Feb 19, 2020

Campus coalition fights for privacy for breastfeeding mothers

When senior community health student Urania Rodriguez had her first baby two years ago, she’d drop him off at one of the on-campus day care centers and attend her classes. But when she needed to breastfeed, she’d go inside a bathroom stall or walk back to her car between classes to pump milk.

“The first couple of weeks after I had my son, I had no idea where to go,” Rodriguez said. “I had to deal with it, and I didn’t want to do it in the restroom. That’s so unsanitary and gross.”

As a full-time student, Rodriguez would spend most of her day on campus and faced a dilemma many moms on campus also shared: finding a place to breastfeed. Breastfeeding on campus was her biggest fear when she decided to continue pursuing her education.

“I want to continue to breastfeed, but I don’t want to have to be in my car or the restroom, not knowing for sure where I would be able to do that next,” Rodriguez said.

Founded in March of 2013, the Breastfeeding Coalition has introduced three lactation rooms on campus that mothers can use to breastfeed.

The initiative established lactation rooms on campus was started when Carmen Chapman, a Department of Public Health staff member and adviser of the Breastfeeding Coalition, returned to work and realized she had no place to pump.

“I needed to find a place to pump, and I was offered the bathroom, but I wasn’t really comfortable pumping in the restroom,” Chapman said. “So here you are trying to breastfeed or pump in the bathroom, and people are flushing the toilet, and these feces are flying everywhere. How am I supposed to give my baby food in this condition?”

Discouraged by the lack of space or support on campus, Chapman researched a federal law that could help students who needed time to pump.

“The Title IV allows for professors not to discriminate against women that are in need to lactate, to go and express and be able to be late for class or leave early,” Chapman said. “This allows them the security so they are able to do these things”

By California law for workplace conditions, employers have to provide staff members a room with a sink and are not supposed to suggest the restroom, but the law does not apply to students.

“I understand how hard it is for me, but I can only imagine how hard it would be for a student,” Chapman said. “This is not just milk but food for the baby.”

Erika Ireland, a Fresno State nutrition professor, was aware of the obstacles the new mothers faced and aided them by offering her office as a lactation room.

“In my time that I have been here, since 2012, I have had at least five women give birth during the course of the semester,” Ireland said.

Having somewhere mothers could go in between classes, she added, is invaluable for the breastfeeding process.

“What inevitably is going to happen is that there are so many barriers to breastfeeding in general that if we add one more barrier, that’s just one more reason for them to not do it,” Ireland said.

Although there have been issues finding rooms to be modified to accommodate mothers’ needs, Chapman said the coalition continues to be dedicated to the issue because of the many benefits breastfeeding gives to both moms and infants.

When Rodriguez returned to school, she was told to go to the lactation center in the Women’s Resource Center which was initially for staff only.

“Before, we only had one room at the women’s center, and depending on where my classes were, it would be a far walk,” Rodriguez said.

“But it definitely helps now that they have some at the University Student Union and at [the Family Food and Science Building]. I’m not going to have to be running or be late to class or leave early.”

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