MANY doctors don’t know how to help mothers who have breastfeeding problems, a leading expert on maternal-foetal medicine says.
Dr Alison Stuebe, who will speak at a national conference on birth and breastfeeding in Warrnambool this weekend, said a recent Australian survey revealed more than half of doctors reported learning nothing about breastfeeding in medical school.
Dr Stuebe said all major medical organisations recommended that mothers breastfeed, but lactation was conspicuously absent from medical training.
Dr Stuebe is a maternal-foetal medicine subspecialist at the University of North Carolina in the United States.
She said the training American doctors received about breastfeeding was “abysmal” and she had found the training for Australian doctors was similarly lacking.
Instead, many doctors relied on their personal experience, or that of their wives, sisters and daughters, when a mother needed help with breastfeeding.
As a result, many mothers receive conflicting information based on anecdotes rather than science, and often stopped breastfeeding based on incorrect information from their physician.
“For example, a recent study of general practitioners in Victoria found that only one-third of GPs felt comfortable telling a mother she could take Ibuprofen while breastfeeding, even though this is the preferred choice for pain management in a breastfeeding mother,” Dr Stuebe said.
She said she first became interested in medication safety in breastfeeding when training in Boston.
She was concerned that a mother with Type 1 diabetes who had a recent CT scan had been told to give her baby formula and discard her breast milk for 48 hours because of the intravenous (IV) contrast she was given for the scan.
Dr Stuebe said infants whose mothers had diabetes were at high risk of getting Type 1 diabetes themselves and exposure to cow’s milk in formula could increase that risk.
“It seemed to me that this was an awfully long time for a mother to discard her milk,” she said.
She contacted a lactation drug information service and found there was no risk to babies if they were breastfed after a mum received an IV contrast.
“It took four years of discussion for me to convince the department of radiology to change their policy, and in the interim advocacy for evidence-based breastfeeding care became a central part of my work as a physician,” Dr Stuebe said.
More than 300 health professionals from throughout Australia and the world have booked for the “Turning the Tide for Birth and Breastfeeding” three-day conference at the Lighthouse Theatre, starting tomorrow.