By: Helen Mederer and Barb Silver
Policy and Program: Rhode Island legislation protects a woman’s choice to breastfeed by requiring an employer to make “a reasonable effort to provide a private, secure, and sanitary room or other location in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express her milk or breastfeed her child” (R.I. General Laws §23-13.2-1).
Thanks to the support of the Elsevier Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the URI Administration, the Work-Life Committee launched a lactation program during the winter of 2008. This program includes the passage of a University policy, a set of guidelines, several campus lactation facilities, campus education and awareness efforts, and the publication of a set of best practices for colleges and universities. It won the 2009 Gold Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Award from the Rhode Island Department of Health (see press release).
The URI Lactation Policy reads as follows:
|The University of Rhode Island recognizes the importance and benefits of breastfeeding for both the mothers and their infants, and in promoting a family-friendly work and study environment. Therefore, in accordance with Rhode Island state law, the University of Rhode Island acknowledges that a woman may breastfeed her child in any place open to the public on campus, and shall provide sanitary and private space, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the work or study area for employees or students who are nursing to schedule reasonable and flexible break time each day for this activity.|
This policy is applicable to all female University faculty, staff, and students. All University supervisors are responsible for being aware of the policy and working with female employees to arrange mutually convenient lactation break times. The Division of Student Affairs is responsible for making this policy known to female students.
Rationale: In instituting this award-winning policy and program, URI recognizes its responsibility to address the contradiction between the public health imperative to increase the incidence and duration of breastfeeding in order to give the next generation of workers a healthy start, and the lack of adequate family leave or workplace flexibility to breastfeed or pump milk while at work. If we require employees to come back to work within weeks of giving birth, then we have to provide them with clean, relaxing, and adequately-resourced spaces that support the continuation of breastfeeding their babies.
Moreover, lactation support at work reduces the cost of healthcare by promoting healthier moms and babies (US Breastfeeding Committee, 2002). National studies find the following public health, “business case,” and personal outcomes of breastfeeding:
- Excess use of health care services attributable to formula feeding costs between $331 and $475 per infant in babies who never receive breastmilk.
- Tax burdens on communities & government to ensure children are properly fed are lower when breastfeeding is facilitated.
- Insurers pay a least $3.6 billion each year to treat diseases and conditions preventable by breastfeeding.
- On a broad scale, increased incidence and duration of breastfeeding can result in decreased environmental burden, and a healthier new generation of students and workers.
- Companies that have adopted breastfeeding support programs have noted cost savings of $3 for every $1 invested in breastfeeding support.
- Absenteeism is 3 times higher for parent-workers whose infants are bottle-fed compared to those who breastfeed their babies (Cohen et al, 1995).
- Positive public relations have been noted for work organizations that promote and support lactation programs.
- Psychological benefits, including reduced stress, for women workers/students have been noted in studies.
Facilities. Lactation facilities have been established on all three URI campuses. On the Kingston campus, five sites currently exist with a sixth planned for the new Engineering complex.
Present sites include:
- URI Library (currently in the first floor 24-hour room, but moving soon to the second floor);
- Room 284, Pharmacy Building;
- Memorial Union ground floor restroom (to be moved and improved when MU renovation begins);
- URI’s Women’s Center;
- Mackal Field House;
- Feinstein Providence Campus: the Faculty Restroom Lounge, Room 218, and the
- Bay Campus: Room 017 in the Ocean Science & Exploration Center.
In addition, Campus Planning and Design has indicated that future campus construction plans will include lactation spaces.
A hospital-quality breast pump is available in the Library lactation room. Pump kits are available by calling Women’s Center at 874-2097.
For more information and links to other breastfeeding resources, please visit the Work-Life website lactation page.