Vanderbilt supports nursing mothers on campus with new initiative

(Vanderbilt University)

Mothers at Vanderbilt will find it more convenient to breastfeed on campus, thanks to a new initiative to increase locations where they can do so comfortably and privately.

Several university groups have teamed up to identify campus locations that can serve as dedicated lactation spaces, more than doubling Vanderbilt’s existing number. In addition, the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center has launched Breastfeeding Welcomed Here, a person-to-person campaign in which Vanderbilt departments, offices and individuals can agree to make their workspaces available to nursing mothers by appointment.

The breastfeeding initiative originated with the University Staff Advisory Council before gaining support from the Faculty Senate and Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty. USAC, the provost’s office, the Women’s Center and Vanderbilt Health and Wellness collaborated to identify the new lactation spaces. In some cases, the provost’s office is funding minor renovations to make these spaces more hospitable to breastfeeding moms.

“The provost feels very strongly about work-life balance and support for women on campus, especially women faculty,” said executive assistant Kara Sundar, who worked closely on the project. “We’ve had wonderful cooperation from the space administrators on campus in helping us to identify new spaces and convert existing spaces.”

So far, the Breastfeeding Welcomed Here campaign has identified 22 new breastfeeding sites. The campaign is part of NashVitality, a citywide effort to promote a healthier Nashville. An interactive map was created to show all of Vanderbilt’s breastfeeding locations. Users can click on the map to learn more details about each.

Women on campus in need of breastfeeding locations include not only faculty and staff, but also students and visitors who do not have dedicated offices or break rooms. The online map also comes in handy when meetings and appointments take a nursing mother away from her regular breastfeeding space.

“[rquote]The goal is for no mom on campus to have to walk more than 10 minutes to get to a space where she can privately and comfortably nurse,”[/rquote] said Nora Spencer, director of the Women’s Center.

Those who want to join the Breastfeeding Welcomed Here effort can fill out a form on the Women’s Center’s website. Joining the effort is a show of support for women, mothers and families in the Vanderbilt community.

“We’ll contact you within a few days to set up a time to meet and share an informational packet,” explained Katie Garcia, program coordinator for the Women’s Center. The packet includes information about the campaign, “Breastfeeding Welcomed Here” door hangers and window decals, a frequently asked questions flyer and explanations of Vanderbilt and state breastfeeding policies.

“We don’t want nursing moms to be inconvenienced,” Garcia said. “We want them to have a simple, easy way to access the space they need on campus.”

Breastfeeding provides multiple health benefits for mother and child. Women that breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Their babies are less likely to develop earaches, diabetes and obesity later in life and have a reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome. It is also Tennessee law to permit a mother to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she is otherwise authorized to be.

The campus effort also complements Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program to recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care and environment for infant feeding. The designation by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund requires a four-phase plan and onsite approval. If designated, VUMC will be the only Baby-Friendly full-service hospital in Tennessee.