Friday, February 15, 2013

Breastfeeding Education for Medical Students

By Belinda M Kohl-Thomas, MD

As physicians, we know the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for moms and babies. Explaining those benefits is easy. Helping new mothers learn to breastfeed and answering their questions is more difficult. Prior to breastfeeding my own sons, I really didn't have any idea how difficult it can be. I am sure there were lectures in medical school about the physiology and hormones involved in breast milk production, mastitis, and secondary amenorrhea. The problem is that new moms ask things like, "How do I increase milk production?" "Am I feeding correctly?" "Which pumps are best?", and "Is this all worth it?"

How can physicians educate patients if we aren't educated ourselves? Thankfully, since I completed residency, we have new requirements for our residents in lactation education. Being the clerkship director for our ob/gyn third and fourth year medical students, I decided we needed to start this educational process sooner. Of course, not all of our students will go into ob/gyn, but they will all see women who are breastfeeding at some point in their careers. The Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine students who do their third year ob/gyn rotation at Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple spend one morning during their six-week rotation working with our lactation consultants. They do rounds in the postpartum wards and work in the lactation office, answering those very questions mentioned above, as well as helping mothers with the mechanics of breastfeeding.

We owe it to our patients to become as educated as possible and to use every opportunity to speak with our patients to encourage breastfeeding. If we can make our residents and students feel more confidant and comfortable with the process, patients will have even more support to have healthy babies. Many of these physicians also will be future moms and dads who see firsthand the benefits of breastfeeding.

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