COMMENTARY

New Physician Moms Need More Resources and Less Guilt in the Workplace

Michelle L. O'Donoghue, MD, MPH

Disclosures

May 04, 2021

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. This is Dr Michelle O'Donoghue, reporting for Medscape. If you haven't seen me for a few months, it's because I've been out on maternity leave. Now that I'm back at work, the topic of being a working mother is what's freshest in my mind.

Women have many different reasons for returning to work after having a baby. For some, it's a financial decision, to support their families. Many of us are also quite passionate about our careers and want to continue on those journeys. Regardless of the reasons, there's one experience all working mothers share. Indeed, many men feel the same, but I believe that women in particular feel guilty about not being able to be at home full time, while at the same time struggling to meet all the demands of work.

This got me thinking about simple ways we can support working mothers within the workplace, to help alleviate some of that stress. Some of these ideas are quite simple, yet access to these options is not universal. One thing that is immensely important for new working mothers is to have places where they can pump breast milk while at work. A few years ago, our hospital made many changes to improve access to breast milk pumping areas. Yet, even though access has been improved, I have found a lack of knowledge about these resources among the working mothers here. Specifically, there are locations in offices as well as pods that have resources in place for breast pumping to be accessible.

We also need to make sure that all of the established physicians at the hospital are aware that they need to allow new working mothers to break away from rounds, if necessary, or provide whatever other support or time they may need for breast milk pumping during the day.

Other available resources are also not always well communicated — for example, childcare backup plans and other childcare resources. These are easy steps that we can make to help ease the transition for new mothers when they come back to work. Women in the workplace often want to make sure that when they're back at work after having a baby, they're not viewed as different from their coworkers. Often, they are reluctant to speak up to advocate for themselves, to ask about resources. Or they feel they shouldn't be, for example, breaking out of rounds to access breast pumping resources during the day.

Those of us who are more senior or established in our careers need to make sure that the junior physicians at our institutions, both the trainees and our junior faculty, are aware of the resources that may be available to them. Many hospitals have made improvements in that regard, but not universally; and again and again, even when resources are available, by and large, communication about what is available is less clear.

I encourage all hospitals to step forward and make sure a plan is in place and is clearly communicated; perhaps a packet that lists the available resources for working mothers could be readily accessible. That would be a big help for working mothers as they try to reintegrate into the workplace.

Working moms don't want to be viewed as being different from their coworkers, yet at the same time, we need to acknowledge that support systems are required to help ease that transition back to work. This is Dr Michelle O'Donoghue, signing off for Medscape.

Michelle O'Donoghue is a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and senior investigator with the TIMI Study Group. A strong believer in evidence-based medicine, she relishes discussions about the published literature. A native Canadian, Michelle loves spending time outdoors with her family but admits with shame that she's never strapped on hockey skates.

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