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Sep 29 2010

Pumping on the Set of Big Bang Theory

By at 1:15 pm

The hardest question for me to answer is, “What do you do?”

Some days I am a full-time stay at home Ima, caring for my 2- and 5-year-old sons: cooking vegan food, cleaning the toilets, giving the little guy a nap while trying to keep the older one from screaming that he is bored.

Mayim Bialik on the set of Big Bang Theory. Image Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS


Some days, I teach piano, biology, neuroscience or chemistry to a group of homeschooled students.

And some days, I am an actress on America’s #1 rated sitcom, recurring as Amy Farrah Fowler, Jim Parson’s love interest on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, now in its fourth season. On those days, I wake up with the boys around 6am, as I always do. I feed them breakfast, try to let my husband sleep in a little bit, make some muffins or a casserole to leave in my wake, and I fly out the door, breast pump in hand, for a day as an actress where my best acting comes from pretending I am not worrying about my kids.

Don’t get me wrong: my husband is incredible. He is loving, competent, fair, gentle, super skilled at handling both boys  and truly in control of everything. But when I am filming, I still find it hard to shake the identity I have on the days when I have only my kids to think about. I miss them. I miss them all day, every time I am away from them; even when I am enjoying myself. I miss my boys.

I earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA just before I got pregnant with our second son. But my husband and I decided that a lifestyle of me being a research professor would not allow us to parent the way we wanted to. So I decided to give acting another whirl after our son was born and had adjusted to nursing and being part of our family. Auditions only took me away for an hour or so at a time, and the few episodes I did of Bones and Saving Grace did not disrupt our family life and patterns.

Now that I am on Big Bang almost every other episode so far this season, I go to work armed with several empty bottles which come home full 2 days out of the 5 days that I work (the other 3 days only keep me away from home for 3 or 4 hours).

I keep a sign on my door when I am pumping to “Knock first PLEASE!” and I try and avoid lengthy explanations about why I still produce so much milk for a 2 year old (we’ll leave the subject of extended nursing for another time!). I also try not to blush as I visit the craft service table twice as much as any petite actress around (I need a lot of calories for all the milk that I produce, I promise!).

Tape nights are the hardest, since I work from noon to 10 pm, I am the only one who has ever put our nurslings to bed; my husband gives Fred a bottle of my milk and then paces around with his 30-pound weight on him until he falls asleep; after which time, he will awaken if placed on the bed, so my husband will simply sit down until the older one falls asleep, and then he will sit and watch TV with the little guy asleep on his lap until I relieve him, Dada’s arm asleep and Fred all sweaty from being lovingly balled up in his father’ s arms.

Because we feel that my husband is a better caregiver for our children than a babysitter,  I do a lot of stuff alone.  My husband doesn’t come to my tapings, meet me for lunch, or accompany me to fancy parties or publicity events. I go alone and consider those things also part of my job. But as I leave these events, often earlier than most, I am unfastening my bra as I walk out the door so that I can get ready to pump, I am flinging off my heels, and I am wiping off my make-up, since my main job starts when my car hits our driveway, and it requires no more than my open arms, my patience, and my love.

Our life looks like no other life I know of. But I love it more than any I could dream of.

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42 Responses to Pumping on the Set of Big Bang Theory

  1. hbm says:

    i think it’s great you’ve made important choices for your family, and that it’s working for you. though, personally, i cannot imagine going 5 years without even a single moment alone with my husband (outside of the home)! what kinds of things do you and he do to keep connected and maintain intimacy (and i don’t mean sex)? it seems to be working for you, i just know there are many other moms and dads out there who refuse to use babysitters as well, who maybe aren’t as intentional about making sure their marriage isn’t suffering as a result. perhaps a good topic for you to write about in a future article?

  2. Javed Mahfuz Khan says:

    I just came across your blogs which are very interseting pieces of work. Being an Afghan(Pathan) who are 100% Muslims unlike other ethnic communities, we have a lot in commom with Jews like circumsizing males, not eating pork, keeping regular fasts and more over our history books states that we belong to the same Bani-Israel tribe also. Our moms breast fed us for a very long time and my wife did the same for our four children who remained in our bed rooms for a very long time. She still sleeps with the youngest daughter who is about 15 years old who also does not like sleeping without her.

    I am glad and surprised that there are still some people in USA who are clinging to their old age customs even now. I think that ones religious upbringing should not hsve anything to do with hating other religions as it is just for your spiritual development. Besies the Koran, I have some what read the Bible also and would like to read the Torah too.

    Thank you for sharing your stories here.

    Peshawar. Pakistan.

  3. eva says:

    i love amy farrah fowler! she and sheldon are so hilarious in the way they act together!

  4. Terri says:

    My 12-year-old twins (who breastfed just past four years old) love TBBT! They and their three sibs watch it as a group and I love to hear them cracking up. Nothing better than hearing all your kids laughing at the same time. And while their older sibs sometimes tease the twins for breastfeeding when they could tie their own shoes, I know they are the better for it. I’m a PhD candidate, working full time, and wondering how I’m going to manage every day. It’s helpful to hear from you and all the other moms who replied that life is hectic and busy, but life is really, really good. Wouldn’t change a thing.

  5. Helene says:

    Even more than the breastfeeding and pumping, I love hearing, Mayim, that your husband just holds your son while he sleeps. My oldest also couldn’t be put down, and on the rare occasions that I wasn’t there to nurse him to sleep my husband would do the same thing, often bouncing him on his shoulder to Beatles music and then laying on the couch just holding him while he slept. It’s so amazing to let people know that this is okay! My “little one” is now 10 and beautifully adjusted, as your boys will be thanks to your responsive parenting. Yay!

  6. Jehefinner says:

    Wow! Big Bang is one of my favourite shows, but I shall view it with increased enjoyment now I’ve read this. I am also nursing “older” babies, my eldest is all but weaned, my youngest is still an avid bedtime & early morning nurser. I pumped for both my girls, for a year for my eldest, nearly two for my youngest, it’s a true labour of love, I take my hat off to you for what you do. Awesome!

  7. Alex says:

    Mayim, THANK YOU so much for helping to be a positive influence on other working (outside the home) moms who want to continue breastfeeding. I always applaud celebs who model putting their kids, families, and yes, breastfeeding FIRST in their lives. It will eventually help to turn the cultural tide toward extended breasfeeding, which is so wonderful for both babies and moms. Thank you again, my Milk-Makin’ Sista!!!

  8. JoAnn Funk says:

    No wonder you sound so convincingly intelligent! Good for you and a vegan, too! I worked on a Master’s degree while breast-feeding, so I can relate. I also have a Ph.D. I just wanted to chime in and say I am a big fan of the show and you!

  9. Anne says:

    Way to go Mayim!!! I love TBBT, by the way!! I pump for my 21 mo old, have EP’d almost from the beginning due to our situation. And I plan to go until he is at least 3.

  10. Heather says:

    That is amazing. You are a major inspiration and an awesome woman. Congratulations on your family, on following the research and on being willing to speak up about it. You rock.

  11. Kerri says:

    Such a lovely & inspiring story! I will share it with other moms who are breastfeeding and returning to work but have the misconception that it isn’t possible. I too breastfed longer than usual for North America. At one point I was tandem nursing my toddler + twins and their new baby brother!

    Thanks for helping make my day!

    Mom to A(g-adult), E (g-18), M (g-16), J (b-13), C & S (g-id twins-10), T (b-7) & foster M (g-10), S (b-8), G & T (b-fraternal twins-4) plus grandma to D (b-2)

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  13. FoxyKate says:

    Holy crap, I’m trying to wade my way through finishing my neglected BA from 15 years ago…way to go on the PhD!

    I’m curious how many moms pump for their extended breastfeeders? Had you been pumping all along?

    Great stuff, thank you, Mayim!!

  14. Catie says:

    Thanks so much for this article. It is good to know there are other moms out there pumping for their older kids, I have a 17 month old I still need to pump for. And your work/life balance and philosophy of parenting are very similar to my own, so that rings true for me too. Thanks!

  15. Jenn says:

    Good job you! Will make me enjoy TBBT even more knowing how you’re trying so hard to make working mom work. And kudos to your husband. He is a gem and I’m not just saying that. There are few husbands who really are willing to take over the kid watching duties as much as that. I was lucky, but I know of others who had husbands who resisted the idea.

    Anyone who gives extended nursing a knock be damned. I figured out how to make it work until my youngest was 17 months. Didn’t get many weird vibes for it, so I felt I was doing just fine and the right thing. I hope you feel that way, too, and at least one parent is out here cheering you on.

  16. Karen McKinley-Jones says:

    Thank you.

    As a midwife that just returned to work seven months after my second son was born, I struggle also to find the balance…pump in hand. So far, I have missed only one bedtime and my partner also lovingly snuggled the little guy until I got home (luckily our 3 1/2 yr old slept soundly through the baby’s one waking when he realized I wasn’t back yet).

    I really appreciate your openness and honesty and truly wish women such as myself never felt lonely in our endeavours. Your words help to make this so.

    PS My partner and I are recent, but huge TBBT fans and watched the first two seasons during the early postpartum with earplugs and a laptop snuggled between our boys. LOL

  17. Glenna Sadler says:

    I love it!!! I’m a homeschooling parent (technically a grandparent) with many faces and many hats. I do more than homeschool, but nothing is more important than the time I have with my 10 year old. I recognize that I am the one who influences him most right now. given his age, that is changing rapidly. I only hope that I have sufficiently trained him for all of the influences that will come his way as he grows up. I love The Big Bang Theory. Miyam is a perfect addition to the show. I actually watched Miyam years ago as a teenager on her own show. Congratulations on such a busy anf fulfilling life.

  18. Heather says:

    As a tween, I remember looking up to your character Blossom. And now as a mother, I’ve got a whole other reason to look up to you.
    As a mom who also practices child-led weaning it’s always heart warming to read another mom’s story about providing milk past the age of babyhood.
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. Goodnightsatchel says:

    Such a great, inspiring, encouraging article! Thanks for sharing a picture into your life! I know there are others out there who share our values but sometimes the messages are so overwhelmingly against them that it is nice to be reminded!

  20. Titika says:

    Great to hear how other moms cooperate with their spouses for the benefit of the kids. I pumped for two kids while I was in the Coast Guard and my husband stayed home with them. I still think I might be the only woman who has pumped on an offshore supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico!

    Keep up the good work!

  21. Allison says:

    Great article. I’ve been the breadwinner for my family ever since my 6 year old was born. My husband stays home with the kids. I was also an extended BFer for my oldest. Pumping that first year made me feel connected to my kids even if I couldn’t be with them. While I didn’t pump past a year, I admire your tenacity and dedication. I was a little surprised about the bottle, but to each their own. Good work Mayim!

  22. Erin says:

    This article spoke to me on so many levels. I am also a stay-at-home mom, who is just finishing my PhD (hopefully before my second child arrives this spring). I have also chosen not to go into academia because of the lifestyle, and my desire to be with my children. Oh, and the whole “producing so much milk for an almost 2 year old”- can I ever relate (and we may have the same pump even if the picture shown is your pump)! I don’t know what life has in store for me professionally, I sure can’t act, but I do know that being with my son is the best job I could have. Thank you for being a smart, strong, sexy role model for all mothers, and for reassuring me personally that it is okay to “throw away” my PhD (a phrase I ofetn hear) for a life with my family.

  23. Naomi says:

    I am very proud of you! YOu do so much good for speading AP and your boys, of course! I have two boys, and a 5m old girl now. I love the show also, being a sci-fi nerd myself!

  24. Sarah H says:

    Wow! I love this post!

    You sound like an amazing mother. I am so glad to read a blog by a celebrity that actually touches on the topic of breastfeeding ‘full term’, and casually mentions a vegan diet as well as homeschooling.

    You are my hero all over again.

    p.s. Are you aware that the classic bucket hat has been forever associated with Blossom? It is around here anyways. ;)

  25. Emily says:

    LOVE IT!! Need more! I am currently tandem nursing my 3 year old and my 21 month old. All my friends think I’m crazy. Can anyone recommend any books about extended nursing? I am so thirsty for more knowledge/support on the subject. It was nice to hear that I’m not the only mother who has ever been the only person to basically put their children to sleep by nursing. Thank you so much for sharing!

  26. marty says:

    Mayim, thank you for the glimpse into your life’s balance.

    I just wanted to thank you for speaking publicly about extended breastfeeding and elimination communication. I saw an interview you did a while back, and it really inspired me as a hesitant attached mama. I didn’t have a lot of support for the decisions my heart wanted to make, and hearing you talk about your experiences was really helpful.

    I stay home most of the time too, but still perform occasionally. People don’t usually get why I bring the boys with me (with my husband and a sitter) to the gigs, rather than just leave them home – but I want them with me, and I want them to get to see what I do. Plus, they really like the music.

    Do you ever take your boys on set with you?

  27. Wendy T says:

    You rock! We have very different jobs, but the scenario is the same and my only goal is to get home since I am the one who can put down our nurslings the easiest…otherwise my hubby is trapped in bed between 2 boys, 1 and 3 and yes, they both still nurse!!!

  28. Dara says:

    This is such a wonderfully written, heart-felt post by a mom. I have to admit, I clicked over here because I saw “Mayim Bailik.” Though I don’t watch TV now I remember you from Blossom and guest-starring on McGyver. You and Claire Danes were my actress idols.
    Anyway, back to the topic at hand, as I read this post I forgot all about who you are media-wise and saw who you are as a mom.
    Like you said,wiping off your make-up – you’re obviously an awesome mom which is the best thing to be remembered for.

  29. Saara says:

    When you were on the cover of Sassy, I admired you. I always wondered what became of you. Now, with your PhD & the way you’re choosing to parent – you truly are awesome. You are the antithesis of “Hollywood” & that’s a grand thing. Good for you! Keep up the great work (from one EBF natural-living mom, to another).

  30. Andrea says:

    It’s great to see the down to earth side of a actress like yourself! I’m the mother of 2 girls, 4 years old and my 22 month old nursling, so I can relate to so much of what you have written about. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us!

  31. Kareena says:

    This was an awesome post. Posts like this from people like you help to normalize full term breastfeeding. They also don’t hurt to dispel the myth that a full term breastfeeding mother cannot work outside the home successfully.

    I am surprised that you’re still pumping for a two year old, though. I know my two year old would definitely reject a bottle if I were ever to pump for him when I go out. But then, he refused a bottle of pumped milk when he was only 5 months old…

  32. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    Marvelous! I am a big fan of TBBT, since I was a math major and designed computer software for satellite tracking for the Air Force before they sent me to law school. I have two sons who are science nerds and a daughter who is an SF-Fantasy fan and aspiring writer. Between them we have 12 grandchildren, ages 1 (3 of them, including twin boys) to 10. All of the moms have done breast feeding of the babies.

    Your obtaining a PhD in Neurobiology is a wonderful bit of typecasting for the show, another piece of verisimilitude that makes the characters so authentic. It is a wonderful contrast to the usual TV comedies with plots driven by the lack of intelligence of the primary characters. With so many shows like CSI-(Your City Here) demonstrating that science can be dramatic, it is also good to show that science can be funny.

    I hope you will be able to use your association with the show to promote young girls learning science and math. Maybe you can do some science books for young women, like the series that Danica McKellar has written. Reading your blog posts indicates to me that you know how to write in an interesting and informative way.

    • Shawna M says:

      Raymond,
      What a wonderful and supportive comment. It’s so nice to see positive comments from men on these types of articles. It’s very difficult to breast feed at all, much less extended breast feed with out the support of your partner. Thank you again for the support form the “other side”. :)

  33. Lara says:

    Thanks so much for this! I look forward to reading your future blog about extended breastfeeding. :) I’m nursing my second as well — he’s 16 months old and still nurses six to eight times in a 24-hour period. My first nursed until she was almost three years old, and I expect my son will nurse longer, the way we’re going.

    And good for you for still pumping! Not too long after my son hit a year, my husband started giving him cow’s milk while I was gone because I really don’t like pumping. I admire your dedication.

    And of course, I also love the show!

  34. MissC says:

    What an amazing post!
    My husband and I are obsessed with BBT and have laughed through everyone of your episodes!
    I had no idea you were a mom!
    This was such an encouraging and uplifting post to read! I really just enjoyed it. Thank you so much for sharing this bit of your life with us!

  35. Muse says:

    It is so difficult to find decent role models these days. Thank you for sharing this.

  36. Mandy says:

    WAY TO GO MOMMA!! This is very inspiring!!

  37. michelle says:

    I always wondered whatever happened to Mayim Bialik!!!!
    Way to go!!!!! xoxox

  38. Ivonne Cuadros Evangelista says:

    This article make me think that I am not doing wrong, thank you so much for share this part of your life with us, I love Jim Parsons by the way, and TBBT is my favorite show, from Lima Perú

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