Editor's note: For companion reading, see my op-ed column "America, get over breastfeeding hangups" from Tuesday's USA TODAY.
I have been blessed to be on maternity-leave since 3 weeks before my due date. My days as a new mommy consist of nursing, diaper changes, cuddling, singing, reading, video chat dates with my distant new mommy friends, sending daily pictures and and videos to my husband and Lil Zo's grandparents, and phone calls with my family. Similar to most other mothers, I chose breastfeeding as the method of feeding our baby in the prenatal period. I knew it was the best thing for Lil Zo, but after consulting several breastfeeding friends, I also knew that it would have its challenges. Thankfully, I delivered at a breastfeeding-friendly hospital and Lil Zo nursed successfully within minutes of our natural delivery. The feeling was bittersweet, I was excited that he’d latched but it was uncomfortable. His latch was perfect but it still hurt for at least a week as my nipples became accustomed to his vigorous sucking. In the neonatal period, he lost a few ounces, but quickly regained them with on-demand (often hourly) nursing for his first few weeks (I am soo glad that phase is over, growth spurts are an entirely other issue).
Now, at 11 weeks old, he and I have had a great time getting into our rhythm and he has even begun taking an occasional bottle from my husband when I am out running errands. Interview season threw a wrench in our well-oiled machine. The weeks before my interviews began, I looked at my freezer milk stock and began to freak out. How much milk would he need? What would happen if I had to supplement? Would his sitter understand how to prepare the milk? After consulting a very nice woman with the La Leche League, I knew how much milk he would probably need. Thankfully, my family has been able to watch him and I haven’t had to rely on strangers.
Based upon the wonderful advice of the Pediatric Clerkship Coordinator at my home institution, I called each of my interview locations 3 weeks prior to my interviews to inquire about pumping facilities. Pediatrics is awesome!!! Everyone was very helpful and my worries about being a bother were quickly dismissed. Thankfully my furthest interview was only 4 hours away and my husband was able to accompany me. Armed with my handy Medela Pump in Style and my briefcase, I began each day discussing pumping times with the interview coordinators. Although I wasn’t able to pump every 3 hours as is recommended, I was able to pump in the car on the way to and from the interviews, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. My time pumping was also a nice chance to reflect on my interview day and have a brief break from smiling incessantly and coming up with impromptu questions. Thankfully, Lil Zo didn’t require any formula and remains an exclusively breastfed baby.
In my humble opinion, UNC Chapel Hill had the best pumping facilities. The Resident Call Suite provided a private room with comfortable chairs, a desk, and a sink. It was nice to be somewhat removed from the main interview location and to not have the Residency Director on the opposite side of a thin wall. I am indebted to the many Attendings that I affectionately referred to as my “Pumping Godmothers” (note: I did this in my head and would never, ever tell them) who let me know that they too had had to pump during interviews, training, and now daily as they provided the optimal nutrition to their newborns.
Now that I’ve completed my first full days of pumping, I realize how difficult it must be for full-time working mothers especially during residency. What has your experience been? Are there any breastfeeding medical students, residents, or attendings who were able to exclusively breastfeed through the 1 year mark?
Mommabee is an upperclass Medical Student at a mid-Atlantic medical school who is interested in community-based Pediatrics and has a background in public health. Lil Zo is her first child.