Of all the known approaches to saving infant lives, human milk has the greatest potential impact on child survival. (PATH) When direct breastfeeding or mother’s expressed milk is not available, donor human milk is the next best option.
As such, the 2018 WHO/UNICEF implementation guidance on the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative stated that “Infants who cannot be fed their mother’s own milk, or who need to be supplemented, especially low-birthweight infants, including those with very low birth weight and other vulnerable infants, should be fed donor human milk.” The American Academy of Pediatrics, the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on Nutrition, and other national and global policy groups also call for use of donor human milk as the feeding of choice, if mother’s own milk is insufficient, unavailable or contraindicated. (WHO)
The ISRHML Trainee Interest Group recently presented A Global View of Human Milk Banking with Kimberly Mansen (PATH), Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka (Nsambya Hospital), Debbie Stone (Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank), and Dr. Maryanne Perrin (The University of North Carolina Greensboro) which brought to light several, wonderful resources and is the inspiration for this week’s post.
Let’s take a look at some human milk banks around the world.
The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank in Ontario has dispensed over 1 million ounces of human milk. The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank is a non-profit organization and a joint initiative of Mount Sinai Hospital, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. It is a member of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
The first and currently only Ukrainian Human Milk Bank was established in Kiev at the Perinatal Centre where approximately 80 percent of all premature babies in the city are born.
The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) has set up a total of 44 in-hospital human milk banks in public and private hospitals across South Africa.
The first human milk bank in Vietnam was officially opened on February 17, 2017, at the Danang Hospital for Women and Children. This facility is supported by the Vietnam Ministry of Health and the Danang Provincial Department of Health, and is the first human milk bank in Vietnam to be operated within the public health system and to international standards. (PATH)
In an eerie parallel, WHO’s February 2022 report, How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding, states that “Recommendations from health professionals are a key channel of formula milk marketing. Health professionals spoke of receiving commissions from sales, funding for research, promotional gifts, samples of infant and specialized formula milk products, or invitations to seminars, conferences and events.” (p. 7)
Last week, Nikki Lee, RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, RYT500 and I shared our reflection on the forces that shape physicians’ personal infant feeding experiences. In this second installment, we explore how physicians as professionals can support breastfeeding despite being targeted by the breastmilk substitute (BMS) industry and despite generally being woefully equipped with proper lactation education, training and counseling skills. These predicaments can lead physicians to “explicitly or inadvertently, introduce doubts around the ability of women to breastfeed and the value and quality of their breast milk.” (WHO, p. 12)
Pervasive industry influence for generations
Because “health professionals are among the most respected and trusted members of society…[their] advice…is highly influential for pregnant women and parents of infants and young children, including around infant feeding decisions.” Formula milk companies exploit this relationship of trust. (WHO, p. 12)
BMS representatives target physicians “with a range of incentives, including funding for research, commissions from sales, ambassadorial roles, merchandise, gifts and all expenses paid promotional trips.” (WHO, p.13)
The psychology behind gift-giving, both big and small is that “ it imposes…a sense of indebtedness…. The…rule of reciprocity imposes…an obligation to repay for favors, gifts and invitations…” (Katz 2003) Instead of supporting infant feeding purely through a health and wellness lens, physicians feel obliged to a company muddying their relationships with their patients.
Interestingly, most physicians feel immune to marketing’s influence, despite clear evidence to the contrary, Frederick S. Sierles, MD lays out in The Gift-Giving Influence.
Our culture fails to acknowledge the mother baby unit as a dyad, and this influences the way physicians can support breastfeeding too.
“We are never taught, in our fragmented system, that the mother and baby are a unit,” Lee reiterates. “OB/GYN/midwife sees mama; peds sees babies. There are even different places for them in the hospital: nursery, postpartum unit. What a struggle we had with the BFHI to keep mother and baby together.”
The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health’s (AIM) Patient Safety Bundles offer models for how health professionals can use task force approaches that break down silos of care and open channels of communication. The strategies used in these bundles aim to ultimately shift from fractured care to continuity of care where the dyad is protected.
We must also consider how physicians are compensated for their work. In the current U.S. healthcare system, physicians find themselves paid in Relative Value Units (RVUs), which bluntly put, is a pretty mechanical way to value providing care to other humans, as we mentioned in our first installment. In short, the more RVUs a physician racks up, the more they’re paid. Breastfeeding counseling takes time.
How are physicians to spend time with their patients, educating and supporting breastfeeding when they’ve had little to no breastfeeding education invested in them? Dr. Nigel Campbell Rollinspointed out in WHO’s How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding webinar that faculty in medical schools themselves sometimes believe that formula products are inevitable or necessary.
Often, it is a physician’s own struggle to breastfeed that seems to spur advocacy and change. Our Milky Way’s repository includes a breadth of physicians’ stories of personal struggles that have inspired them to become breastfeeding champions for their patients and communities.
“There was no training about [breastfeeding] technique, no discussion about common problems before discharge, no training about clinical problems as far as in the first few months postpartum…when to introduce complementary food,” she continues.
We are honored to have been able to feature the work of the late Audrey Naylor in Commendable contributions to the field of lactation. With a lifetime interest in illness prevention, Naylor said she was quickly convinced of the power of breastfeeding after only attending a few hours of a breastfeeding seminar in 1976.
“Neither medical school nor pediatric residency taught me anything about breastfeeding,” Naylor said.
“It is easy to become frustrated with nurses and physicians who – often inadvertently sabotage breastfeeding mothers and babies, but I also sympathize,” she explains. “We are in a position where we are supposed to have answers, but no one has taught us the skills necessary to provide those answers.”
Other stories and models for care
Lori Feldman-Winter’s, et al Residency curriculum improves breastfeeding care showed that “a targeted breastfeeding curriculum for residents in pediatrics, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology improves knowledge, practice patterns, and confidence in breastfeeding management in residents and increases exclusive breastfeeding in their patients. Implementation of this curriculum may similarly benefit other institutions.
As part of their work to build a cohort of breastfeeding-friendly pediatricians, the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Georgia Breastfeeding Coalition launched a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Pediatrician Interest Form.” Georgia pediatricians who are interested in becoming certified as a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Pediatrician” are invited to fill out the form.
A medical student once told Nikki Lee, RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, RYT500 about an obstetrician who loved to pump while she was catching babies because she collected more milk than usual. Lee theorizes that perhaps it was due to the high levels of oxytocin in the atmosphere during childbirth.
It’s a fascinating concept, and quite unusual considering physicians often find themselves in a terrible paradox. As Lee puts it, they are supposed to take care of everybody else, and no one takes care of them. They’re expected to be experts on everything; as childbirth educators and lactation care providers, we often disclaim “this information is not meant as a substitute for medical advice.”
With insufficient support in their personal infant feeding goals, physicians’ struggles sometimes seem to spur advocacy and a “do-better-for-my patients” attitude. Just the same, these experiences can lead individuals to harbor resentment, despair, resignation and defeat, and might unintentionally influence the breastfeeding support they are able to offer their patients.
When physicians’ basic needs aren’t met, we can’t expect them to meet the needs of their patients. How can one pour from an empty cup? Kathleen Kendall Tackett offers Burnout, Compassion Fatigue, and Self Care for Members of the Perinatal Team which presents insights on the effects of little institutional support and specific strategies for integrating self-care into care for others.
Self-care is sustainable only when everyone can do it.
Before physicians are done with their decade or more of training, they are challenged by inadequate support in their efforts to feed their own children.
What’s more, a recent research letter, American Board of Medical Specialties Board Examination Lactation Accommodation, evaluates the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) member boards’ lactation-specific board examination accommodation policies highlighting that a minority of female physicians (42%) achieve the recommendation that infants receive mother’s milk at least until age one.
“Board examinations are a key aspect of medical training,” the authors begin. “With up to 22% of female trainees delivering a child during postgraduate training, and nearly 59, 000 female physicians in residency and fellowship in the US, there is a large group potentially affected by board examination lactation accommodations.”
About a decade ago, in a landmark case that has implications for all testing organizations in Massachusetts, a unanimous Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that breastfeeding mothers are entitled to special accommodations to allow them sufficient time to pump milk during lengthy testing for medical licensure. [https://www.wbur.org/news/2012/04/13/breastfeeding-doctor-ruling ]
The elephant in the room is the issue of parental leave. Honestly, it’s hard to stomach that we are still arguing that there are medical and psychosocial benefits of protected parental leave for both parents and children. The U.S. is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member country—and one of only six countries in the world—without a national paid parental leave policy. The U.S. is also one of the few high-income countries without a national family caregiving or medical leave policy. [https://bipartisanpolicy.org/explainer/paid-family-leave-across-oecd-countries/ ]
Women don’t breastfeed; societies do. The societal burden on the mother is magnified when the mother is a physician and is compelled to take care of everyone else, with no support for their own breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is blamed for being difficult, instead of us all getting furious that we don’t have paid maternity leave.
In the current U.S. healthcare system, physicians find themselves paid in Relative Value Units (RVUs), which bluntly put, is a pretty mechanical way to value providing care to other humans. In short, the more RVUs a physician racks up, the more they’re paid. Often that leaves lactating physicians forgoing pumping to spend more time with patients. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act would close the loopholes that force physicians to choose income or feeding their babies. The PUMP Act advanced out of the Senate HELP Committee with unanimous bipartisan support in May 2021 and then passed with significant bipartisan support (267-149) in the House last October. Despite this strong bipartisan support, the bill has languished in the Senate for almost a year. Get updates on progress here.
The policy reports that the Institutional Requirements of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education require training programs to provide written policies regarding leaves of absence, including parental leave, and these policies must comply with current legislation such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but that the length of leave has considerable variability among residency programs. The statement outlines the challenges of parental leave policies in training programs and gives recommendations to protect trainees and their families. One challenge is that education calendars are set long before a person enters a medical program, but labor, delivery, and the establishment of breastfeeding don’t fit into a predetermined calendar.
Despite this dismal landscape, the medical world is changing and there are stories and models to celebrate.
Catherine Wagner, a cardiothoracic surgery resident at Michigan Medicine, managed to breastfeed and pump for a year during her residency with a network of support.
Got Milk? Design and Implementation of a Lactation Support Program for Surgeons describes an initiative where “Multiple faculty members offered to offload resident workload before starting cases to provide time for a lactating resident to express milk… The University of Wisconsin adopted a ‘cross-cover’ model encouraging lactating residents to have other residents assist in the operating room during non-critical portions of the case if the primary operating resident needed to express milk that has been very well received and easily implemented.”
There’s attention being paid to lactation accommodation information in urology residency programs too.
In this study, “Of 145 urology residency programs, 72.4% included information about lactation accommodations anywhere on the institution’s website.” The authors conclude that “efforts to recruit and retain female urologists should include making [lactation accommodation] information more easily accessible.”
Authors Annery G Garcia-Marcinkiewicz andSarah S Titler call on anesthesiology as a workforce and specialty, to support the unique need of lactating and breastfeeding anesthesiologists in Lactation and Anesthesiology.
This study offers the first comprehensive scoping review of the literature on breastfeeding policies pertaining to surgical residents in Canada.
The authors write: “…We aim to use these data to advocate for breast feeding for surgical resident physicians through the creation and improvement of current breastfeeding policies as applicable. This work aims to help change surgical culture to be more inclusive, which is vital in creating a breast feeding-friendly environment. This would include leadership endorsement of the policy, a culture shift (for example, no repercussions to resident for coming back on a modified schedule or taking breaks for expressing milk), visible educational notices throughout the workplace (ie, ‘breast feeding-friendly workplace’ notices, common in Canadian public settings), and creation of a network of ‘new moms’ within the surgical resident programme to ensure there is support and mentorship for new moms returning back to work. ”
While we wait for policies to catch up to the needs of lactating physicians, wearable pumps are helping them reach their infant feeding goals. The Impact of Wearable Breast Pumps on Physicians’ Breastfeeding Experience and Success found that “those who had used a wearable pump reported statistically significant shorter lactation breaks (p < 0.00001) and were more likely to be able to provide breast milk to their infants for their entire intended duration (p = 0.005) compared to the traditional pump group.”
The support network Dr. MILK (Mothers Interested in Lactation Knowledge) has been successful at helping physicians mothers reach their infant feeding goals.
Where else are you seeing physician parents being supported in their infant feeding journeys? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lactation care and breastfeeding support are always essential, but perhaps even more so during crises like the one we’re facing today, dazed by social isolation.
Like many states responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (ALPP) is required to comply with Massachusetts Governor Baker’s emergency order and stop in-person operations. Healthy Children Project, Inc. has also been required to halt in-person operations, including the Lactation Counselor Training Courses (LCTC) for the time being. ALPP is continuing to process Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) recertification requests remotely.
Despite the current situation, the spirit of CLCs shines. In the CLC Facebook Group, lactation care providers are engaging in conversations about telemedicine, HIPAA compliance, and protective equipment and how to best serve families amidst the unknown.
Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA)’s Milk Banking and Covid-19 which covers quality and safety, Covid-19 and genetically similar viruses, heat inactivation of viruses, transmission and screening, and breastfeeding safety.
Ready Set Baby curriculum produced by The Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT-DPH) in partnership with the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI)
For personal sanity
The meditation app, Ten Percent Happier, has made a set of meditations entitled “Coronavirus Sanity Guide” available to the general public. In addition, they are making their full app available at no charge to healthcare workers who are responding to the virus outbreak. They invite health workers to email them for instructions at email@example.com.
Yale’s Dr. Laurie Santos will host a Coursera Live Q&A event featuring ways to cope and process our emotions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Going forward, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) and MomsRising are inviting health care providers, pregnant and breastfeeding families, and all public health stakeholders to share how the pandemic is impacting the infant feeding experience. MomsRising points out that with the situation constantly evolving, personal experiences can make an impact on decision-making and help elected leaders understand how to best meet the needs of families.
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