Fear of lawsuits affects breastfeeding advice

I am doing a family practice rotation and trying to set up elective rotations and plan for applying to residency. I am also just busy and tired out in general. I can’t write about much of what I see day to day without discussing my patients or my attending physicians and residents in a way that might be ethically questionable.

But, I do want to write about something that happened recently.

A patient came in with a complaint that wasn’t life threatening or earth shattering. My attending physician wanted to treat it empirically. The patient is breastfeeding exclusively. The physician, without even looking up the medication, told her to stop breastfeeding.

I usually don’t challenge what my attending physician recommends. The patient said she would do what she always does, and call her baby’s pediatrician. When we did look up the medication, it did not have a contraindication for breastfeeding, but had a typical “well, we just don’t know if this is safe” disclaimer. This wasn’t a book specifically dedicated to medications and lactation.

I told the attending physician that the patient was exclusively breastfeeding, and breastfeeding is hard enough to pull off in this society as it is. I said that, barring a contraindication during breastfeeding, most medications are safe, and a little research on the topic and possible alternatives may be a good idea. The attending said that, in today’s litigious society (which is the topic of many lectures by many attendings), we just can’t take those kinds of chances these days. She apparently tells any breastfeeding patient to stop breastfeeding with any medication.

I hope I can take these kinds of chances one day. I respect my attending physician’s choices in balancing her medicolegal risk and the way she cares for her patients, but I hope to be able to strike my own balance one day that is more supportive of breastfeeding.

“MomTFH” is a medical student who blogs at Mom’s Tinfoil Hat.

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