Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

Surgeons who pump: #ILookLikeASurgeon

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If you follow trends on social media, you have seen the viral tweets and pics from women surgeons who have copied the New Yorker magazine cover showing three women leaning over an operating table.   These posts share two common hashtags:  #ILookLikeASurgeon and #NYerORCoverChallenge.  As an admin for the 7,000+ member Dr. MILK online physician mother breastfeeding support group, I wanted to see this picture taken from the perspective of a multi-tasking surgeon mother who fits in pumping her milk between cases and a very hectic schedule.  I asked our members to try and coordinate OR schedules and pumping schedules to make this happen.  Three superstar OB GYNs from Baylor College of Medicine created this pic while at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston, TX.  They don’t literally pump their milk while leaning over an operating table, but this picture represents the duality of surgeon moms who balance patient care needs with meeting the nutritional needs of their infants.  Their stories of breastfeeding/pumping challenges and successes will hopefully encourage mothers of all walks of life to confront and remove barriers to maintaining a milk supply while at work and #normalizePumping.

Here’s what their workday looked like when they managed to take this picture:  One doctor had a delivery and then a c-section while the second had a fetal surgery.  The third surgeon was performing a robotic hysterectomy.  They tried to coordinate the photo between the delivery and c-section but timing wasn’t right, and then just before the fetal surgery the three women rushed into an empty OR to make it happen. 

Surgeon #1:  Beth Davis, MD Assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Texas children’s pavilion for women

I’m spoiled as an attending OB GYN and have recently stopped pumping after reaching my goals.  Clinic days were always hard as I wasn’t granted blocked breaks in my schedule. Surgery days I usually got time between cases to pump, and they were forced to honor that since they can’t start a case without me! Deliveries were harder as babies have their own time line, but I usually had a back-up doctor who could give me a short break if I got desperate. I am also lucky to have my own office space where I could set up my pumping station and wouldn’t be disturbed. I am in awe of women trainees for making it work as residents and fellows. I can’t imagine how hard that would be in their shoes.  I’ve been lucky enough to donate my extra breast milk to eight babies due to my oversupply, including a couple of physician mothers.

Surgeon #2:  Kelly Keuneke Blazek, MD, OB GYN Fellow Minimally Invasive Surgery

Fellowship offers an improved schedule compared to residency, thank goodness.  The days when I get done early and don’t have as many service obligations, it’s nice to go pick up the baby and be able to nurse. During cases, I feel like I always have to think ahead to plan when I can pump next. I hate scrubbing out of cases because I feel guilty.  I pump between cases when possible, but I have found the courage to speak up when I need to leave a case. I work at multiple hospitals around Houston, and at some I use the hospital grade pumps.  I’m constantly forgetting pump parts for all the different pumps on the various days of the week. I’ve been back to work for a little over two months and I feel like I’ve started to get into a work-and-pump routine. I’ve pumped in my car, in bathrooms, on the floor in locker rooms, during lectures, and in the middle of the OB physician lounge. I’m blessed with an oversupply and just donated 300 oz from my freezer this week to a physician mother’s sister. Online physician mother support groups help keep me sane and also keep me awake during all the sleep regression feeds.  I also feel blessed to have never-ending support from people like Kristen and Beth.

It can feel heartbreaking after an exhausting day of operating and pumping to arrive home and find your baby already in bed and to have to sit down with the pump again when all you want to do is be able to is hold him and nurse.  The picture reminds me why I do what I do. It embodies the reality of being a working mom and empowers me because it shows that I can be both a great surgeon and a great mother.

Surgeon #3:  Kristin Clay Chabarria, MD 4th year OB GYN resident at Baylor
In terms of pumping as a resident, I’m fortunate to have faculty that are very supportive. I have scrubbed out of several long gyn-onc cases when the case ran too long during non-essential parts of the surgery. For example, in a combined case with gynecology and general surgery, I scrub out during the general surgery portion. Life gets hectic, especially on days when I’m moving from the OR in the morning to a different clinic in the afternoon, but you make it work! I pump in my car and OR locker rooms frequently. It’s especially been a struggle for me because I have a small storage capacity and thus have to pump every 3-4 or so hours or else my supply dips- but currently 5.5 months and EBF thanks to all the love support and encouragement from the Dr. MILK group! Oh and a little donor milk on tough days from the other ladies pictured here.

These three women in different stages of medical practice face many barriers to reaching their breastfeeding goals, but with the support of their work, family, and online communities they have found determination to fit pumping into their unpredictable and hectic schedules.  They look like surgeons and like moms who are amazing multi-taskers!

Laurie B. Jones, MD, IBCLC, is a pediatrician in Arizona and founder of Dr. Milk. You can follow her on Twitter @DoctorDrMILK

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by drmilkarizona

April 28, 2017 at 12:16 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I’m a hospitalist. I’ve had three kids. One as a medical student, one as a resident, and one recently. One thing that has worked for me was realizing that my male counterparts have no idea what pumping entails, so I’ve had no guilt in saying (not asking) for the time I need to pump. Most men are alike, ‘omg, so what you need to do’. Haha. And I have pumped in cars, bathrooms, and call rooms.

    Christine Taylor-Hall

    April 28, 2017 at 2:30 pm

  2. […] feeding time commitments. A great post about experiences pumping as a surgeon mom can be found here. The fact of the matter is that “many women face barriers to breastfeeding; poor breastfeeding […]

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