For nursing mothers, finding an appropriate place to breastfeed or pump on campus can be a major inconvenience.
Women at Eastern have resorted to using the Women’s Studies Center, public bathrooms and even their own cars to breastfeed or pump while on campus.
The Women’s Studies Center is raising awareness of this issue in hopes to create a “lactation station” at Eastern.
“Nursing mothers can benefit from a lactation station because, thinking of it in simple terms, you wouldn’t prepare your food in the bathroom, and that is what we are doing,” Danielle Bentow said. “We are preparing our children’s food in an unsanitary and usually gross bathroom, while people in the next stall wonder what the pumping noise is.”
Bentow’s son Jesse is nine months old. “At this point, Jesse is able to go a good amount of time before he needs to be breastfed, so I am able to go to class and make it home before he needs to be fed again,” Bentow said. “But before, when he was only on breast milk and not eating solids, I needed to pump every two hours, and with no lactation station it was always a pain.”
President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. Within that law, Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that most businesses with more than 50 employees provide a private space and break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk while at work.
“The law is for employees, because they didn’t take into consideration students,” said Carol Vines, manager of the Women’s Studies Center. “In our case, students are the ones that don’t have a private room. A lot of employees can find a private room, but students don’t have that.”
Central Washington University, Washington State University and the University of Washington all have at least one lactation center on campus. The University of California, Berkeley has as many as 35.
Vines hopes that Eastern can have at least five, with one on each corner of campus and one centrally located.
Appropriate lactation centers should be equipped with a lockable door, work surface and chair, a sink, breast-pumps, storage for cleaning supplies, electrical outlets and a refrigerator or cooler.
It is possible that fundraising would be necessary to create lactation centers on campus.
“Online there are some documents that actually specifically outline what you should do in order to set up a lactation center, and one of them is fundraising,” said
Women’s Studies Center volunteer Pamela Parnell. “But they explain right after that it doesn’t take that much funding for a lactation center, unless you want to get more involved in … breast pumps and supplying more [items] for people that are going to use the lactation center. It just depends on how many people start to utilize that service, and then I think it would develop from there.”
Vines says she believes the benefits of breastfeeding are “unending.”
“It’s better for bonding between mother and child. Some of the time they’re breastfeeding, and some of the time they’re going to have to pump, but at least they’re getting that good nutrition into their child. When a woman tries to breastfeed part-time and gives formula part-time, her milk declines. So if she’s pumping, she’s at least keeping the flow going and she’s able to continue breastfeeding for as long as the child wants to, or she wants to. It encourages the whole breastfeeding process, which in the long run is healthier,” she said.
Bentow said a private lactation center on campus is needed because right now there is “no reasonable place” for nursing mothers to pump or breastfeed.
“Getting a lactation station will show we support breastfeeding and our student mothers, as well as [eliminate] some of the stress that comes with finding a place on campus to breastfeed or pump,” she said.
Currently four students have contacted the Women’s Studies Center about areas on campus for breastfeeding and pumping.
“I think the fact that four people have come [forward], it seems the conversation is starting,” Parnell said. “There can be one person that starts a movement, and it can make something a little bit better for everybody.”