Imagine you are a full-time doctoral student and new mother, committed to continuing both your studies and breastfeeding. Since you share an office with someone else, you ask your department chair to help identify a space where you can pump. The department chair refers you to a location across campus that is not feasible for you, given your tight schedule. Luckily, your office mate is understanding; you pump around her schedule and put a note on the door that specifies you are pumping. Your department chair asks you to remove the note referencing pumping to avoid making others “uncomfortable.”
Variations of this scenario have occurred at our University numerous times, with the result being the same: Exhausted by the unsupportive environment, you stop breastfeeding much earlier than you had planned or is medically recommended.
The University Senate child and dependent care subcommittee of the ad hoc committee on gender equity was formed in 2007 to address the needs of child care and, more recently, all dependent care, at the University. As part of this mission, the subcommittee examined the challenges for breastfeeding mothers and successfully lobbied for the passage of a resolution encouraging that appropriate space be provided for breast pumping for employees returning to work after having a baby. A resolution from the plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee was passed on March 4 by Senate Council and was supported by the University administration to encourage “…all units of the University to identify private space, if needed, within existing facilities for mothers who wish to express breast milk.” (www.pitt.edu/univsenate/scminutes/Resolution%20on%20Breast%20Pumping.pdf).
Although mothers are not encouraged to bring infants to campus for breastfeeding due to safety concerns, the University would like to support mothers who want to continue to provide breast milk to their babies by removing barriers to pumping while at work.
Health care providers and researchers are unanimous that breastfeeding is best for the health of both infants and mothers (www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/). Breastfeeding decreases the risk of ear infections, diarrheal illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome, asthma and obesity in children. For women, breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers and recently was associated with a reduced risk of both obesity and cardiovascular disease. Improved health of employees and their dependents benefits the University by increasing morale and productivity through decreased time off work due to illness as well as by reducing insurance claims. In these difficult economic times, nursing is more cost-effective not only for a family’s health care costs and in lieu of infant formula, but for the University community as a whole.
Though the benefits outweigh the negatives in most cases, not every woman’s experience with nursing and pumping is ideal. Returning to work poses obvious scheduling and logistical challenges. For junior faculty and postdoctoral scholars, productivity immediately following appointment is essential for career promotion, and this period often coincides with the prime years for starting a family. For staff and students who may not have an office or who share a space, having a nearby private space is equally critical to their ability to maintain breastfeeding while working or matriculating. The Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh (www.breastfeedingcenterofpittsburgh.com/) can serve as a resource for mothers who continue to nurse after returning to work. The center offers lactation programs that include: education for employers and employees; facility assessments, and personalized lactation support and pumping equipment.
The physical space for pumping is minimal: a clean room with a lock, electricity and a chair, ideally with a nearby sink and refrigerator. It is important to provide all new mothers, including faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students, with a private space to pump that is close to their primary work area. Most women will need to pump two or three times during the workday to maintain breastfeeding. While each session generally takes as little as 10 minutes, trips across campus to a lactation room can increase that time commitment significantly. Proximity to the primary work area helps maintain productivity and promote lactation.
By designating existing areas for pumping, University departments and centers can simplify these dilemmas for new mothers at work. As an example, the School of Nursing has two dedicated private stations for breast pumping.
For this once in a lifetime opportunity for mother and baby, the University should acknowledge, value and support breastfeeding by guaranteeing the space and privacy to pump milk in order for mothers to provide the best nutrition and health for their infants while maintaining their career productivity.
The child and dependent care subcommittee encourages all those with stories of successes or concerns regarding breast pumping, or other issues relevant to our mission, to contact us at StrotmeyerE@edc.pitt.edu.
Elsa S. Strotmeyer, chair of the Senate’s child and dependent care subcommittee, is an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health.