Physician Moms With Babies Escorted From ACOG Meeting Hall

Ellie Kincaid

May 10, 2019

Six-month-old Aaron, son of Stanford University School of Medicine clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology Michelle Solone, MD, is already an experienced conference goer. He attended an ob/gyn conference with Solone without a hitch when he was 3 months old, and she didn't anticipate any resistance bringing him to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 2019 Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I was afraid that leaving him for 5 days, 4 nights at this age would lead to a nursing strike," Solone told Medscape Medical News in an email. "Also, traveling home and navigating TSA with hundreds of ounces of pumped milk is a nightmare logistically."

But when Solone entered the conference exhibit hall with Aaron on May 4, security staff members approached her and told her she and her baby needed to leave immediately because children younger than 18 years were not allowed.

"I put my baby back in the stroller, picked up my plate of lunch, which I had not finished eating, and was physically bounced from the conference, all the way out through a closed door — as if I were going to sneak back in," Solone explained. "I was shocked and slightly embarrassed that I was being escorted out like a criminal, but I left graciously because I didn't want to cause any trouble." One of the women escorting Solone from the hall told her that she didn't agree with the rule, but needed to do her job. "It was uncomfortable for everyone," Solone wrote.

Aaron needed to nurse soon after leaving the exhibit hall, so Solone went to the closest lecture hall to find a place to sit before the next talk she was planning to attend. She took a selfie and sent it to her friends who were still in the exhibit hall to let them know what had happened. With her permission, one tweeted the photo with the question, "What gives?!"

 

 

https://twitter.com/DrSAksel/status/1124740134610583552

 

The ensuing outrage on social media that Solone and other mothers — one with a 1-month-old infant — were escorted out of or barred from the exhibit hall prompted the ACOG to change the policy, but conference attendees and doctors expressed frustration online and criticized the professional society's initial public response.

A tweet from the ACOG account said that it "welcomes working parents and their children to our conference. We offer childcare for children 6 months and older. If a baby is strapped to mom or dad and is under six months, we are approving their entrance into the hall."

Still, doctors and other Twitter users pointed out the dissonance between the inconvenience for breast-feeding mothers and ACOG's statements in support of breast-feeding. One tweeted: "Who had the temerity to presume to 'escort' a breastfeeding mom out of the ACOG exhibit hall? Please give them a copy of the ACOG Committee Opinion #756 on Optimizing Breastfeeding in Women and have them apologize to the women involved. ACOG members have to lead the way."

 

https://twitter.com/MomMD4SC/status/1124787824086147073

 

Another woman who was at the conference tweeted that she was "shocked to hear of this. Of all conferences!"

Doctors also shared experiences they've had at other meetings. One tweeted a picture of her 4-month-old baby she'd brought to a conference. "I breastfed whenever I wanted, a male colleague brought me water when I was nursing because he remembered his wife used to get thirsty, and the conference chair himself told me he was glad that we both came," she wrote.

ACOG Past President Lisa Hollier, MD, met with the women who were affected and tweaked the policy to make sure the women could get their lunches in the exhibit hall without a problem, an ACOG spokesperson told Medscape Medical News.

The spokesperson called the policy a "lapse," as childcare was available at the conference for children older than 6 months, but parents with younger children didn't have an option. The policy restricting children from the exhibit hall has been in place for many years because the temporary setups are "not childproof," the spokesperson said. The ACOG executive board will revisit the policy before next year's conference.

ACOG tweets the next day explained the policy, apologized for the inconvenience, emphasized options available for parents attending the conference, and said that babies held by parents would be allowed in the exhibit hall. "We hear your concerns and believe in supporting working parents," one tweet said.

 

https://twitter.com/acog/status/1125015739365306371

 

A few days earlier, the @ACOG account live-tweeted a presentation entitled It Takes a Village to Support Breastfeeding.

One conference goer tweeted her thanks to ACOG, Hollier, and the doctor who first tweeted what was happening, including a photo of herself and her baby at the meeting.

 

https://twitter.com/malikathleen/status/1124753003184033794

 

In a tweet, Solone thanked ACOG for listening. "I will keep my baby out of the OR but not the exhibit hall," she tweeted.

 

https://twitter.com/msolonemd/status/1125228264983793665

 

"The breastfeeding clearly sensationalized the story on social media, but this really isn't a story about breastfeeding," Solone told Medscape Medical News. "It's a story about human rights and wellness. It's about improving work–life integration for working parents. And it's about giving flexible options to working parents, just as we give these options to our patients. Conferences across fields should look carefully at their policies to optimize inclusion of the working parent, particularly the working mother."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 2019 Annual Meeting.

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