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Early motherhood is hell. This chart proves it

Feed, sleep, repeat.

Early motherhood is hell. This chart proves it
[Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images]

The chart is simple. Actually taking care of a baby? Not so much.

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Caitlin Hudon, the lead data scientist at OnlineMedEd, made that all the more clear with a simple bar graph she created to show how her time was allocated before and after having a baby. It has five colors and associated categories, including sleep, work/commute, free time, nursing/pumping, and taking care of the baby. Oh and an asterisk indicating time elapsed on parental leave. The chart also appears as though it could have been made on Excel. But that simplicity is exactly what makes it so effective.

“The way you spend your time changes significantly when you have a baby (especially if you’re a woman who decides to breastfeed),” Hudon tweeted. “I think this is best explained visually.”

That’s an easy takeaway when viewing the chart, which from left, begins with a rather serene-looking combination of three color-indicators (sleep/light blue; work and commute/green; and free time/yellow) pre-baby. The rest of the chart, which tracks how Hudon spent her time for the first six months after having a baby, is punctuated by thin bars of red, which indicate nursing/pumping.

In months two and three, there is no green—time allocated to work/commute—as those months fall under parental leave. But you know what else is gone? Yellow, indicating her free time. Paternal leave is important to allow parents time to bond with their new baby. But it’s no vacation. If these loud red bars don’t clue you into that fact, Hudon spelled it out in the threaded tweet:

“Month 1: feeding a baby is literally a full-time job
Month 2: finding a groove, but still, so much nursing
Month 3-4: truly the definition of *grind* to balance work with pumping/nursing and caring for baby
Month 5-6: finally a groove plus free time”

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As Hudon also mentions, the chart is simplified and doesn’t break out other everyday tasks that make a home function, like cooking, cleaning, errands, and so on. She explains that this happened either while taking care of the baby or during free time. So maybe that “free time” in months three through six needs an asterisk by it, too.

And as any parent will tell you, you won’t return to a normal schedule just because you return from parental leave. (Especially if nursing.) Yes, that green indicating work/commute returned in month three, but punctuations of red remind the viewer that, for Hudon, nursing and pumping continued no matter where she was, and required a juggling of responsibilities not seen in the “pre-baby” column of the chart.

Not to mention that this visualization is for a typical 9-5 job—should the nursing mother work retail or other occupations that require working off-hours or an unreliable schedule, those swaths of green could appear just about anywhere, breaking up those calming swaths of blue that indicate sleep and interrupting the dark gray-blue blocks that indicate time spent taking care of the baby. Further, should the new parent earn minimum or low wages, those green blocks are likely to attenuate, indicating longer hours spent at work generating income.

Good design doesn’t equate slick design. Hudon’s chart makes the information clear with high contrast, simplified blocks indicating how time was spent. That simplicity makes the resulting contrast even more shocking. Of course, many new parents have already experienced some version of this chart. But here’s one new mom’s data, laid out in blue, green, yellow, and red.

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