Almost half of physicians who become mothers will breastfeed their infant for up to 1 year, yet many of these women often cut breastfeeding short because of pressures or limitations associated with their career, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

An anonymous online survey was administered to physicians who were mothers to determine the barriers of breastfeeding in a professional population. A total of 2363 mothers completed the online survey. The majority of the sample had initiated breastfeeding (94.1%), with approximately 41.7% reporting continued lactation of at least 12 months postpartum. More than one-quarter of participants (28.0%) stopped breastfeeding after achieving their personal breastfeeding goal.

Approximately half (49.1%) of survey participants expressed their desire to continue breastfeeding if their job accommodated the practice. Older age, a nonprocedural specialty, greater practice experience, non-Hispanic race, and having additional children were associated with breastfeeding up to at least 12 months after childbirth. Being a trainee and having additional children was associated with breastfeeding up to a personal breastfeeding goal.

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The majority of respondents (99.2%) reported having and using a breast pump in their office, followed by using a pump in lactation rooms (19.7%), in call rooms (12.8%), and in the car (13.9%). Not enough time during the working day (85.4%), an inflexible work schedule (37.0%), and not enough space (23.3%) were the most common challenges for establishing and maintaining a pumping routine.

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Participants who had a schedule that was accommodating to a pumping routine was associated with a greater likelihood of breastfeeding to at least 12 months postpartum (odds ratio [OR], 1.58; 95% CI, 1.26-1.98) and for breastfeeding to a personal goal (OR, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.24-2.00). In addition, physicians with a longer maternity leave (OR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.02-1.56), as well as those with a dedicated private space to pump (OR, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.14-1.81), had an increased likelihood of breastfeeding for up to 12 months.

The questionnaire used in this study included subjective measures, which may limit the real-world applicability of the findings.

Modifiable work-related factors, such as “accommodating schedules to allow for pumping, providing longer maternity leave, and establishing a dedicated private space — may improve the ability of physicians who are mothers to continue lactation after they return to work,” and these findings should be considered “when designing a workplace that is conducive to breastfeeding.”


Melnitchouk N, Scully RE, Davids JS. Barriers to breastfeeding for US physicians who are mothers [published online March 19, 2018]. JAMA Intern Med. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0320.