When a new mother needs to breastfeed, she requires several things. A clean room, a couch, a sink and an outlet.
Story by Marina Marquez
If she’s working a full eight-hour workday, she may need this room two to three times a day. Title XI says a workplace cannot discriminate against women who are breastfeeding; this includes having a clean room to use a breast pump or nurse a baby. In 2005, empty rooms all over campus at the University of Texas at Austin were converted into rooms for staff and students to breastfeed their babies. Today, there are lactation rooms in buildings such as the Student Activity Center, Texas Union and Belo Center for New Media. Each building has one designated person in charge of handling the key for an organizing a schedule for the use of the room, but the overall use of the rooms is watched over by the human resources department on campus. Most of the rooms are restricted to staff in certain buildings for safety reasons, but can be open to students upon request.
The university does not keep information on who uses the rooms or how often they are used, and no one knows where they came from, according to Jeff Stellmach, senior social worker and the human resources employee in charge of the lactation rooms. “The rooms came before me actually, although I know UT administration figured out we needed it,” Stellmach says. “They saw that other universities were creating these accommodations, so they decided to start it here.”
Erin Zimmer from La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group in Austin, says having these rooms on campus is important to breastfeeding mothers because it provides a clean and private space to breastfeed or pump. “If you were to take your pump, and try to do it in the bathroom, it’s kind of gross,” Zimmer says. “How would you like to eat your lunch on the toilet? These kinds of rooms are necessary for working mothers.”
Mallary Tenore, assistant director of the Knight School of Journalism for the Americas, is currently breastfeeding and says that although these rooms are there, she cannot always get one in time due to a lack of communication among the mothers on campus. “Sometimes I’ll ask for the key and someone else will already be in there, or there’s no way to tell if someone gives up their slot,” Tenore says. “I usually have to find another room or I’ll start leaking.”
Tenore says she gets ready to use the pump while working and often has a laptop next to her as she does it. Sometimes, if she is running late, she even pumps on her drive to work. She says that, on campus, she has another room in the Belo Center for New Media that she took ahold of after she explained to her department that she needed somewhere to pump during the day. “There was an empty back office no one really uses,” Tenore says. “I breastfeed because it’s important for my baby, and it’s nice to know I have support here.”