Breastfeeding Supporters Speak Up
A new breastfeeding pod, called Mamava, now sits in the Wellness Center on campus, and allows mothers a private space to nurse their children. The Mamava is the first in the state of Oklahoma. Photo by Miranda VanMeter, contributing photographer.
Mothers around the world find it challenging to breastfeed while not receiving support from the community. This year, the University of Central Oklahoma implemented lactation spaces dedicated for mothers on campus, encouraging mothers to breastfeed infants; the lactation rooms are located in the Nigh University Center, as well as the Wellness Center.
The idea to implement lactation rooms started last fall when Erika Cerda, senior employee relations specialist at UCO and certified breastfeeding educator, along with Carrie Irwin, director of employee relations at UCO, decided UCO needed to accommodate mothers on campus and show community support for breastfeeding. For that, UCO needed to develop a worksite lactation policy that would be supportive to mothers who choose to breastfeed their infants.
When Cerda worked on the lactation worksite policy in January 2016, she reached out to different buildings at UCO to acquire more space for lactation rooms. Despite UCO’s previous support for mothers on campus, Cerda found it difficult to utilize more areas on campus dedicated for breastfeeding mothers.
“I started reaching out to different buildings, and different people on campus. I really tried to advocate for more spaces on campus, but I haven’t got a lot of good traction. I’ve got a lot of pushback, and I understand that spaces are limited here, but I have been a little disappointed,” Cerda said. “We want to be a place where we uphold research and scholarship activity, and we want to be competent when it comes to culture. We can’t say those things, and have an environment that isn’t supportive of mothers who are wanting to provide their children with optimal nutrition.”
Cerda said that despite of the pushback at first, UCO designated locations on campus to support mothers on campus, providing a comfortable, clean and private environment for nursing mothers during their time on campus.
UCO now has the first Mamava in the state of Oklahoma, located in the Wellness Center. The Mamava is a private suite for nursing, equipped with AC and a USB power outlet, allowing mothers to charge their phone, listen to music or power their breast pump.
The suites provide mothers with one fold down table, two benches, and an extra space that could be used for an infant, a partner or a stroller.
“My hope is that as the university continues to build buildings, we will make sure they are considering a lactation space. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but mothers do need a privacy place that they can go to. I think it’s very important that we build those spaces and those options. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue moving forward,” Cerda said.
UCO was recognized this year as a Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite-Gold Star Employer by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates, and the Oklahoma Healthy Birth Alliance. The recognition is given to employers that displayed all the criteria necessary, and also exceeded the criteria in at least three different areas.
“We exceeded the minimum. So, I don’t think we should be ashamed, but we are a big campus. And so, I think that we can continue to do even more and better,” Cerda said.
Breastfeeding has shown to have innumerable benefits for the mother and the infant, including lowering the risk of breast cancer for both the mother and a female infant. Breast milk contains a multitude of antibodies that help the baby fight of virus and bacteria, which cannot be simulated in formulas, said Advanced Lactation Consult at Thrive Momma Collective, Claire Powers.
Babies who are breastfed for the first six months without any formula, have fewer ear infections, less cases of respiratory illnesses, and fewer bouts of diarrhea.
“The health benefits are immeasurable. As wonderful as it is to have artificial milk for babies — is what formula is—formula will never be able to recreate what mother’s milk is providing, and that’s really the antibodies,” Powers said. “The benefits of breastfeeding can be found anywhere, luckily with the breastfeeding rates on the rise, the public has a lot of published articles about the importance of breastfeeding.”
On the business side of breastfeeding, statistics show that mothers that received community support and resources for breastfeeding tend to return from parental leave earlier, and take less sick days in the first year of the infant’s life, Cerda said.
Mothers are also more productive at work, knowing that their company or workplace supports their choices, and can provide them with the appropriate resources.