There's a chart that has gone viral on Twitter and you don't have to be a data expert to understand it. The mom behind the image is Caitlin Hudon, a data scientist and a chart she created and tweeted has mothers everywhere nodding in agreement.
A new mom herself (her daughter is almost 6 months old) Hudon decided to measure how she used her time pre-baby and after welcoming her baby. The resulting chart is a pastel representation of something new parents know (and something society too often ignores): Taking care of a baby is incredibly time-consuming.
"The way you spend your time changes significantly when you have a baby (especially if you're a woman who decides to breastfeed)," Hudon captioned her chart. "I think this is best explained visually."
Nursing/pumping is represented by pink in her chart, and it is easy to see how that activity took over her life in the first couple of months of motherhood. She literally did nothing but nurse, pump, sleep and care for her baby.
"My goal for making the visualization was to help others to understand the way in which your day-to-day changes after you have a baby (and especially if you're breastfeeding). I knew, obviously, that life would change after having a baby, but I had no idea what it would like, and more specifically, I had no idea just how much time breastfeeding would take or the ways in which it's a constant part of your day," Hudon told Motherly via Twitter messages.
Hudon followed up her first chart with another chart examining just two categories: Nursing/pumping versus doing literally anything else.
"With the exception of sleep, I haven't gone more than four hours without nursing or pumping in 5.5 months. I think that's wild, and absolutely worth talking about," she tells Motherly.
Hudon is happy to see her data going viral, because it is sparking important conversations about the expectations new parents have, and the expectations society puts on them.
As Motherly has previously reported, new parents are under intense pressure to breastfeed, but a lack of paid parental leave and protections for breasting parents in the workplace make this already time-consuming task even more difficult.
As Hudon tells Motherly, she was privileged to have support from her partner. "I'm super lucky that my husband was able to take time off work to help. (He didn't get formal parental leave, but was able to take some of his saved sick time off to take care of me.) There's so much household stuff that didn't fit into this viz, like cleaning, laundry, dishes, etc., and it all slotted into time where we were caring for baby or free time. It's a lot to balance," she explains.
This is not the first time a new parent has used data visualization to tell the story of how our time use changes when we have a baby. Self-described new dad and data nerd Reddit user jitney86 shared his personal journey in 2017, posting his parental sleep deprivation in the form of a graph after he and his wife meticulously tracked their baby's life in 15-minute increments from three months to 17 months old.
When the data was plotted visually it showed a shift from erratic newborn behavior to more consistent sleep patterns.
Those extended sleep periods—for parents and babies—were also demonstrated in a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics, which found babies' sleep habits rapidly improved in the first months of life. The researchers also found that by baby's first birthday, 85% of parents could also celebrate consistently uninterrupted nights of sleep.
This is similar to Hudon's chart in a way: Over time her pink bars of breastfeeding/pumping get thinner, and more time for herself returns.
When we're in the thick of it, not sleeping and living our lives in 3-hour increments based on breastfeeding schedules it can feel like things will never get better—but it will happen, mama.
A version of this story was originally published on January 15, 2020. It has been updated.