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Breastfeeding Survey

By Michelle Cohen

Chair, CWIM Advocacy Committee


Canadian Women in Medicine (CWIM) recently conducted an informal survey of 170 doctors who pumped breastmilk during their residency training and found the majority felt poorly accommodated, with many experiencing medical complications or academic penalties.

“I had to do it in a bathroom stall and get nasty comments from the nurses about where I could store my milk. My attending would only let me pump once a day at lunch which cut my supply down to zero in 1-2 weeks. I was 3 months post-partum, totally devastated and made to feel humiliated and inadequate as a resident and as a mom.” – CWIM Survey Respondent

The right to workplace accommodations for pumping milk after returning from maternity leave is enshrined in Canadian law. Yet in the health care field, workers often face discrimination for needing to pump. This survey puts data behind some of the horror stories we’ve heard from colleagues about coming back to work after having a baby.

The detailed results of CWIM’s survey can be found here. The large majority of respondents felt they had inadequate time or space to pump milk during working hours. As a result of not pumping as often as needed, 40% reported complications such as mastitis or long-term effects like reduced milk supply. Nearly one third of respondents dealt with criticism or academic consequences for needing to pump. Over 55% felt their pumping needs were unsupported by their regional residency association, the organization responsible for negotiating and protecting labour rights in residency.

CWIM is calling for residency associations to take a more active role in protecting the rights of breastfeeding residents. We have reached out to all the Canadian residency associations and thus far none have agreed to talk substantively with us about this issue. We remain hopeful that this attitude will change in the future as we continue to advocate for the rights of health care workers who breastfeed.

A version of this press release is being distributed to major news outlets and journalists with Dr. Cohen's contact information.

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