Nursing Students identify and create a network of spaces for Breastfeeding at Queen’s
Guest Blog by Dr. Katie Goldie, Assistant Professor, Queen’s School of Nursing
I’m five days postpartum with my first child and don’t want to cancel a meeting (that took months to schedule) with my PhD committee. I went into labour a week early. I’m so close to finishing my dissertation that I don’t want to jeopardize meeting the spring graduation deadline. I just started breastfeeding (yeah me) but it’s not well established, I need to travel with my pump in tow and cooler on hand in ensure there is no interruption in supply and demand. So many questions swirl around in my head distracting me from the task at hand: How long will I be away? Do we have a breastfeeding friendly culture on campus? Where will I go to pump? Will passers by/my office mate take notice of the rhythmic mechanical sounds emitted from my electric breast pump? I hope I don’t forget to wear a nursing top! Maybe I should just bring my baby to the meeting. I know that I can breastfeed anywhere, but do I feel like enduring curious glances in a packed cafeteria? I hate fidgeting with my nursing cover as my infant wiggles below trying to find a latch. If all else fails, I could use the public washroom but I feel like my baby deserves a more hygienic place to nurse.
Scenarios like this play out on campus everyday. We know very little about the number of lactating people* on campus and they rarely speak out, making their needs go unnoticed.
The World Health Organization recommends that children should be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old, and breastfeeding should continue until age two or beyond, with the addition of solid foods. According to UNICEF, “Breastfeeding is the world’s most effective and least costly life-saver.” 2 It is also extremely convenient, allowing a mother to feed her child anytime and anywhere. Although attitudes towards public breastfeeding begun to shift towards acceptance across the board (a recent study in Australia showed average acceptance rates of 70%), some women do not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public spaces.3
Breastfeeding in public is a right that is protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code: “No one should prevent you from breastfeeding your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to ‘cover up,’ disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more ‘discreet.’”4 And yet it is common to hear stories of women being asked to cover up or to stop breastfeeding altogether while doing so in public establishments. Just last month, Sarah Lambersky was asked to move to a washroom to breastfeed her 16-month old daughter in a Thornhill Community Centre.5 It is no wonder that some women are hesitant to feed their children in public, even though it is well within their rights to do so.
If you recently returned to school or work after having a child, you know the discomforts and stress associated with planning your day around breastfeeding or expressing milk. Your subconscious is constantly worrying about about whether you’ll have time between classes/exams/meetings/clinical work to find a comfortable place to feed your baby or set-up a pump to relieve full breasts. For those of you who have never lactated, when milk accumulates, it can be very uncomfortable, even painful.
Communication about breastfeeding on campus is limited and we need to start acknowledging that many of our students, staff and faculty require accommodations. It was an understanding of the challenges that mothers can face while breastfeeding outside the home that led nursing students Kyrinne Lockhart and Rachel Hannigan to spearhead an initiative here at Queen’s.
As Dr. Reznick often says, of the many great things here at Queen’s, our students are our greatest asset. Often the originators of creative new thinking, it is from students that we often derive inspiration. Soon, with the guidance of Alicia Papanicolaou, a certified lactation consultant, Dr. Christina Godfrey from the School of Nursing, and myself, Kyrinne and Rachel performed an assessment of the University to find out what spaces were currently available on campus. They worked with Queen’s Human Rights and Equity office, SGPS (Lorne Beswick), Ban Righ Centre (Carole Morrison), and KFL&A Public Health. They also consulted with representatives from Trent, UBC and U of T’s breastfeeding friendly campus initiatives.
A clear network of three new breastfeeding locations have now been created thanks to Kyrinne and Rachel’s work – in the JDUC, the Cataraqui Building and the Ban Righ Centre. Each space is clearly marked with signage, has a door to ensure privacy and is equipped with comfortable chairs, pillows and a power outlet. To ensure that women looking for these spaces were able to find them, they also launched an online map.
“We are optimistic that this project raises awareness that women need breastfeeding spaces on campus,” says Ms. Hannigan. “We are sure there are other rooms on campus that aren’t being used that could be turned into private spaces for nursing mothers.”6
And of course, this is not the end of the story for Kyrinne and Rachel. They have now set their sights on changing university policy to allow for further accommodations for mothers. I look forward to seeing the change that is to come from these two inspiring students.
Thank you to Jen Valberg for her assistance in preparing this blog.
*I recognize that lactating people may self describe as male or female, however for the purpose of this blog I will use the female pronoun.