May 07, 2012 — Coral Gables — Only a few months ago, Dominique Kirkland had to use her supervisor’s office at the Miller School of Medicine to express breast milk for her newborn son, Kelvin. A toxicologist in the Department of Pathology, Kirkland works in an open laboratory setting, making it impossible to have the privacy needed to pump milk at least three times a day.
But now, dedicated rooms across the University are giving nursing mothers at UM the clean and secluded accommodations they need to express milk, and Kirkland couldn’t be happier.
“When I got back from maternity leave, I was really nervous about not having a place to pump milk,” says the 33-year-old mother, who uses the lactation room on the seventh floor of the Miller School’s Rosenstiel Medical Science Building. “With the new room, it feels like a great burden’s been lifted off my shoulders.”
In all, UM has opened nine lactation rooms across its campuses: four at Coral Gables, two each at the Miller School and University of Miami Hospital, and one at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
“As more and more women are dominating the workforce, we simply have to organize ourselves in a way in which working mothers can find a way to take care of their children,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala.
Speaking at a ribbon cutting ceremony at Gables One Tower to officially mark the opening of the rooms, Shalala touted the benefits of breastfeeding, noting that mothers who breastfeed miss fewer days from work because their babies tend to be healthier, and that businesses have realized a $3 cost savings for every $1 they invest in supporting nursing mothers.
UM’s efforts to support nursing moms got under way shortly after the Affordable Care Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, requiring employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. The break time requirement, which became effective on March 23, 2010, also requires employers to provide an adequate place, other than a bathroom, where an employee can express breast milk—shielded from view and free from intrusion.
“We decided that we wanted to provide not just a private area where women can express milk, but dedicated spaces for that purpose,” said Nerissa Morris, vice president for Human Resources, which led the lactation rooms initiative and wrote UM’s Break Time for Nursing Mothers Policy. “Work-life balance is important, and providing opportunities for employees to do the things that matter in other parts of their lives is important to us.”
The Nursing Mothers Policy Advisory Group—which was initiated by Miller School Dean Pascal Goldschmidt and Sheri Keitz, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and associate vice president for Human Resources at Miller—is monitoring the use of the rooms to determine if more are needed, according to Nanette Vega, director of diversity and multicultural affairs at the Miller School, who chairs the group.
Vega said the rooms are important and can actually help a working mother decide whether or not to breastfeed. The lack of a dedicated space at work to express milk is one of the primary obstacles nursing mothers face.
“Lactation is not something that is easy to do for a mother going back to work unless the place at which she is employed is lactation friendly,” said Marie-Denise Gervais, assistant professor of clinical medicine in the Miller School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. “Many employees work in cubicles that don’t offer the privacy needed to pump milk.”
Like President Shalala, Gervais also praised breastfeeding for its benefits, calling breast milk the “optimal food for newborns” and noting that it transfers antibodies to the child, resulting in fewer hospital emergency room visits.
“For every 1,000 babies that are not breastfed, there’s an excess of 2,033 physician visits, 212 days in the hospital, and 610 prescriptions filled,” Gervais said.
Four months pregnant with her third child, Cynthia Cochran, director of alumni programs, is still a few months away from using one of the new nursing mother rooms, but she attended the April 30 dedication ceremony at Gables One to get accustomed to the space, which includes a comfortable chair, stand, lamp, and exterior plate indicating whether or not it is occupied.
Recalling stories of friends who would have to use bathrooms or find an empty office with no windows to express milk, Cochran is happy that UM now has lactation rooms.
“They’ll take a lot of stress and pressure off me and other working mothers,” she said.
What You Need to Know
Faculty, staff, and students who need a private place to express milk may reserve space on a first-come, first-served basis and should complete a Nursing Mother Accommodation Request Form. Once completed, Equality Administration will coordinate with the nursing mother to identify the space closest to her work site. A master calendar is available to schedule employees who have desired times to use a nursing room. Nursing mothers are, however, encouraged to use their personal office space or space identified by their departments when possible.
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