For nursing mothers, returning to work means having less time to breastfeed. Lactation rooms ease the transition a mother faces when returning to work so that she and her child may continue benefiting from breastfeeding. Under Title IV of the Affordable Care Act passed in March of 2010, employers are required to provide a suitable place for nursing mothers to express milk. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable break times for nursing employees to pump milk during the first year of a child’s life.
States quickly began implementing these regulations. New York’s guidelines concerning a mother’s right to express milk at the work place states that: an employer “shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, where an employee can express milk in privacy”. Though New Jersey similarly has no specific law about having a lactation room, New Jersey Institute of Technology has been proactive in providing for nursing mothers and their needs.
Facilitating a mother’s need to pump helps both child and mother to continue benefitting from breastfeeding. “The longer [you breastfeed] the healthier the baby and also the healthier you are: you lose weight quicker, your uterus shrinks back down to size. The oxytocin released while breastfeeding allows milk to come and calms the mother,” said Dr. Judy Washington, NJIT’s Medical Director.
Despite these benefits, breastfeeding has been a controversial topic recently. Mothers who nurse in public are asked to cover up or move to another, more private location. Laws such as the Affordable Care Act empower women in their struggle to carry out their responsibility as mothers.
Alexandra Carreras, Facilities project manager, recalls being happy that there was even a designated area to pump. “When I got hired, the first thing I did was call Human Resources. I was like, ‘Am I going to have to pump in my car? Because that’s awkward’”. Prior to working for NJIT, Mrs. Carreras was given an old office to pump. “I work in construction so I’m always working with men. Work got so crazy that I had to pump in the car.”
While most employers had to rush to implement their Lactation Room requirement, NJIT was well prepared. Located in the Murray Center for Women in Technology on the second floor of the Campus Center, the room provided a private space for nursing employees, students, and visitors to express milk. Though it was compliant with Federal regulations, the room needed to be improved.
The newly decorated Lactation Lounge is now located on the fourth floor of Fenster Hall and includes couches, individualized lockers for each mother, and a mini fridge for storage, amongst other amenities. “It’s luxury! I wish my house looked like that room” Ms. Carreras said.
“We wanted to make sure the women using the room would be comfortable,” said Facilities Director Charlie Nieves. “This was a project we had to move straight to the top of the list,” he added. Along with the guidance of Human Resources’ Lauren Rubitz and Jennifer Vogel, Mr. Nieves and his team were able to ensure the room met the needs of nursing mothers. “This new room definitely improves in terms of the privacy the mothers have.”
According to Dr. Nancy Steffen-Fluer, Director of NJIT’s Murray Center for Women in Technology, “Workplace norms are built around men’s lives. This is an interesting opening to a conversation about men’s and women’s workplace norms. This is of course something that only women do and it creates a visceral response. The more we talk about [lactation] the more normal it becomes”. This is especially true in male-dominated work environments. Even though men account for 60% of NJIT’s work force, NJIT keeps the needs of all of its employees in mind.
A leader in research amongst universities in New Jersey, NJIT strives to continue taking the lead in progressive social changes in the workplace and hopes to be an example for universities nationwide to follow.
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