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Under the Lab Coat: Medical Student Moms who Nurse

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Medical residencies are a notoriously grueling rite of passage. But what if you’re a doctor-in-training who’s also a nursing mom?

A recent study found that only 27% of physician mothers who start to breastfeed can meet their 12-month goal. For them, lab coats serve as a daily reminder of their professional dreams — while also concealing their personal struggles.

Frustrating Moments

Gaelen Dwyer, a physician trainee nursing her twin infant sons, recently wrote an article for the Association of American Medical Colleges about her own experiences and those of her peers in similar situations.

They recounted scenes familiar to working mothers who breastfeed: stained blouses, pumping in supply closets, inconsistent routines due to work commitments, and other frustrating moments.

Best Practices

Just like many other organizations, healthcare facilities and hospitals are still figuring things out for their employees who breastfeed.

As a rule, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) advises that “physician trainees should not be expected to share lactation rooms with patients or hospital guests.”

The AAFP model also offers other guidelines that can be considered best practices for inclusive workplaces in general:

Lactation rooms. Apart from meeting basic standards for privacy and functionality, facilities used for expressing milk should also be comfortable, clean and convenient. Refrigeration for breastmilk storage is essential. And, of course, well-maintained breastpump gear and supplies are a must.

Break times. It is strongly recommended that employers accommodate nursing mothers with 20-30 minute breaks, for a period of up to one year postpartum. In California, breastfeeding mothers need to be supported as long as they need pumping breaks with no upper limit. Federal and state laws regarding break times should be consulted to ensure compliance.

Communication. Creating a culture that inspires confidence in nursing mothers starts with education for all employees. Making information known about corporate lactation policies — along with training on the link between breastfeeding and the health and wellness of mothers and families — becomes a way for organizations to celebrate their shared values.

Interested in learning more? Let’s talk!

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