When drafting and implementing your institution’s policy, it is useful to keep in mind the following best practice principles—elements that are essential to the success of your policy:
Many campuses already have breastfeeding support programs that are primarily focused on breastfeeding employees. While expanding these to cover students is an easy way to broaden the support for breastfeeding on campus, it is essential that any such policies specifically include students, and are marketed as student policies. For example, breastfeeding support programs that are housed in human resources should be sure to have student-specific provisions and cross-advertise on student webpages.
It is critical to include a description of how students can request excused time off for expressing breast milk. While most students will be able to pump between classes, due to breastfeeding complications, scheduling difficulties, or large distances on some campuses, it may be impossible for a student to pump as often as she needs without missing class. Students should not be forced to miss out on participation credits, instruction, or exam time simply because they are breastfeeding—this would be providing an unequal educational opportunity because of their sex.
Recall that Title IX requires medically necessary absences for pregnancy and related conditions be excused. An institution may request a doctor’s note to excuse the student’s absences, so long as other students with medically necessary absences must do the same. Be sure to provide a point of contact for students who need assistance managing their schedule and their pumping breaks.
Breastfeeding students need a clean, private, and readily accessible space for expressing milk on campus. Ideally, the space will have electric outlets, a sink (in the space or nearby), a comfortable chair, and a table. Many contain lockers and/or refrigerators for the storage of milk or pumping supplies. These spaces have often already been established on campus for university employees. In addition to providing these spaces throughout campus, it is important to identify a process for establishing new spaces. Consider providing one campus point of contact who can work with building managers to establish new areas as needed.
While most students only need a space to pump and the time to do so, some may need other adjustments to protect their health while lactating. For example, students who complete work in labs may need personal protective equipment or permission to avoid certain hazards while lactating. Other students may need accommodations related to breastfeeding complications, such as time off or more time to pump for a student with a breast infection. Ensure that your process includes a pathway for these students to access the accommodations they need. Common points of contact include disabled students’ programs and Title IX offices.
A great policy is only worthwhile if it reaches the people who need it. Be sure to share the policy widely. Key locations for accessing students may include the student health center, parent groups, gender or women’s centers, student services, and family housing facilities. Further, if faculty are aware of the policy and engaged in its adoption they are more likely to be supportive of the students who use it.
Clearly state who is responsible for ensuring your policy is followed, and the appropriate process for seeking assistance or making complaints. Often, the primary points of contact include breastfeeding support programs and Title IX offices.
The University of Northern Colorado has created a toolkit for campuses looking to start a breastfeeding support program, including detailed information about to create lactation spaces.
Universities may have different policy formats or needs. If you would like assistance in creating a breastfeeding policy, our team is available to provide assistance, and/or connect you with local contacts that can help.