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Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus initiative

Michele Vancour, President Joe Bertolino, and Chandra Kelsey

Over 50 members of the campus community were honored at a recent campus celebration to mark Southern’s official designation as a Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus by the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) — the first college or university to receive this designation in the state and in the nation. These community members, who have volunteered to serve as “Breastfeeding Champions,” are a critical component of the breastfeeding-friendly initiative. At the celebration, Public Health Professor and Director of Faculty Development Michele Vancour and President Joe Bertolino were presented with a certificate by Chandra M. Kelsey, Vancour’s CBC co-chair — an award, the CBC says, that “distinguishes SCSU for their work of making the campus accessible and providing lactation space to students, faculty, and visitors. Their unique approach to recruiting breastfeeding champions and alternate spaces alongside information and on-site professional lactation support set a new standard for providing necessary support on campus.”

This step is important for Southern because it is building an awareness that mothers who breastfeed their babies need access to safe, clean, and private spaces to express milk, says Kelsey. “Mothers who return to work or to school should be encouraged and supported both in their pursuits as well as their desire to provide food for their baby. A majority of students are not mothers, but bringing awareness to the need and the space changes social norms. Personally, I see it as a way to empower women.”

State law protects the rights of women who wish to breastfeed or express breast milk at their place of employment, during breaks and in private spaces designated for these purposes. But students are not protected by the workplace law, Vancour points out. “The culture is different for students from employees,” she says. “As a result of unequal access to supports, students are forced to leave school, miss classes, or pump milk in unsafe environments like bathrooms and cars.” The Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus initiative broadens support to include students and even visitors to campus who may wish to breastfeed or express breast milk.

The designation certainly “sends a signal about what kind of campus we are,” says Terricita Sass, associate vice president for enrollment management, who is a volunteer Breastfeeding Champion.

Kelsey agrees, adding, “Southern is off to a great start towards being a family-friendly environment for students and faculty by going a step beyond offering a basic lactation space. What they have done is to create a culture of support with faculty volunteering to be breastfeeding champions. These champions serve to bridge the gap when accessing the space is too far from their next class or next meeting. They work within their departments to identify a space that can be used on a temporary basis as well as be a point person if a mother needed more resources. This is not only an important piece, community support, for breastfeeding moms, it also benefits the university as a work place (reduced absenteeism, health care savings, employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity).”

A celebratory group of Southern’s Breastfeeding Champions

Vancour believes that Southern can serve as a model for other campuses around the country and in fact has been contacted by individuals at other universities who are working towards attaining the Breastfeeding-Friendly designation.

The Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) is organized around the six sectors identified in the 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding (SGCTA). Each Sector has a committee that is led by a board member-liaison and is responsible for implementing actions in response to the SGCTA. Each committee is tasked with contributing to the discussion and advancement of breastfeeding goals within the state. The CBC’s overall mission is to “improve Connecticut’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.”

 

 

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Southern recognizes the importance of creating a family-friendly environment for students, employees, and the community, and as such aims to provide a supportive and flexible environment for breastfeeding students and employees as they transition back to study or work. Breastfeeding is known to offer health benefits for both infants and mothers, but mothers who are nursing their babies often encounter obstacles to continuing the practice once they return to work or school.

For women in the Southern community who are breastfeeding their babies, a new campus-wide initiative will ensure an environment that is supportive of breastfeeding. Southern is in the process of becoming a “Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus,” a designation given by the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition to recognize higher-education worksites that are supporting breastfeeding employees and students. As part of becoming a Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus, the university now expects each department to take reasonable measures to accommodate students and employees who wish to breastfeed or express breast milk on campus in accordance with Connecticut State Breastfeeding Laws.

State law protects the rights of women who wish to breastfeed or express breast milk at their place of employment, during breaks and in private spaces designated for these purposes. But students are not protected by the workplace law, points out Michele Vancour, professor of public health and director of the Office of Faculty Development. “The culture is different for students from employees,” she says. “As a result of unequal access to supports, students are forced to leave school, miss classes, or pump milk in unsafe environments like bathrooms and cars.” The Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus initiative broadens support to include students and even visitors to campus who may wish to breastfeed or express breast milk.

In August, the School of Health and Human Services (HHS) officially became a pilot program as a “Breastfeeding-Friendly School,” and now the initiative is branching out to the whole campus. Vancour has been leading the charge to bring this program to the university. As immediate past president of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition and co-author with Michele Griswold of the book Breastfeeding Best Practices in Higher Education, Vancour has long been a champion of making the campus more friendly to breastfeeding mothers and was behind the effort to establish the university’s first lactation space (in Conn Hall) and a newer space in Buley Library.

“We’re the first university campus in Connecticut, and probably in the country, to do this,” Vancour says of the Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus designation. She explains that the goal for the initiative is for each department to have a “Breastfeeding Champion,” someone who knows how best to support a mother who comes to them looking for information on lactation spaces. Each champion will receive a packet of information and a sticker to display that shows she or he is a champion and will know who else can help and what spaces around campus are available for moms to pump in or breastfeed.

For the campus-wide initiative, Vancour says that so far, some of the pieces of the program have come together: several people have volunteered to be champions, and a process is in place for reserving the lactation space in Buley. But she is looking for more volunteers to serve as champions and more spaces to be set aside as lactation spaces. “Everyone needs to share in this if it’s to be successful,” she says. “It’s a campus-wide initiative, and if one group – the School of Health and Human Services — can do it, we can all do it.”

“In terms of social justice, I think that there are persistent disparities” in the experiences of breastfeeding mothers on campus, says Vancour. “The point of this initiative is that we can do better.”

Vancour is available to provide a brief presentation at department meetings on the multi-user lactation space in Buley and the overall Breastfeeding-Friendly Campus initiative. She points out that the Office of Faculty Development website has links to a video of the multi-user lactation space in BU 117; a registration form for all breastfeeding mothers on campus; and a room reservation form for BU 117. To become a champion or for more information, contact Vancour at (203) 392-5530, (203) 392-5488, or vancourm1@southernct.edu.