Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lactation in the Modern Age

A recent post by Science Woman has raised the question of how breastfeeding women should be accommodated. The background is that an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Harvard asked for extra break time on her licensing exams because she is nursing. The board refused and a legal battle has ensued. She has argued that a 45 minute break (I don't think all at one time) is not sufficient for pumping activities during a 9 hour test. Oh, did I mention that she had two children while completing her MD-PhD, obviously a real slacker on our hands here. I would also like to point out that nursing for the first year is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of MDs, which you would think would recognize the importance of allowing lactation during the testing time.

Now I don't have experience with medical licensing tests in particular, but as an engineer I did have to take the EIT/FE (fundamentals of engineering) exam at the end of my BS. I distinctly recall that the test lasted the whole day with a couple of 20 minute potty breaks and a lunch break. The testing location had one women's restroom with two stalls. Now it happened that there was one woman who raced to the stalls immediately at the start of break and spent the entire 20 minutes in a stall pumping. I admit at the time I was kind of angry that someone took up a stall for the entire 20 minutes creating a bathroom line for the remaining stall that took almost the entire 20 minutes to get through. Meanwhile the guys had plenty of extra time to stroll around and clear their heads, maybe even visit the candy and drink machines. In retrospect that woman should have had accommodation. I can't imagine pumping in 20 minutes (with set-up and clean-up and everything). She must have pumped all of 1 ounce in that time, if she could concentrate while holed-up in a stall. She also should have had a separate pumping room. Not only did her lack of accommodation inconvenience herself, but it impaired the testing environment for all of the women present by limiting our bathroom access. It's a shame that testers aren't more understanding and that women aren't more forthright about demanding what is fair and equitable.

This also brings back my own pumping experiences. I nursed both of my children exclusively for 1 year (shout out to Science Woman, you're not a hippie, you're normal). My daughter was born after my MS, and I shared an office with 6 other grad students. I pumped in the ladies room, which had a nice sofa, but I still scared off about 1/2 of the women that would normally use that bathroom. We had a word of mouth schedule and those offended understood that the bathroom was off-limits during those times. With my son, born day after my defense, I was at my postdoc. I was fortunate that my department had two other nursing mothers (what are the odds?) and they had set aside a lactation room, which happened to double as the server room so don't spill any milk or you're in trouble, but it had a key. That was grand. I bought one of those bras that holds the bottles and suction cups in place so my hands were free to work. And I did work in there, a lot. This was a much better arrangement than the first.

Finally, I wanted to make an observation. When I was little, everyone I knew was bottle fed. The dolls that little girls (and some boys) played with came with bottles so you could "feed" them. Things are different now. After I tuck my daughter in at night (and also in some inappropriate situations), I frequently see my daughter's baby dolls up her shirt as she "nurses" them. It kind of warms my heart to think that my single action has had that much influence on her. She sees nursing rather than bottle feeding as the natural way to nurture a child. Ah, my work here is done.


At 12:24 PM , Blogger ScienceWoman said...

I really just can't imagine how someone could manage to do well on an exam if they had to spend all their breaks pumping. Much less in a bathroom stall! It's shame that these doctors and engineers don't recognize that.

I'm glad that your pumping situation was reasonably good and that your daughter thinks that nursing is a normal and wonderful thing. Maybe she'll grow up to be on one of those boards that sets up these darn testing schedules!

At 1:15 PM , Blogger ScienceMama said...

Seriously, the idea that your daughter "nurses" her dolls brought tears to my eyes. Kudos, Dr. Mom!

At 11:34 PM , Anonymous tenured(butstillstressed) said...

I was lucky and had people willing to let me use their offices when I was a grad student and postdoc. They did not want me to have to pump in the bathroom, although I certainly had to do that while traveling at conferences etc. The worst was taking the pump through airport security and having to turn it on to prove that it was really what I said it was! I didn't have to extract milk with it of course, but did have to prove it had suction action. I think airports are more familiar with them now. I even had to pump while interviewing for faculty positions and pretty much had to explain why I needed these breaks. It was telling how the different institutions reacted. I reasoned that if they had big problems with it, then I didn't want to be there.

At 11:45 PM , Anonymous tenured(but stillstressed) said...

By the way, for those who may not know, the reasons you have to pump while away from the baby are to avoid leaking and engorgment and to keep up your production for when you are back with baby.

At 11:34 PM , Anonymous Whymommy said...

This is beautiful. Sorry I'm so late to the party -- but I wanted you to hear it from me too.

I pumped in my cube at NASA -- if I wanted to keep my job and breastfeed my baby, I no other choice!

At 9:39 PM , Blogger Love Kpop said...

I'm puzzled with lots of exercises. I was afraid I could not do the right time despite my hard work. I need a support person.


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