Here’s some ideas for how to make going to school with a baby easier, while putting your baby first. There are various reasons a mom may need to balance school and motherhood responsibilities, and there’s no perfect way to go about it. But in writing this, the underlying assumption is that motherhood is the highest priority, not school. As a Latter-day Saint Mommy, I’ve tried to write these tips from the perspective of putting everything we do outside the home in subjection to and in support of what happens inside our home, not the other way around, as counter-cultural as it may be. After all, “the most important … work [we] will ever do will be within the walls of [our] own homes” (Harold B. Lee) and “no other success can compensate for failure in the home” (David O. McKay). Or, as one blogger wrote, motherhood “is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.” Love that!
Since every circumstance is different, I’m not saying that all of these ideas will work for everyone, but these are just some things that have worked for me that I felt were worth sharing. This list is simply meant to be a springboard for ideas of your own, and I hope you can find some of these insights helpful! Doing school with a baby can be a challenge, but with a little prayer, planning, and determination, it can be possible to do it without sacrificing your most important calling in life.
Feel free to let me know if you have any other ideas to add to this list!
23 Tips to Make Going to School with a Baby Easier:
- Read your textbooks before the semester starts. I took off the semester my baby was born and had lots of down-time those first few months (nursing him constantly), so I took advantage of the time to get a head-start. This makes life SO much easier when the semester actually starts because you’ve done a lot of the work already.
- Bring your baby to class with you. Sit on back row near the exit. Find classes with a format that can work with this strategy. Classes based on lots of group work, presentations, or in-class quizzes may not be the best choice. Instead, look for classes based mostly on individual study. Also, consider the actual classroom environment. Classrooms with exit doors in the back are best, so that you can easily slip out if needed without distracting the class. You might also consider bigger classes held in larger classrooms, where it’s less likely you’ll stand out. Larger schools may have more class options and sections to choose from.
- Use a baby monitor to listen into class lecture.
This allows you to sit outside the classroom in the hall where your baby can crawl around, play, coo, and make noise. You can focus on him while still listening to the lecture in the background. Ýou’ll need to get permission from your teacher to do this. All of my teachers were very willing to let me try this out. When I did this, students passing by would often stop and ask, “Are you listening to class lecture with that? That is brilliant!” or “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The only down-side to this is that if another class gets out early and the hall gets super noisy, you may not be able to hear as well. That wasn’t a huge issue for me most of time though, and there are solutions to things like that. For example, you could find an empty classroom nearby to sit in instead of out in the hall. Also, I think the type of baby monitor you use could make a big difference. I just used the regular cheap kind, and it worked OK for my purposes. However, you might like to invest in a more expensive one, which can have some nice perks. Video baby monitors, for instance, might be useful if the class is built around a lot of visual stuff like Powerpoints. Some baby monitors might also have a farther range (the cheap ones wouldn’t reach very far, so I’d have to stay right outside the classroom the whole time. It would have been nice if it could reach to the nearest mother’s lounge, so I could just hang out in there the whole time). I’ve heard that there might be baby monitors that you can access from your iPhone, which would be really nice. Then you might be able to listen in from anywhere. Has anyone looked into this? I’d be interested to know!
- Use Skype. It comes in clearer than a baby monitor (at least the cheapo ones) and you can listen in from home! I actually used Google Hangout for this. The only thing is, it requires someone on the other end. My husband (bless his heart) sat in on quite a few of my classes for me while I listened in through Google Hangout. It worked great for us since he works from home, so he was able to just sit in the back row and get his online work done while I was at home, rocking my baby and listening in to lecture. Occasionally we’d lose connection and have to open it up again – I think it has a lot to do with how good of an internet connection you have. (Don’t forget to mute the sound on the other computer!) We actually experimented leaving a laptop in the classroom with Google Hangout open, but it shut off after about 30 minutes, so I guess you definitely do need someone on the other end. But hey! Good excuse to make a friend in class!
- Breastfeed. If at all possible, breastfeed! You can do it anywhere, and it’s less of a hassle than having to wash bottles and mix up formula every time. It frees up your hands so you can type and do homework instead of holding a bottle while feeding. Breastfeeding can be a hassle in the first few weeks, but so worth it in the long run if you stick with it. It’s not only good for the baby’s health but also for your sanity, especially if you are planning to go to school. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, get an appointment with a nursing consultant. It is worth the time and money and will simplify your life immensely.
- If at all possible, don’t try to go to school until your baby is at least 2 months old. Brand-new babies are more susceptible to illness, which can spread easily in a school setting, and you don’t want to be bringing home anything contagious to your baby. Also, you need the recovery time and also time to adjust to and get to know this new little one without jumping into classes just yet. School will be a lot easier on you after settling into a pattern so you know more or less what to expect with your baby. Most importantly, these first two months are crucial for establishing breastfeeding. High stress levels and rigid schedules during this time could greatly interfere with your ability to successfully establish breastfeeding. Check to see if your college allows you to take a semester break. If this is an option, then by all means, take it!
- Take advantage of the time when your baby is still immobile. This is also the time when babies tend to sleep/nurse most of the time. Once your baby starts to crawl everywhere, it might be harder to do school with a baby because you’re always having to chase them around. It’s also harder to take a baby to class with you as you might be able to with a younger baby. But though it limits your options, you can still make it work if you are creative.
- Google docs are your friend. Use them! If you have a friend in class who is willing to take notes for you, Google docs can be a great tool. The nice thing about this is that you can communicate with them instantly while they are taking notes. If you have a question or you don’t think you heard something quite right through the monitor/Skype (if you’re also using one of those methods), you can ask them right then during the lecture while it’s fresh on both of your minds. If you have a question for the teacher too, you can ask your note-taker to ask the question for you. Trying to take notes with a baby in your arms in sort of a joke, so if your class is heavy on note-taking, Google docs can make life so much easier. Some classes like to collaborate everyone’s notes for the final exam through Google docs, which can be very helpful as well.
- Talk to your teachers. Get to know your professors long before the semester starts. Let them know about your situation and present to them your plan of attack. Many professors are willing to work with you, especially if you take responsibility to plan ahead and contact them early. If possible, ask for a copy of the syllabus so that you can know what to expect before the first day of class.
- If needed, consider changing to a more family-friendly school. I go to BYU (privately-owned church school). Because of their family-first mentality, the campus environment is very accommodating for student moms with kids. There are changing tables and mother’s lounges in many of the restrooms (which makes life much easier), and for the most part the teachers are very understanding and willing to work with you. There are also plenty of other students who have already started their families, so you won’t stand out as much as you might at other colleges.
- RateMyProfessors.com is a great resource. Often the biggest thing to consider when choosing which classes to take is the teacher. Looking up your professor’s name on RateMyProfessors.com can help you get a feel for the different teaching styles and how the class is structured. This can be a great way of sifting through your options before committing to a class and contacting the teacher about your situation. For example, some teachers put up all their Powerpoints online while others expect students to scramble to write notes. While neither teaching strategy is bad, some may be a better fit for your situation than others. While not everything you read in the ratings may turn out to be true, it’s nice to have an idea of what you are in for rather than getting hit by an unpleasant surprise halfway through the semester. Just take the reviews in the spirit that they were given and then contact the teacher to see for yourself whether or not his/her class will work for you.
- Consider changing your major or dropping unnecessary minors. Put simply, some fields of study are just less realistic with a baby. Explore all the options and keep an open mind. Remember, sometimes there is more than one way to achieve a desired goal. Think outside the box. Could you gain the same skills by going another route? Could studying on your own or watching online tutorials do the same thing for you? Decide to do without some of the extra ‘frills’ of a college experience and just focus on the absolute requirements to reach your desired destination.
- Get internships done early. Many majors require some sort of internship. If you already know that you will be starting a family before finishing your schooling, try to get any internships or in-field work out of the way early so that you won’t have to worry about those requirements after having a baby. If you are lucky enough to feel well enough during your pregnancy, take advantage of that time to do your internship before the baby comes, as it will be so much easier to do that type of work before having to care for a baby who needs your constant attention.
- Nurse in class. It’s a great way to keep your baby happy and let you focus fully on the lecture. Using a baby carrier can make it easier to nurse discreetly and be hands-free. If you’re completely covered and learn to do it discreetly in public, no one should care.
- Take advantage of down-time. Read and do your homework while your baby is nursing or taking a nap, so that when baby is awake, you can focus 100% on being a mommy without distractions.
- Consider not taking a full load. Especially if you don’t have much family support or resources available to you. If you are eligible for financial aid, often it can be pro-rated so that you can focus on less classes at a time. That being said, there may be cases when taking a full load is actually less stressful than spreading it out over a few years. The older your baby gets, the more challenging it may be. Consider your own situation, pray about it, and go forward with what you feel is best. Consider waiting a few years to finish school if you have a baby whose personality/needs aren’t conducive to the demands that would be placed on you at school. You are first and foremost a mother.
- Take Independent study courses. If the classes you need to take are available through independent study, this can be a great option for stay-at-home moms. I don’t know what independent study options there are at other schools, but at BYU, there’s quite a few classes available for home study. And you have up to a year to complete each course, which is nice. The classes cost extra tuition though, so you have to have the resources to make it work. This may be more realistic if you only have a few classes left.
- Accept help from friends and family. Get a babysitter when you need to, but try not to overdo it. Remember, no one can replace mom.
- Try to get baby to sleep before class. Ha! In a perfect world, this would always work. Granted, my baby sleeps less than most, but I found this very difficult to do. But props to you if you can
- Skip Class. Decide where your time is best spent. If there is no attendance policy, consider staying home instead of going to class. Less hassle trying to get out the door and you don’t have to stay on a schedule. It depends on the class, but often reading and studying on your own, you can learn what you need to in order to get by just fine.
- Practice typing with one hand. Because you’ll be doing it a lot. Get used to doing a lot of things with one hand and get ready to become a master of juggling and multitasking.
- Stay calm. Don’t let yourself get too stressed out. Babies pick up on stress. And then you’ve got a crying baby whose crying makes you even more stressed out, which makes the baby even more distressed. It’s a vicious cycle. Do something to keep you relaxed every day. For me, it’s reading scriptures. Everything seems to go better when I pray and read scriptures in the morning.
- Lower your expectations. Be OK with not being a perfect student. There is a time and season to everything, so prioritize. Make sure you are giving an A+ effort to being a mom and then use your leftover energy/time to do the best you can in your classes, but don’t pull your hair out if you can’t do as well in your studies as you used to. It’s OK as long as you are excelling in the area of your life that matters most. When I started going to school with my son, I made a commitment to do my best to always put his needs first before schoolwork and grades, even if it meant I’d fail a class. Thankfully I was able to get by just fine, but I’ve never regretted that decision. Raising a child is way more important than earning a diploma in the eternal scheme of things.
Good luck! You can do it! I’d love to hear any other ideas that anyone else has.