Mothers who have children during medical school or after becoming physicians face unique challenges.
In a recent JAMA essay, a physician mom who started her intern year with a 2-month-old baby reflects on her journey to breastfeed her son no matter what. She pumped just about everywhere, from her car to clinic exam rooms with a battery pack, and in the process realized the importance of self-care.
As every family functions differently, do what you believe is best for your children. Ten women who became moms during medical school give their advice about how to succeed in medicine while having a family.
Share in the comments helpful advice you have for others on parenthood and medicine.
Responses have been lightly edited for The DO.
1. Know that having a baby and becoming a doctor is an achievable goal
“It is not impossible or crazy! I was so nervous when I first told someone that I was interested in having a baby during school because it’s often treated like a crazy idea for female students, but she was very supportive and her enthusiasm really made me feel like I could be successful both at school and at home. As a general rule for medical school, find those people who believe in you and keep them close.” —Charlee Abboud, OMS III
2. Ask for help
“I elicited the help of my family and friends to watch my baby while I’m in class. My best friend from college, who is in the same class as me, reviewed key points with me before exams, which helped tremendously.
My professors were also more than willing to allow me to postpone a couple exams so I could spend time with my newborn; one of them had even offered to hold my child while I asked questions during office hours. Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine let me extend my didactic years to three years so that I could have more time with my child during his first year of life.” —Geneva Marie Baruelo, OMS II
3. Understand that feeling guilt is natural—and manageable
“I still feel mommy guilt. Of course, most of my guilt now comes from the fact that I have a very sassy 5-year-old who likes to give me grief about working long hours. Medicine is a demanding field, and there will be times that the kids are still asleep when you leave in the morning and are already back in bed by the time you get home at night. You will miss soccer games and school programs. You might miss first steps or first words.
As a mother, I don’t think I will ever get over the guilt, but it does make me put forth the effort to be present and attentive with my kids when I am at home, even though what I would really like to do is sit with my feet propped up and take a nap. I just try to make the most of the time that I do have with them, because before I know it they won’t be little anymore.” —Selena Raines, DO
4. Find a tribe of other moms in medicine
“The pressure of trying to do well in school and grow a human among classmates who have no idea what you’re going through was really hard for me. I overcame it by reaching out to other med school moms via social media. I found a group of ladies all over the country raising kiddos and studying medicine who could answer questions or just be there in solidarity.” —Camille Hawkins, OMS III
5. Be flexible with your schedule
“Going with the flow and being where I am needed most is what works for my family. If my daughter is really fussy and needs more time with mom, then I take a night off from studying. If I have a huge exam coming up and I need to study without interruption, then I stay on campus or go somewhere else to study.
Most of the time I can study at home and take breaks to be with my family. Although it may seem stressful, being a mother in medical school has taught me to relax.”—Magdelene May, OMS II
6. Remind yourself it’s temporary
“Mothering over the phone and Facetime helps bridge the gap in my absence on away rotations, but nothing is quite the same as me being there. It is a daily struggle and I have a lot of support from my husband and both of our families. I just try to take each day in stride and remind myself why I am doing this and that it is only temporary.” —Shelby Willis, OMS III
7. Make milestones matter
“We have a rule in my house that whenever Jayden does something for the first time, it ‘doesn’t happen’ until I see it. For example, when she started rolling tummy to back, we waited until I was home and saw it myself before we talked about it.” —Jacqueline Segelnick, OMS IV
8. Make peace with your childcare decisions
“Most moms can relate to the feeling of not being enough or not doing enough for our kids. I combat the guilt by trusting the people who take care of him and knowing he is in good hands even when I’m not around. I also hope my son is inspired to find a profession that he is passionate about by watching his parents be dedicated to careers that they love.” —Brooke Steadman, OMS IV
9. Communicate your pumping needs
“It was important to me to breastfeed my daughter and I did that while at home, but it was challenging to keep up with pumping while on rotations. I found that being upfront from the first day of a rotation helped with this a lot. I explained that I have a beautiful young daughter at home and while I am away from her, I need to set aside time to pump every three to four hours. I would also ask where a good space was.
Doing this helped me get what I needed and set an expectation. I always brought my computer in my pumping bag so that I could work on notes or research topics while I was pumping.” —Chelsea Wickenheiser, DO
10. Speak up about memories you want to make with your children
“If there are things that are important for you to do with your children, be vocal about them. People can’t read your mind or know that you didn’t want someone else making Christmas cookies with your kids if you don’t tell them. Whether it’s a special book or a place you want to go, let them know.” —Stephanie Letney, DO
Giving birth during medical school