Lactation Advocacy Committee addresses need for spaces for nursing parents

Thursday, September 21, 2017

by Deane Morrison

Eight years ago the Twin Cities campus had only three dedicated locations where mothers of infants could go to pump breast milk. Now there are 31, thanks to the efforts of professionals who serve, or were once themselves, lactating students and employees.

Efforts began in earnest in 2009, when the Women’s Center and the Student Parent Help Center founded the Lactation Advocacy Committee in response to inquiries and complaints about the dearth of lactation rooms and other support on campus. The LAC set out to expand the number of lactation rooms, the only three of which had historically been overseen by Boynton.

At that point, not only was no one responsible for supporting lactation, publicizing room locations, or designing rooms, but no department wanted to shoulder the burden.

“So we did it ourselves,” says former LAC chair Susan Warfield, program director for the Student Parent HELP Center. LAC members ferreted out “hidden” rooms and negotiated to have them listed on the master list of rooms the LAC created. With a grant from the Women's Center, they also upgraded two rooms already in use but not up to basic standards. The master list has now grown to 31 dedicated rooms and one “as needed” room for conference attendees at the Continuing Education and Conference Center.

The need

Warfield lists several reasons for expanding and promoting lactation rooms:

“Lactation supports are tied to lower employee absence rates. At least one study of the UC college system states that the lack of family-friendly services and supports are driving talent—particularly younger, newly graduated postdocs—away from higher ed.

“We have numerous employees of child-bearing age, including many who have no private office space or who move across campus as part of their job. There are also tons of health benefits for mother and child that affect the larger Twin Cities and Minnesota communities.”

“We want anyone pumping and/or breastfeeding on campus to know that it is not okay to do so in a bathroom, in your car, or in a space that doesn't feel secure or clean," says Sara Najm, LAC committee chair. She supplied the following excerpt from a letter written by a graduate student:

“… [M]ost of my classes were at night. I often had to pump in the bathroom because rooms that were supposed to be open weren't or because there wasn't enough time to get to the room and back during break. I ended up throwing away most of the milk I pumped on campus for fear of bacteria from the unsanitary conditions …. My son was a preemie and I barely produced enough to feed him.

“I was appalled at the lack of support for working and nursing mothers on campus. It is part of the reason I am not returning to complete my Ph.D. right now. I need a break because the supports are not in place for me to continue.”

Turn to LAC for lactation support

As the primary entity concerned with campus lactation, LAC supplies information to the Office of Human Resources Lactation Resources page. Warfield is the primary portal for all student, staff and visitor inquiries and complaints.

“We also have a LAC website that houses a vast array of resources, plus other supportive materials, for both users and those wanting to establish a room,” she says. “All rooms except the Boynton rooms are managed by the department or college that houses them.”

Room for improvement

LAC wants to get the need for lactation spaces on the radar for any future builds on campus, but has been unable to tie into this process, Warfield says.  Also, LAC has no budget; its costs have been covered out of the Women’s Center or SPHC budgets.

Costs for establishing and maintaining rooms generally fall on the departments that host the rooms.

“We have had numerous requests from departments for funding resources to establish rooms, but to date the University has not made funds available for this purpose,” says Warfield. However, a Campus Climate mini-grant did partially fund a mobile lactation pod project in Coffman that drew on the talents of mechanical engineering students.

To find a lactation room, check out the map of spaces or the list of spaces with the amenities in each.






"Perspectives" stories are the views and opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect any official position of the University of Minnesota.