Stop Demanding “Do as I Say, Not as I do,” Why the Medical Community Must Model the Change

doctor or pediatrician holding baby at clinic

The integration of career and family is never easy, but for those in the medical profession, it can be particularly challenging.  Despite the recent changes in the practice and delivery of health care, medical school applications continue to soar.  Applicants not only meet the most rigorous college-level science courses, they are also expected to have laboratory and patient care experience.  College and research, followed by medical school, residency and fellowship training can take upwards of fifteen years.  It is no surprise, therefore, that many of our young healthcare professionals on this arduous path to medical know-how, are simultaneously setting out on a path to parenthood.

What may be surprising is that a profession dedicated to the health and well being of humankind, does so little to promote and support the same for its own.  Few medical schools and residency programs have guidelines in place for maternity leave and return to school or training with clear-cut breastfeeding policies.   With long hours, overnight on call schedules, and competitive environments among trainees, many impediments exist to the continuation of breastfeeding for students and residents.  And even when such policies exist, the lack of collegial support and fear that they will be perceived as slacking in the workplace, keeps trainees from meeting their breastfeeding and pumping goals.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement clearly supports exclusive breastfeeding for six months with food-supplemented breastfeeding for a year or longer, most breastfeeding medical professionals fall short on meeting these standards upon their return to work.  The CDC, Surgeon General, and Joint Commission all support national strategies to facilitate breastfeeding in the workplace.  But what can be done within the medical community to make it easier for healthcare professionals to model these goals?

Hospitals, medical schools, and healthcare facilities need to be aware of their state’s requirements for the support of new parents in the workplace and exceed them.  Rooms that provide privacy, running water and refrigeration are just the beginning.  Particularly in healthcare settings, we can start to do better by supporting our students’, residents’, doctors’,  and nurses’ decision to pump at work.  Medical professionals must accept and understand the time new parents need to set aside to pump in the workplace, and must change the critical nature of viewing these working parents as shirking their responsibilities to the healthcare team when they take these breaks.

The benefits of breastfeeding to America’s children, families, and businesses are indisputable.  If we want to promote breastfeeding, change the workplace culture and provide support to all working parents, let us, the medical community, model the change.

– Dr. Judy Mittleman, Chief Medical Advisor of Villyge, a management consulting firm that assists employers in providing better support to its working parents through corporate lactation programs and new parent transition and family coaching services. Villyge also provides employer resources, including manager sensitivity training, lactation accommodation law guidance and HR support.