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New parents: Would you bring your baby to work with you?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 15, 2010 12:46 PM

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When I went back to work after my first baby was born, I felt guilty and excited at the same time. Guilty because I'd fallen in love with my baby and wanted to spend more time with her. Excited because I'd be able to have conversations with actual adults again, and be productive in a pre-parenthood way. And guilty, of course, about feeling excited about being back in the office.

Being able to leave the baby at home with my husband made me feel better (here's how we managed that and how I dealt with the second-shift stress), but if my company had offered to allow me to bring her in to the office with me for those first few months, I would have turned them down. It was hard enough trying to concentrate on work once I was back in the office, I can't imagine trying to multitask with an infant at the same time.

Every company is different, and allowing a new mom to keep her baby with her at the office may work in very small, family-oriented companies -- or if the new mom is also the CEO, as is the case with Sabrina Parsons, who blogs at MommyCEO. But even in those cases, it's not so much of a perk as it is a necessity.

"I can't take maternity leave. I run a company. So I didn't bring the baby "back" to the office after maternity leave, I brought the baby to the office when he was 3 weeks old," she told me when I broached the subject on another blog post. One of her employees had a baby at the same time she did; that employee was able to take the maternity leave Parsons' company offers, but "I don't get to have maternity leave, as there is no one else to run the company for 3 months," Parsons pointed out. "This is part of the reason there are not as many women CEO's out there."

BabiesAtWork.org says that there are many benefits to allowing parents to bring their babies to work with them -- at least until the child is 6- to 8-months-old or crawling. Those include lower stress levels for parents, better bonding and breastfeeding experiences, lower daycare costs, better financial stability, greater paternal involvement, and less incidents of post-partum depression.

But I disagree.

In most work environments, even a happy baby can be a major distraction; a fussy baby does not make for a low-stress or productive work environment for anyone, parent or non-parent. (And if studies show that people are less happy when they're parenting, do we really want to make them do it at the office as well as at home?) Wanting employees to be more financially stable is admirable, but if a new mom cuts short her maternity leave in order to maximize her paycheck, the company is the one that benefits most. I don't buy the idea that it promotes greater paternal involvement -- I know that studies show men are trying hard to juggle work and family, but how does keeping the baby with mom at work help a dad to bond? And as for those lower daycare costs: Even passionate baby-to-work advocates admit that once the baby is crawling it's time to find another child care plan, so the savings would be for a couple of months, at best.

I think there are several other options companies could consider before implementing a babies-at-work program. On-site daycare, guaranteed daycare at a nearby center, paid maternity leave, encouraging fathers to take parental leave, and, most of all, allowing schedule flexibility and telecommuting would have similar benefits for families while causing far less disruption in the workplace.

We faced the issue again a couple of years later, when my youngest son was born. This time, my husband switched to days, so we had to weigh our childcare options more carefully. Would I have preferred to take my then 5-month-old son with me to the office, to save on daycare costs or to make breastfeeding easier? Absolutely not. At 5 months, my son was hilarious, very active, and a ton of fun. I would never have been able to get anything done at the office with him there -- and neither would any of my coworkers.

Don't feed the Mommy War trolls, please -- this isn't a SAHM vs. Working Mom post. But do tell us what you were up against when your babies were brand-new. Did you wish you could bring them to the office with you?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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26 comments so far...
  1. We are lucky enough to work for my Mom's business, so our 4 month old comes to work with us. So far, so good, this is really working for us! There is always an adult with open arms if one of us really has to focus, and our baby is a really even tempered little guy and generally quiet, which helps. He can be a distraction, but I think that we actually get more done now, because all three of us push harder to get things done when we aren't with him so we can enjoy when he is with us. In other words, he is a distraction from the time we admittedly used to waste at work. He rarely distracts us from actual work, and everyone gets to witness his milestones, which includes rolling over for the first time yesterday.

    This situation isn't for everyone, and wouldn't work everywhere. We do have moments of frustration, but the good outweighs the bad, and our son is always very well cared for. This is particularly a good thing because there is no way we could both continue to work and be able to afford day care. The few months the author speaks about before a child "has" to go into day care might not be that big a deal to her financially, but it has been a very big deal to us!

    Posted by merilisa July 15, 10 07:29 PM
  1. I gave birth NOT EVEN 3 weeks ago. And I am already looking forward to my return to work. I am exclusively breastfeeding (so far) an infant that likes to take the "snack bar" approach--nursing sessions can stretch into hours because she likes to sooth herself that way. She won't take a pacifier...we've tried at least 5 brands, many pediatrician recommended. All rejected. I can't put her down ever because she starts crying. Therefore, I get no rest (since co-sleeping in the same bed is dangerous) and can't get anything done during the day. She is too young for a carrier yet.

    So, I fail to see how I would get ANY work done with a baby like this. People say it will get better...yeah, well, I'll believe it when I see it. The only reaosn I am online now is because my husband is taking care of her for a few minutes while I re-gather my sanity. However, I wouldn't dismiss the money savings in a place like Boston. Day care for an infant is super expensive and it adds up to thousands of dollars.

    Posted by New Mommy July 15, 10 08:10 PM
  1. I used to be an administrative assistant at a Harvard teaching hospital. When a physician brought her two week-old baby to work with her I was delighted to see the little cutie.

    She asked me if I could ďkeep an eye on him for a few minutes,Ē and, silly me, not realizing what I was getting into, agreed.

    A few minutes, turned into a half hour and then he began to scream. His mother had not left any diapers, pacifiers, bottles of milk, (or even sugar water), and did not respond to my pages to her.

    Desperate to calm him, I walked him up and down the corridor outside my office, crooning lullabies, and asking the other admins to continue to page his mother.

    When an hour went by without her responding, they started to page her colleagues and call anyone who might know where she was.

    One of the admins went out, and sacrificed her lunch hour to buy him a bottle, formula, diapers, baby wipes, and baby lotion. I paid for this.

    An older and wiser senior admin was summoned. She took one look, asked me a few questions, and called Child Protective Services.

    They promptly arrived, and within 20 minutes he was taken away in their custody.

    When, three hours after his mother had asked me to, ďkeep an eye on him for a few minutes,Ē she showed up, and the senior admin told her what had happened.

    Dr. Mom Narcissist blew up spectacularly. She accused me of ďabandoningĒ her baby. She threatened to sue me. She was so angry she spewed saliva into my face

    Then, she told me "I'd better not get sick and show up here."

    By then Security had shown up and everything she said had been documented.

    Posted by Caz July 15, 10 08:24 PM
  1. Absolutely, yes. I had to return to work when my son was 6 weeks old, and even though my husband was staying at home with him, it tore me apart to be away from such a young infant all day long, especially while trying to continue breastfeeding. (Pumping at work is *not* fun). While I agree that it wouldn't be feasible once the baby is 6 months or so, giving mothers who have to return to work before then the option would be wonderful.

    Posted by erin July 15, 10 09:08 PM
  1. This is a situation that should be done in a case-by-case basis. Some work environment can handle a baby, some can't. Some babies are calm enough to be brought to work, some aren't. Employers should offer generous paid parental leave (both father and mother), and also offer an option to bring the baby to work.

    Posted by workingparent July 15, 10 09:23 PM
  1. i can't imagine many workplaces where this would make any sense. maybe if you work at a day care facility or home-based business. in general an office is not a place for a baby and i can't see this not affecting the mom's work as well as those around her. along the lines of "bring your dog to work day," your personal life should stay at home along with kids, pets, especially smelly food, and other distractions and things that shouldn't be imposed on coworkers.

    Posted by erica July 15, 10 10:21 PM
  1. I think we need to increase maternity leave so that moms can get used to being moms and spend more time with their babies before having to go back to work. In Canada they get A YEAR of maternity leave, if they can make it work why can't we? 6 weeks is not enough time (although some moms are ready) and I think we are losing something when most kids are in day care instead of being raised by their families like back in the day. Moms should be able to pursue a career without having to rush back to work and stick their kids in day care. My company is very flexible with families and allows us to work fromtely when needed - I think in today's world with technology being what it is this should become the standard and companies should find ways to support families and encourage moms to spend more time with their young children.

    Posted by Kerri July 15, 10 10:27 PM
  1. While I guess this could be done at a small family-oriented company, it would definitely *not* be for me. Even when I work at home I have childcare (either someone in my house or I bring my kids somewhere) because I think children deserve to be in the care of someone whose only responsibility is to them - not to a client on the phone, a boss, a chatty co-worker or a looming deadline. In addition, my first baby was a nightmare temperament-wise so there is no way anyone would have tolerated his presence in a work environment.

    To New Mommy - deliberately co-sleeping with your baby in a bed is not dangerous, falling asleep with your baby on the couch or after having a glass of wine is. There are things you can do to make it "safer" if you are worried about safety. I never bothered with a sidecar sleeper or those little nests you can put the baby in, I just let my babies sleep in the crook of my arm. Lots and lots and lots of women night nurse their babies in the same bed and do it safely - look into it the next time you get a break and get on-line. I had one colicky baby and all three of my boys were breastfed and didn't sleep through the night until they were 2 and cosleeping was the perfect solution for us. It does get better - as someone told me 12+ years ago, the days are long but the years are short. Congratulations on your little one.

    Posted by Jen July 15, 10 10:34 PM
  1. On site daycare would be the best of both worlds for me. I could stop in to breastfeed the baby and not have to pump at work (which I agree is not fun), but then I could get back to work in a productive environment and not disturb my coworkers with a baby. And instead of getting a distracted mom, in a quality daycare the baby would be getting appropriate playtime and stimulation and constant, professional supervision.

    Posted by northshoremom July 15, 10 10:36 PM
  1. I think that doctor was not very appropriate but calling child protective services wasn't either. I have brought older children to work in a pinch (babysitter got sick or kids sick). I would definitely not recommend it as a stress reducer!

    Posted by DR July 15, 10 11:07 PM
  1. How about this - how about you have a child when you can afford to have one of you at home for 6 months or a year. Better yet 3 years. How about you all focus on the importance of AFFORDING a child and not on having a career and a child. Mom or Dad or whatever gender it is - one of you needs to stay home with the child. This dual working stuff is crap and its destroying this country. Get a dog instead.

    Posted by chris July 15, 10 11:13 PM
  1. I am not a parent, and have no interest in being one. I have worked in an office where a new mother, and the company, felt it appropriate to allow the new mother to bring the baby to work.

    The parent might feel that she (or he) is being extended a wonderful benefit, but for the rest of the office, it is a burden. It is not a pleasure or 'fun' for the other employees in the office if one of our co-workers has a baby in the office. It is a distraction, and I found it to be a real annoyance. I found it necessary to leave a job I liked because of this policy...there was no convincing the management that having the baby in the office created a massive disruption and reduced our productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

    I am all for generous maternity and paternity leave. The more, the better. But work is work, and home is home. We confuse the two at our peril. Please, keep your baby at home, where it belongs. Come back when you are ready to leave it in day care, and not before. Inflicting your children on co-workers who do not like children is insensitive. We don't all think that your precious bundle of joy is either.

    Posted by Observing July 16, 10 12:02 AM
  1. Taking care of a baby is a full time job. If someone gets paid to do another job while also caring for their baby it feels like they're getting away with something. I can't imagine how people can do this unless they are either skimping on their 40 hours per week or sacrificing their sleep at night to get work done. Or they have the most low maintenance baby in the world.

    Posted by Rebecca July 16, 10 01:02 AM
  1. Most of these mothers need the jobs and cannot afford day care.They are talented and cannot be lost by the average employer who needs people to show up and follow some semblance of order.
    Given the present use of computers I am surprised more of these companies do not provide off campus offices for those with small children.
    It's one thing to hear voices on the phone,it's another to hear crying children who have just soiled their pants or who need to be nursed.

    Posted by tarheelchief July 16, 10 01:10 AM
  1. As with all flexibility at work situations I think it depends...which I know is hard to hear. It depends on the worker, It depends on the baby (a colicky one would not be a good idea), it depends on the company...it depends.

    I think having a flexible approach - like - hey if you need to bring the baby in for a bit - let's try it and see how it works...

    When I returned to work we had some bumps with our first childcare option. Thankfully my work allowed me to bring the baby in as I was working out the situation. The baby was about 3 mos. old and a good sleeper...the situation didn't last long, but it greatly reduced the stress I was feeling at the time.

    So why does it have to be all or nothing...why can't it be a bit more flexible than that...and just be sensible for all involved?

    Posted by Leanne Chase - @LeanneCLC July 16, 10 07:38 AM
  1. I did bring my daughter to work a couple of times when she was an infant - and it was a distraction, even though she was a quiet, well behaved baby.

    I wouldn't do it unless I had to, and even then, it would have to be a desperate situation. But my job is not a child friendly career either. At any moment, I may have to respond to an emergency that requires my full focus and attention. Can't do that with babies around.

    Personally though, I think it should be a case-by-case basis for the company that doesn't have a blanket policy, and then, the parent's choice to take advantage of the agreement/policy or not. I really prefer the alternatives you offer in your piece though.

    Since my husband returned to work after we decided that it was time to have her socialize more with kids her own age back in February, having on-site daycare at cut-rate prices here has been a God-send. I'm two minutes away, I know she's in great hands, and I can focus on my work during the day without having to chase her around the office.

    Posted by Phe July 16, 10 08:18 AM
  1. I would have gotten nothing done if I'd brought my son back to work with me. I was nursing every two hours, not to mention so exhausted that I could barely function. Plus, I'm not sure the people in my office would have been thrilled by the explosive diarrhea he developed when I had to put him on supplemental formula three months after he was born (long story).

    Plus, I see how social my son is since he's gone to day care. He's very aware of other kids and he's developed such a sunny personality. He's not shy and he's great with people. In addition, the people at day care were able to give him things I'm not so sure he would have gotten had I been at work with him - tummy time, socialization, walks outside, etc. How much of that could he had realistically gotten from me if I had to focus on work?

    Posted by Kristin July 16, 10 09:55 AM
  1. New mommy--it does get better, but still not better enough to bring a baby to work. I think work positions that would be conducive to this (and to a baby) are few and far between. Better we join the rest of the developed world and offer better parental leave and child care options.

    The situation Merilisa describes, for example, is really not bringing your baby to work. Its having child care at work--someone always available to hold and interact with the baby. This works because its a family run business, full of people willing to do this who don't mind letting her off the hook for work from time to time because they love the baby too. I would imagine the line of work lends itself to this as well. Good situation, if you can get it.

    Posted by ash July 16, 10 10:20 AM
  1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Chris, but that's not really reasonable is it? For one thing, if people only had children when they could afford to, a vast number of people in this country (perhaps even in your own family) would never have been born. For another: Having a parent home fulltime isn't an option for ever family -- think of single parents, families in which the mom is the breadwinner, parents in the military, just to name a few. How can dad quit his job and stay home if mom is deployed? How can mom stay home full time if she's recently been widowed? I appreciate that you allow for either Mom or Dad to be home, but reality is that for many, being able to stay home is a luxury that is out of reach. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page July 16, 10 12:05 PM
  1. Do I wish I could bring my soon-to-be baby to the office? Nope. Would I like to use modern technology to bring my office to my home, where I can better and more appropriately care for said child? Absolutely. Will that replace childcare? Not for a full day, but it can help, and it can provide me with the flexibility I need to get my child off to a good start in life, while not depriving my company of an asset: me.

    I love my job, Iím good at my job, and I look forward to teaching my soon and future children that work can be a fulfilling part of your life, not some 9-5 that youíre trapped in to make ends meet. Especially any daughters we may have Ė I think that seeing Mommy balance a fulfilling job and family is an important and powerful message, even if it means more stress, juggling, and conflicting emotions for me (three years at home would have its own host of conflicting emotions, by the way. If you have a career youíre proud of as opposed to a job, ďjust staying home with the kidsĒ isnít exactly an emotion-free decision).

    That being said, I have made choices to make sure this is a balancing act and not an impossible proposition, and Iíve been thinking ahead to what my working mom life would look like long before we started trying Ö pretty much once I was engaged and knew my husband and I wanted kids. I opted out of roles that would require business travel. We chose to move to a town close to extended family to maximize our support network. Post baby, I will work in a less visible location in my company that cuts my commute from about 2 hours a day to 30 minutes a day. Iím realistic about potential bonus and promotion sacrifices over the next 5-8 years, because availability to my family is more important that the Continued Climb. And so on. And Iím in the lucky minority that had the benefit of having choices to make. I in no way want to imply itís easy. Itís not.

    Personally, I think a better and more family-friendly work leave policy for both moms and dads would do nothing but benefit the children, the parents, and the companies that employ them in the long-term, not to mention society. But thatís not my reality right now, so Iíll play the hand Iím dealt. If weíre going to lobby for more family-friendly work practices, Iíd rather focus on leave, flex-time and job-sharing, not Bring your Child to Work Day, Every Day.

    Posted by GC1016 July 16, 10 02:00 PM
  1. I'm taking a different tack here from most of the other commenters.

    First of all, new mommy, it's perfectly safe and possible to put a newborn baby in a good over the shoulder type sling (although you should avoid bag slings, which can be dangerous and take note of hints on babywearing safely.

    Next, I want to say that mothers around the world, through the ages have had no problem bringing their baby to work with them. They carry their babies on their backs or in slings on the front or at their hip and there are people around (including older children) who can hold the babies if necessary. The problem is not with the baby or the mother, it is with our society and the way we view babies and children and exclude them from everyday working life. There are currently at least 120 companies in the USA where babies are allowed in the workplace and this seems to be working for them.
    http://babiesatwork.org/index.html

    Of course, there are certain jobs where it is impractical or unsafe to have babies present, but your average office does not count as one of these. As far as breastfeeding is concerned, it lends itself well to working at the computer (at least with a small baby, not necessarily with an older one.

    Posted by Rina July 16, 10 04:33 PM
  1. I *did* bring my baby to work with me. Twice. (I'm a mother of two.) And I would not have had it any other way. I can't realistically afford to take unpaid leave, nor to quit my job in order to be an at-home mom -- which I wouldn't really want to do long term anyway. But while I was on leave, I did not look forward to going back to an "adult" environment in any way, shape or form. Being apart from my baby for more than a couple hours at a time held absolutely no attraction for me during the first six months to a year.

    During the time that I had a baby with me at work -- three months with the first baby, a year with the second, in both cases following a three-month maternity leave -- I was far MORE productive than at any time before or since. I am sure this was partly because I felt I had something to prove, so I worked hard. But it was also because I was able to perform my work without the distractions and interruptions of pumping, wondering what my baby was doing, fitting my work to a childcare schedule. I can't tell you how many times, later on, I had to suddenly abandon an uncompleted project and rush home when I realized the nanny was due to go home in 20 minutes -- and it was a 30 minute drive home! Talk about unproductive. Having him at work with me was so much more convenient, because I could leave the office whenever it best fit into whatever I was working on, and not when the clock said I needed to. Yes, once in a while I had to take a break from a meeting in order to change a diaper, but on the whole, having the baby with me was far less disruptive than being apart from the baby would be. And my clients, colleagues and other people I work with all reacted in very positive ways to having a baby around -- of course, I was always careful to avoid impinging on anyone else's time or focus (I would NEVER ask an assistant to "keep an eye on" my baby for me while I vanished!) -- and I am certain that there was never any negative effect on anyone else. (My co-workers often asked me if my babies EVER cried. We have such unrealistic expecations, as a culture, about babies' behavior!)

    Obviously, it's a solution that won't suit every workplace or every type of job, nor is it a good fit for every mother. And the age at which it's no longer appropriate will vary depending on the baby's temperament, as I can attest from personal experience -- my first child needed a lot more undivided attention and interaction than my second did, which is part of why I was able to keep the second with me for so much longer. But a young baby in an office is the modern version of the continuum concept. I think it's easier to write a contract while nursing a baby than it would be to harvest rice while nursing a baby, and there are a lot of advantages to mother, baby and society as a whole when children are more integrated into the normal lives and work of the adults around them.

    All that said, if I had access to a full year of PAID maternity leave, as most Western mothers do, I would take it in a heartbeat. And I would be grateful to have childcare in or very close to the workplace too. These solutions are not mutually exclusive options; they are all things that parents should have the opportunity to choose if and when they are appropriate to our lives.

    Posted by hollyml July 16, 10 05:12 PM
  1. Hi. I founded the Parenting in the Workplace Institute (we created the Babies in the Workplace website referenced in this post). I would like to point out that babies-at-work programs are successful in the more than 140 companies on our database (and we're sure there are many more we haven't yet found) *because* they have very clear structures, in most cases (we strongly recommend a formal, written policy), to account for and prevent problems that could otherwise arise. In these companies, coworkers end up (much to their surprise, in many cases) bonding with the babies and *wanting* them to keep coming to work (good policies are very clear that coworkers can't spend too long playing with the babies, though). It is *far* different from the expectations many people--including many people in these companies--have when they're imagining how it could possibly work to have a baby in the workplace. If you're skeptical, talk to the companies on our list--listen to the managers talk about how morale skyrockets when there's a baby around and how teamwork actually increases. Listen to how motivated the parents are to be able to keep bringing their babies and how they find creative ways to be more efficient and get their work done while keeping their babies happy. Listen to executives who watched their employees bring babies and then did it themselves with great success. Listen to the difference it made for more than 1,500 parents and babies who have successfully done this and transformed their workplace cultures in the process. Listen to how much of a difference it made for parents to have those critical first six to eight months with their babies--the most vulnerable time of their children's lives.

    Our culture has separated work and family for so long that we've forgotten how well it worked for most of human history to integrate children into society. These companies have recaptured it--with tremendous benefits for the bottom line as well as for parents, babies, and coworkers.

    To address some points in the blog:

    1. The reason these programs help with paternal bonding is that many fathers also bring their babies to work in virtually every company that has had a program for more than a year or two. Also, single or married-but-childless male coworkers in these companies also often bond with the babies and learn about parenting from others bringing their babies, which increases their confidence when they have their own children.

    2. I agree that it would be great if more companies offered paid parental leave and/or if our government instituted a nationwide paid leave system. It would be great if everyone had access to on-site daycare and flexible work. But the fact is, many of those solutions often cost a lot of money to implement--and right now, most people in our society simply don't have access to them. Bringing babies to work (in a well-structured program) helps businesses and parents in that tremendously important period after a new baby's birth--and costs almost nothing to implement. Yes, it's a short-term solution, but considering it can cost sometimes $1,000 a month for day care, it's a big savings for new parents. And any parent who brought their baby to work for the first six or eight months will tell you it meant the world to them--and drastically increased their loyalty to the company and their productivity long-term because they were so grateful for the company who gave them that opportunity.

    Feel free to contact our Institute if you have questions or would like information or templates to set up a program.

    Carla

    Posted by Carla Moquin July 16, 10 06:30 PM
  1. Wow, people have no heart. The commenter on the Dr. with a new baby. What happened to compassion? kindness? support? Yes, the mom was inappropriate to leave the baby "for a few minutes" (that turned into 3 hours), but she assumed her baby was safe. There are always 2 sides to a store. No, it was not right. Calling CPS was not right either. And by way sugar water? Please don't give any baby sugar water. No water the US has a diabetes epidemic, I can't believe people still give that to babies.

    Posted by Lucy July 16, 10 07:01 PM
  1. Returning to work as a new mom is hard (Whether you work from home or away from home). Very interesting article. We welcome the continued discussion here: http://www.facebook.com/babygooroo

    Posted by baby gooroo July 17, 10 01:59 PM
  1. My boss brings her baby to work, and it's worked out wonderfully. I suppose the experience could be different for different mother/baby combos, but I'm really amazed at how smoothly the whole thing has gone. When I have my first, I'll definitely at least give it a trial run.

    Posted by melgarvey July 29, 10 11:58 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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