out of my home office, with my mother or an in-house nanny.) She is a very contented, good natured baby who is friendly and outgoing, and who has handled all our adventures (including foreign travel) very well. Do you have any advice about what to expect, and how to make the transitions easier? Also, I am breastfeeding, and hope to continue -- any advice? She is currently breastfed, with about 4-8 oz of formula a day plus baby food."

I think your timing is cutting it close, but could be exactly right. Most babies go through a separation anxiety phase (whether pronounced or subtle) at around 9 months, so that's not the best time to introduce anything new. Your daughter may have come through this first separation anxiety phase by the time you start the new travel schedule. If she's through it, I think it'll be a piece of cake. If she hasn't, the first couple of weeks could be a little rough, but they'll get better.

It sounds like you're in the best possible situation for this kind of repeated separation because your husband, mother, and babysitter already share so much in her care. If she's out of the separation anxiety stage, she probably won't be as phased by the trips as you will. Obviously she'll notice that you're gone (you're her mother, after all), but since she's used to your leaving and coming back regularly and is comfortable with her caregivers, she won't be traumatized.

Once you start traveling, she may be fussier and more clingy, and her sleep may be disturbed (but since she's 9 months her sleep is probably not that hot right now anyway). After a few weeks she'll adjust to your schedule and will either stop displaying fussy behavior or will condense her fussy behavior and make it more pronounced and predictable (like crying inconsolably for 10 minutes after you leave, but then being fine for the rest of the day).

One way I think you can ease the separation would be to make her a little book about what's going to happen. Talk about going to the airport and taking the flight, then working, then sleeping at your hotel, then working, then coming home, then seeing her again. Draw simple pictures (or cut and paste from magazines or print out pictures from Google Images to paste in the book) to illustrate the words. Then read the book to her a bunch of times, so she's got the story in her head. She obviously won't understand all of what it means, but you'll have given her the basic info that you're going away and coming back.

In my mother's experience (my dad used to travel on business regularly when we were tiny), kids do better when the traveling parent calls in the morning before the day really starts than when they only call at night. I've found that to be true for my kids when we're separated from their dad. I think it lets the children know that the parent is still alive and thinking about them, so they have that to carry them through the rest of the day. So try to juggle things so you can get in a call to your daughter in the morning so she can hear your voice.

In all probability you could reduce your pumping sessions while you're out of town. But I've heard from many women (myself included), those who pump regularly and those who pump occasionally, that around 10-11 months they started having trouble pumping as much. Most of these women didn't seem to have supply problems while nursing, just while pumping. So knowing that it's a possibility that your ability to pump as much might go down around 10-11 months, I don't think I'd cut any pumping sessions, just to cover your bases and try to prevent your supply from dropping. But I also wouldn't freak out if I couldn't pump as much during that time unless you also noticed that your daughter wasn't satisfied when she nursed.

(Incidentally, I have no idea why 10 months seems to be a trouble spot for pumping, and I haven't seen any reference to it anywhere, but I could name at least 8 friends or acquaintances offhand who mentioned that it was a problem for them. More than a coincidence, but less than a trend.)

Does anyone else out there do short, regular trips? I don't think it's going to be a big problem, but it would be nice to hear some tips from a BTDT mom.