This year at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) meeting, Dr Nikita Joshi spoke about gender representation at national Emergency Medicine conferences. Her research team found that women represented less than 30% of all speakers and 24% of all session moderators. This had me thinking. What are some of the barriers for women speaking at these conferences? One would surmise that there are many external factors at play, but maybe there are some lingering internal ones too. As a junior faculty and medical education fellow, I have been walking the fine line of trying to find my way in the academic world, while at the same time trying to start a family. I had my youngest daughter half way through fellowship and it certainly has been a struggle trying to navigate the national conference circuit while trying to pump. Let’s just say it has been a journey.
Sometimes the mere thought of trying to travel and pump made me question if I should even attend the conference. Ultimately, I attended three national conferences, one regional conference and the oral boards for Emergency Medicine in Chicago. Living in Seattle, this meant a lot of long haul flights and advanced planning for my daughter who was only three months old when I left for my first trip. Along the way, I have learned a thing or two about pumping and attending conferences. I wanted to share these pearls so that this issue alone, isn’t a barrier for young aspiring academicians.
Pearl 1 – Let them know you are coming!
When you register for your conference, if there is an area for “special requests” let them know you are pumping and will need access to the lactation room. I realize that for many of us breastfeeding may be a right and/or honor (and let’s be honest sometimes feels like a burden), however, there are some national conferences that require you to list this as a “disability” in advance. I know what you are thinking. I am thinking the same thing too and trust me, I have gently explained my thoughts on this issue. If you are unsure, contact one of the conference coordinators about access to lactation rooms. If you are taking your EM oral boards, you absolutely need to let them know in advance. I will have to say that ABEM had a pretty sweet lactation room set up. Well done!
Pearl 2 – Navigating the airport
Flying and pumping is tricky. Give yourself extra time at the airport to get through TSA. If you are carrying breast-milk on, the milk itself is exempt from the 3-1-1 rule. However, just remember, they will want to individually scan every… single… bag… that has more than 3oz in it. This takes a while. As far as preparing for your flight, I recommend pumping right before you get on the plane and immediately afterwards. Bathrooms are bad enough to pump in, but airplane bathrooms are worse. Lucky for us, many airports are now installing private pumping / breastfeeding pods. Genius. Find out more about the Mamava pods here.
Pearl 3 – Breast milk bags double as ice packs.
Turns out the TSA gets very testy when you bring a reusable ice pack that is partially defrosted. I have tried to explain to them that if I am in a conference all day and am headed to the airport afterwards, melting is a natural event. Well, they don’t seem to like it because it is a closed system preventing them from being able to access the liquids for testing. My solution? Leave the reusable ice pack at home, take some extra empty breastmilk bags and fill them with ice. I fill them with ice at the hotel. It keeps everything cold and if they are slightly melted, it lets the TSA test away!
Pearl 4 – Medela Microstream Bags.
One of the challenges is finding a place to clean your pumping gear. These bags are amazing and reusable. I typically would clean my pumping gear in my hotel bathroom and afterwards throw all my pumping gear into this miracle bag for a quick nuke. The idea of a “micro-steaming” made me feel a little better about having to clean pumping parts in a bathroom. Sigh. You can find the Medela Microsteam Bags here.
Pearl 5 – Bring two or three sets of pumping parts
Enough said. This will help you get through a day without having to clean pumping parts between trips to the lactation room.
Pearl 6 – Stay at the conference hotel
Stay at the conference hotel whenever possible. This means planning ahead and registering early. For the first three conferences I attended, I stayed at an offsite hotel. Many times the conference lactation rooms were not exactly centrally located. Often you have to collect the key to the room from the registration desk every time you need to pump, making the task that much more laborious. Some pumping rooms aren’t always fully private. Furthermore, it is a pain to have to carry around that signature black bag with the cream handles everywhere you go. On the flip side, do you want to know the silver lining of that dreaded bag? It is an amazing conversation starter. Every mom who has ever pumped while working knows that bag. Did someone say unexpected networking? That being said, if you stay at the conference hotel, you can quickly zip away to your room, pump in privacy and leave your supplies in the mini fridge.
Pearl 7 – Keeping things cold
Most hotel rooms have a mini-fridge, however, most mini-fridges are not cold enough to keep milk from spoiling. Fill your ice bucket with ice, put your milk in the bucket and place the whole thing in your fridge. It is all about redundancy.
Finally, as you consider attending a national conference (or your oral boards) with a young baby at home, it is most important to remember that the first twelve months of your baby’s life are a rollercoaster. Things change so fast. If you are like me, your identity is suddenly called into question and you feel the tug of competing priorities. Whatever you decide to do, be kind to yourself. If you want to attend conferences this year, great, go for it. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “I conquered (or am conquering) residency, I can do this.” It may not always be pretty, but it is achievable. Likewise, if you say to yourself, “this is not the year for me to be running around the country” that is perfectly fine too. Cherish this precious time with your little one, because it is amazingly fleeting. An essential part of wellness and career longevity (so I have been told) means recognizing when we are ready to be pushed and when we need to hold back and savor the moment.
Your packing checklist for traveling while pumping
[ ] Your pump
[ ] 2-3 sets of spare pumping parts
[ ] Lots of empty pumping bags for storage
[ ] Sponge for washing pumping parts
[ ] Small < 3oz bottle of liquid detergent to clean pumping parts
[ ] Medela microsteam bags
Joshi, N. “Gender Representation in Speakers at Emergency Medicine National Conferences: Analysis of Trends From 2011-2015” 2017 SAEM Annual Meeting, Orlando, Florida, May 17, 2017.