SUNY Oswego invests in infrastructure to make the campus more accommodating for mothers. Eleven campus buildings have dedicated lactation rooms — and more underway this fall
By Melissa Stefanec
After Selena Miller had her first child, she returned to work at her office job at SUNY Oswego and decided to keep breastfeeding. That was three and a half years ago, and there were some obstacles to overcome. Being away from her child during the day meant she would have to pump her breastmilk throughout the workday. However complicated that may sound, the biggest of her obstacles wasn’t pumping the milk, but finding a secure and sanitary place to do it.
Miller, an office assistant for the department of curriculum and instruction at SUNY Oswego, did what she had to do to get food for her child. Although she said her co-workers and superiors were extremely supportive of her making time to pump, it was very difficult to find adequate facilities.
She pumped in empty offices and hoped no one would enter them. She washed her pumping supplies in bathroom sinks. She carried on the best she could, but thought how easy it would be for her to become discouraged and unmotivated about pumping.
“I was pretty determined to do what I had needed to do,” said Miller. “But, I can see how someone else may be deterred and not feel like they are being included.”
Miller now has a second child, and she is having an entirely different pumping experience. That’s because, starting during the fall 2016 semester, dedicated lactation spaces started popping up around campus.
The rooms are meant to cater to nursing moms who are employees or students at SUNY Oswego.
In cases where the college’s facilities are open to the general public, the rooms are also intended to be used by nursing moms who are visiting campus. The rooms are equipped for pumping, but they could also be used by a mother to nurse her baby. It should be noted that a mother can nurse a child anywhere she has a legal right to be, but these rooms offer a quiet and secluded area for mothers seeking one.
Linda Paris, planning coordinator at SUNY Oswego’s facilities services department, is now in charge of the effort to roll out lactation spaces across the campus. So far, 11 buildings have dedicated lactation rooms. Three more buildings are set to receive them this fall, and three buildings are currently being rehabilitated and will include a dedicated space.
“We will continuously expand our lactation rooms until we reach our goal of having a room in each building on campus,” said Paris. “SUNY Oswego is really on the forefront for how many lactation rooms we have in a small area.”
Inside a lactation space
For those people who might never set foot in a lactation room, one should imagine something pretty basic. Each room has an electrical outlet, a flat work surface and two types of seating (so a mom can determine what is most comfortable to her). Each room has a lock on the door that clearly displays when the room is occupied, so a mother doesn’t have to worry about people knocking or entering the room while she is pumping. Some of the newer rooms are slated to have sinks. It may not sound like much, but to a mother who needs to make food for her child, these simple accommodations mean a lot. For women like Paris, who was a nursing mother on campus before the rooms were set up, these rooms mean a lot less pumping in cars, cubbies and closets. They mean less hiding and more comfort.
“It’s a dedicated space; it’s not a found space,” said Paris. “There is so much support around the campus.”
Starting a conversation
Not only are these rooms making life easier for nursing moms on campus, they are also shedding a little light on something that is often overlooked by college students — many people breastfeed their children. According to Paris, the presence of the rooms and the associated media attention the rooms have received is starting to get breastfeeding and pumping out in the open. Each room has a small sign with a logo of a woman breastfeeding a child, which puts that image out where anyone can see it.
“It’s the awareness of thinking of breastmilk as a food and not just a bodily fluid,” said Paris. “That conversation is starting to happen.”
Making lives easier
Paris is still nursing her youngest child, and having these rooms means she doesn’t need to worry about leaving her own building for meetings. She knows she can find a clean and safe place to pump in most of the buildings on campus.
“That was a real blessing,” said Paris.
For Miller, it’s the little things these rooms offer that mean so much to her and her family.
“I can lock the door and know I am not going to be interrupted,” said Miller. “I know these rooms matter to those that need them and that’s good.”