Are you a college or university student who is breastfeeding and if yes, do you feel that your college is well equipped to support lactating mothers? According to the Academy of Pediatrics, it is recommended that women breastfeed their children for one year due to the health benefits breastfeeding has for both mother and child.
Breast feeding is the ultimate gift of love that a mom can give to a baby. However, the sad truth is that lack of lactating places on many college campuses makes it extremely difficult for women to breastfeed with ease. When I attended UT, I lived in a West Campus apartment and I found that there were very few lactation areas available between my close-in apartment, and the university buildings. The sad reality is that many women have been forced to choose between their academics and bringing up their children.
The Laws are Vague
In spite of existing laws that require lactation spaces and pregnancy accommodations to be availed in college campuses, the vagueness of these laws makes it difficult to enforce them. Although a few universities have lactating spaces, these rooms usually lack privacy, are overcrowded not to mention inconvenient.
To make matters worse, at times these rooms are located a long distance away from the study area forcing one to spend a lot of time crisscrossing the campus. As one student mother mentioned, “The first time I needed to breastfeed on campus, the nearest lactation room was approximately 10 minutes away and when I got there the room was booked for one hour.” This further points out the frustration of breastfeeding on college campus.
Without accessible university provided lactating spaces, nursing mothers are left to ask around for empty rooms which put them in the uncomfortable position of asking for favors. To avoid this awkward position, women have resorted to breastfeeding in their cars, in bathrooms or even giving it up altogether as much as it is not what they really want for their children.
The lack of lactating spaces normally limits nursing women’s access to universities. This is because there are classes and meetings all over the campus and so women need to be able to count on having spaces to breastfeed with ease. Of utmost importance, these places ought to be posted online in order for women to know where they are located. For a nursing mother, knowing these spaces are there offers psychological comfort and this is what contributes to making the university an accessible place for everyone.
Faculty Has More Rights Than Students
There are certain laws that protect university faculty and staff such as the affordable care act which necessitates employers to provide a place other than a bathroom that is protected from view and free from intrusion of the public and co-workers. This place may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
Unfortunately, this law does not cover students since they are not employees. The good news is Title IX 1972 law contains a clause that bans discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. However, few universities adhere to it. In the recent past, California passed a separate law that requires colleges to adhere to Title IX’s pregnancy discrimination clause.
Where there is no clear legal protection, female graduate students have no option but to ask universities to provide lactation spaces. It therefore does not come as a surprise that the resources for nursing mothers greatly differ from school to school and there are no standards in place as to how convenient these spaces should be.
For instance, Northwestern and Stanford are approximately the same size but unlike Northwestern which has six advertised lactation spaces, Stanford has 27 spaces. This coupled with the absence of other family friendly policies such as child care subsidies for graduate students contributes to making the university a less welcoming place for nursing mothers.
Number of Women Enrolling College is Increasing
As universities are institutions that serve graduate students most of whom are in their child bearing age, there will always be a need for lactating rooms on campus. As such, this need will only increase as more women enroll in academic programs. If universities really were concerned about gender equality in education opportunities, they would come up with family friendly policies including lactation spaces.
I guess the hard question we need to ask ourselves is: Do universities have the will power to provide spaces for breastfeeding on campus since the resources needed to make these facilities available are a far cry from the massive construction projects going on in campuses across the country?