Though Utah law allows a woman to breast-feed in any public location, most student-parents would prefer to avoid baring their lovelies in the Hall of Flags or sitting awkwardly on lidless toilets to pump breast milk for their babies.
For a university that boasts its ability to accommodate unconventional students, this school is completely overlooking the needs of many student-parents.
As the school grows in size, we must begin to meet the needs of lactating mothers. Plans are being made for a new Student Life and Wellness Center, which could potentially provide the private haven that mothers require.
“I recognize that there are several mothers on campus who would benefit from having areas of privacy to breast-feed,” said Richard Portwood, student body president. “In the process of selecting what will eventually be inside the student center, we invite…as many ideas as possible to put on the drawing board before any final decisions are made.”
Whether or not the Student Life and Wellness Center will become a reality is to be decided by the Board of Regents on August 27.
Under the recent health care reform laws, it is required to provide both time and space for employees to express milk for at least one year after their babies are born.
There is, however, no law in Utah declaring the rights of the breast-feeding students, and therefore these students often go unnoticed. If campus leaders would begin to support and encourage breast-feeding, the school may almost deserve its reputation as being friendly to parent-students.
Lactation rooms are simple, small and can be inexpensive. From a utilitarian point of view, facilitating breast-feeding not only improves the health of students’ babies, it can improve student productivity as well as recruitment and retention. It can also reduce student or employee absenteeism due to a child’s illness.
The rooms themselves should be private, clean and not attached to a bathroom. At the very least comfortable chairs, tables, sockets and decent lighting should be provided.
Exemplary schools, including the University of Arizona, Columbia, Tulane and the University of Michigan, go further than these basic requirements.
These and other schools provide hospital-grade pumps with discounted breast pump accessories to students and employees. Their lactation rooms include bulletin boards to promote a breast-feeding community; literature about infant wellness, parenting and student-parent or employee-parent rights; photos of babies to help the mothers’ milk let down; contact information for lactation consultants and a sink with soap and paper towels.
UC Berkeley’s Women’s Resource Center, for example, has a lactation program with a coordinator in charge of scheduling times in lactation rooms to assure privacy and availability.
Our campus does provide women’s health services, including birth control and rudimentary prenatal care, but once a student’s child is born, the needs of the breast-feeding parent are largely ignored. Current spaces allocated for parents and their children, like the parent’s room in the library, do not accommodate breast-feeding.
However, Wee Care, the on-campus daycare program, does accommodate lactating students. According to Mary Ellen Larsen, director of Wee Care, parents are welcome to visit between classes to nurse. They also allow you to drop off bottles of pumped milk.
Since Wee Care is federally funded, not all parents who would like to enroll are able to.
Peggy Pasin, coordinator of the school’s Women’s Resource Center, said she was unaware of any lactation support program or lactation rooms available to students on campus and had never been approached by a student asking for one. Breast-feeding is too often considered a taboo subject, making it uncomfortable for mothers to ask to be accommodated.
If you are a student frustrated by inadequate lactation facilities on campus, contact the Women’s Resource Center at 801-863-8080 or drop a note in the UVUSA suggestion boxes. Be specific about your needs: the time you require to pump, what information you are lacking, where a lactation room is needed, etc.
Choosing to breast-feed is the first good decision a mother can make for her baby, and institutional inconvenience should not deprive our wee Wolverines of their right to health.