Postgrad Med. 2021 Jan;133(1):42-47. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2020.1814581. Epub 2020 Sep 20.
OBJECTIVES: Breastfeeding at work is recommended by pediatric society guidelines and is protected by employment and human rights law in many countries. Despite this, previous studies have found that residents report important structural barriers to breastfeeding at work.
METHOD: We administered a cross-sectional, electronic, multicenter survey of all women residents in Alberta who were parents in 2017. The study aimed to characterize respondents’ experiences of breastfeeding, including duration, goals, barriers, and support from colleagues.
RESULTS: There were 110 respondents, of whom 53 individuals had breastfed 83 children during residency. While nearly all felt that breastfeeding was important to them, only 69.2% reported meeting their breastfeeding duration goal. Surgical residents were less likely to meet their breastfeeding duration goal than residents in other disciplines (40.0% (n = 6/15) compared to 80.0% of non-surgical (n = 28/35) and 80.0% of family medicine residents (n = 12/15)). Residents reported stopping breastfeeding earlier than they desired due to lack of adequate space (48.7%, n = 19) and lack of time (57.1%, n = 24). Twelve participants (10.9%) reported hearing a derogatory comment from a staff physician about their breastfeeding.
CONCLUSIONS: Women residents face barriers to breastfeeding at work which require systems-level intervention. Residents from surgical programs may be the most vulnerable to these barriers. Program directors, residency wellness committees, and hospital administrators should prioritize addressing these barriers for women residents returning to work after maternity leave. Examples of interventions that may address these barriers include policies, designation of lactation spaces, and flexible return-to-work schedules.