Pumping During Residency

Dr. Laura Calvo is a board-certified pediatrician who completed her pediatric residency at a children’s hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas. Being close to the border at the time and fluent in Spanish, Laura was amongst a team of medical professionals who traveled to immigration detention centers to provide pediatric care and humanitarian support to children separated from their families. Laura is currently completing a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at Duke University Hospital. She lives in Durham, NC with her husband and two young children. Laura is also the sister of Central Carolina Doulas owner, Aida Algarin, and has served as a contributing member of our online breastfeeding support group Breastfeeding Social of Fayetteville.

Tell us a little about your breastfeeding journey.

“After working from home and breastfeeding my son for 17 months, I decided to wean gradually as I started pediatric residency. However, when my daughter arrived at the beginning of my second year of residency, I found myself having to return to 12+ hour shifts at only eight weeks postpartum. My plan was to exclusively pump with a goal of making it to six months.

Despite all my co-workers and supervisors (all pediatricians) being supportive and encouraging of my breastfeeding goals, it was still so hard to find regular times to pump without interrupting my team’s workflow. I was afraid my patient care would be affected by having to take pumping breaks regularly, so I made sure to be consistent with myself by pumping right before morning rounds. If rounds went long, then I drummed up the confidence to excuse myself and repeat my mantra that even though I may get a task done an hour or two late, I could still balance my personal goals of breastfeeding with the same high standards I held myself to at work. It was exhausting! But I made it to my goal of six months and was very proud of myself in the end.”

What are some tips and logistics that helped you successfully pump in a fast-paced medical profession?

“What helped me with pumping at work was being organized with my supplies, having an extra set of supplies in case I couldn’t get a thorough cleaning and drying in between pumping sessions (when things were especially crazy in the hospital), and listening to/watching videos (on my phone with ear pods) of my baby crying and cooing at the beginning of my pumping session to speed up let down. I could get in and out of a pumping session within 15-20 minutes if in a pinch and a full cleaning of parts within 30 minutes.

At one point, I considered buying a wearable pump, but I couldn’t really afford one at the time. There are some clinical situations that are impossible to take a break. For example, I knew anesthesiologists or surgeons that were in surgery and could not step out to pump, so in that case a wearable pump was their only option. I was lucky to have access to “Mom’s Place” which was a breastfeeding suite complete with four private pumping rooms, TVs, recliners, snacks, water, and sinks for cleaning and an area to store supplies. This was the pumping room for NICU and other breastfeeding moms with kids in the hospital.

I also had access to the hospital’s loaner Medela breast pumps that the IBCLCs had on hand, so I just brought my own pump parts (which I always had two sets). Since I only has access to the shared fridge in the resident lounge, I stored my breastmilk bottles and storage bags in my own soft-sided cooler with my name labeled on it.

When it came to cleaning my pump parts, I used the microwavable sanitizing bags for pump parts in between sessions and then brought everything home to sanitize completely [in a sanitizing machine or in the dishwasher on sanitize mode].  I had the Medela cleaning wipes for those quicker sessions when I didn’t have the extra 5-10 minutes to clean properly (or sometimes if there was a line at the sink with moms washing their own pump parts!).”

What advice do you have for others preparing to pump in the workplace?

“Be confident and speak up. I was lucky to have a supportive environment, but I sometimes let myself go 6 or 8 hours between sessions because of my own self-doubt and pressure on myself (not wanting to sacrifice my patient care).

It’s also not like my attendings would remember for me to take breaks, so I set loud alarms on my phone so that it would interrupt rounds if they were going too long for me. I would then just excuse myself while reminding them that it was my pumping alarm. I also explained my situation clearly at the beginning of each rotation to my attendings, nurses, and other residents. Colleagues can help cover patient care responsibilities if you must step out of the unit and this can be a huge lifeline.”


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