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Saturday, June 24, 2017

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Accomodation centers provide privacy for breastfeeding


Numerous lactation accommodation centers are located on campus, including an easy-access room on the first floor of the Student Center for breastfeeding mothers. | Courtesy of UH Media Relations

University of Houston mothers with infants navigate not only the daily responsibilities of University life, but also the commitments of child care — like breastfeeding.

Universities and workplaces added lactation accommodation resources after 2010 federal healthcare regulations mandated employers grant mothers time to breastfeed. In accordance with the regulations, UH’s Women and Gender Resource Center established lactation centers across campus in 2012 for students, staff or faculty to nurse their infants during break time.

“The mother’s rooms were a necessity for me because I didn’t have a private office at the time,” said Stephanie Coates, department business administrator and social work master’s candidate. “I ended up nursing for a full year, which was my goal — I’m not saying it should be everyone’s goal — but I wouldn’t have been able to without the mothers’ rooms.”

Coates used UH’s lactation centers multiple times a day in 2015.

More than 50 women register to access the lactation centers every semester. According to WGRC’s website, the rooms are available to students, faculty and staff for up to one year after their nursing child is born, and the hours of operation vary for each room.

Ashley Griffin, the sexual misconduct support services coordinator for the Women and Gender Resource Center said resources like the lactation centers give moms on campus more freedom to make choices, like breastfeeding, that affect their children’s health.

She said that for many moms, that choice is empowering.

Regardless of national debates about the appropriateness of breastfeeding in public, WGRC Director Devan Ford-McCarthy believes the mothers’ rooms are accepted at UH.

“Not specific to UH, but there has always been a somewhat negative stigma associated with public breastfeeding and often accommodations made for individuals needed to feed and/or pump,” Ford-McCarthy said. “The UH community has been supportive of these spaces and individuals who use them.”

There are 11 facilities on campus, located at the Equal Opportunity Services office at Student Services building 2, Melcher Hall room 350, M.D. Anderson Library room 264A, Student Center room 134A, the Energy Research Park Building 3 room 280 and Building 4 room 119, Bates Law building room 12 and Agnes Arnold Hall room 624. The College of Education also has a room and the key is available at suite 214 in Farish Hall.

The UH Children’s Learning Center locations at Wheeler and at Cameron each have a room available for moms with children enrolled at the centers.

Some of the rooms are tucked away on second and third levels of buildings on campus, but Coates said she believes the varying processes for using the rooms posed a greater issue than location.

“At some you needed to reserve the room, at some you needed to ask someone for a key,” Coates said. “At the Women’s Studies office you had to actually ask someone to leave their office, unless that has changed recently.”

All lactation rooms have a locking door, and some require access through a Cougar Card, which can be registered after filling out a lactation accommodation request form on the WGRC website. Each facility contains a chair and table for breastfeeding, and some include a sink, a changing table and toiletries.

UH’s policy on workplace lactation seems reasonable, but I felt that having to complete paperwork indicating where and when and for how long I planned to pump in order to be excused was ludicrous,” Coates said.

Most of the rooms are open from around 7 a.m. until evening, but some rooms, like the ones located in M.D. Anderson and the Student Center, have the same hours as the rest of the building. Other rooms, like the room in Melcher Hall, have varying hours, and phone numbers for schedule information are posted on the WGRC website.

“Students have also reported that having access to these rooms on campus helps them to stay on campus longer — they do not have to worry about leaving campus to find such a space or going home,” said Ford-McCarthy.

The WGRC website offers more information for parents on campus.

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