May 10, 2019

Breastfeeding For Working Nurse Moms Is Hard When Hospitals Aren't Supportive

Breastfeeding For Working Nurse Moms Is Hard When Hospitals Aren't Supportive

By Angelina Gibson

If you’re a breastfeeding mother, and you pump, you’ve probably pumped in some awkward places. And doing so as a working nurse is a special challenge - especially when nurses rarely get breaks and many hospitals do not have allocated lactation rooms. 

When it’s time to pump, it’s TIME to pump! Like, right now! Looking back on World Breastfeeding Week we’ve heard from mothers who are nurses or work within the healthcare industry who were forced to pump in hospital bathrooms, utility closets, patient showers or their own personal vehicles. Why? Because their work circumstances didn't allow for adequate breaks or access to lactation facilities.

We came across a viral post on Instagram in which a mother working within the healthcare industry shared her story:



"I've been trying so hard to continue to breast feed my son. He was born in the 8th% ..probably because I was always doing 24 hour shifts ..It's hard enough being a woman in a male dominated surgery residency, but to add pumping in the midst of all the chaos is even more challenging. In between OR cases, tons of floor patients, emergency room consults, I pump.. often in bathrooms and old showers. He's now in the 33%! Breast is best." :two_hearts:Photo of: @haruksssss :heart:In honor of world breastfeeding week, let's take a moment to appreciate this phenomenal mother's story. As a Mother, who exclusively breastfed my son for 16 months I can't imagine doing it while holding down a medical career. Women are amazingly powerful. SHE is a FORCE of a woman. This post is to help sustain breast feeding and empower mothers - together as a community. Hospitals, of all places, should have lactation ROOMS for their EMPLOYEES! Does yours? #worldbreastfeedingweek --------------- Are you a Mother who works in the medical field? Did you breastfeed? What's your story? What advice do you have for new or expecting Moms? Let us know in the comments. Let's talk about it. :two_hearts:#mommylife

A post shared by Angelina ✌🏽 (@travelnursinginsider) on


Her post encouraged other mothers working in healthcare to share their own stories about the challenges of breastfeeding: 

"I only lasted 4 months. I got caught up with patients whenever my milk dropped and ended up pumping late. My supply became too low for my daughter and I had to give it up."

"I am medical doctor and I breastfed my twins for 6 months but, I had to give up breastfeeding because in our hospital there was no possibility to continue lactation."

"As a nurse, I used to pump in the bathroom as well. Usually only about twice in a 13 hr shift though due to all the demands on my time."

"I was a Physician Assistant when my son was born and was told before I went on maternity leave (that) I might as well not even start breastfeeding because when I come back there would be nowhere to pump and I would not be given time to do it. I applaud all women who are lucky enough to do so!"

"I'm a Pediatrician and single mom to three kids, the first of whom was born during residency more than a decade ago, when people weren't as understanding about pumping! Hang in there! It can be done!!"

"I'm a mother who works in the medical field. I used to pump in the toilets on my break, eww! This was only 4 years ago! there were no facilities made available at my work, it can be done but it's hard work."

"The society should feel shame of this situation. A working mom without an ideal room to pump, and this is supposed to be the first world. Women need to behave like superwoman to survive. At least we should have the choice."

Ironically, the majority of hospitals support breastfeeding for their patients through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative while their own employees continue to struggle with nourishing their own children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. With federal law only requiring 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new moms upon the birth of a child, working moms face challenges meeting this recommendation. 

While many hospitals and healthcare employers do support lactating employees, the nature of the industry can present circumstances that are beyond an employer’s control. 

For healthcare workers, it’s difficult to even get a bathroom or lunch break so finding time to pump is yet another daunting challenge. Enduring the pain of engorged breasts during a 12+ hour shift, possibly developing mastitis or taking the risk of not being able to adequately nourish their baby can cause mothers to give up breastfeeding - despite their best intentions. 

In fact, the Center for Disease Control found that 75% of new moms initiate breastfeeding, but only 33% continue past three months and by six months that number drops to 13%. We suspect this number is much higher within the healthcare industry.  

Despite the Break Time For Nursing Mothers Law enacted in 2010, working moms are still at risk of a decreasing milk supply upon returning to work. The law requires employers to provide reasonable break times for an employee to express her breast milk for as long as one year after the child’s birth. Employers are also required to provide a place which may be used by an employee to express milk. This area should not be a bathroom and should be shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

There are many health benefits to breastfeeding: 

  • Babies that are breastfed have reduced risks for ear, respiratory, stomach and intestinal infections. 
  • Breastfeeding lowers the risk of asthma, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Preterm infants are at a particularly high risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the stomach and intestinal tract; breastfeeding can protect infants from this.
  • Mothers that breastfeed are less likely to get breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Breastfeeding saves money. More than $2 billion in yearly medical costs for children could be saved if breastfeeding recommendations were met. 

Ultimately, the breastfeeding journey is short, but the benefits are lasting. While focusing on women’s rights and supporting efforts to enact longer-term maternity leave will help, we can all make changes within our own communities.

It is said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” 

Healthcare employers should be part of that village - encouraging working moms to make the best choices for their children by supporting their decisions. No mother who decides to breastfeed should be forced to give it up because of work. And mothers, remember, you are doing the best you can despite your circumstances.  

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