In April, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study showing that mothers who breastfed their babies have a significantly lower risk of certain types of breast cancer than mothers who don’t. The study joins an ever-growing body of research that highlights the massive health benefits of breastfeeding, both to mothers and their children. But for new moms on college campuses, finding appropriate places to breastfeed or pump milk can be challenging, and in some cases, almost impossible. That's why MIT is invested in making the campus more amenable to new moms, says Pat Bartels, a family nurse practitioner and certified lactation counselor at MIT Medical.
“MIT is actively recruiting quality female researchers and professors,” Bartels says, “and access to lactation support services and breast milk pumping rooms is key is serving the needs of women on a university campus.”
Of the 302 infants born to MIT employees and students from 2013 to 2014, 91 percent were exclusively breastfed at birth, and nearly 80 percent were exclusively breastfed six months after birth. By comparison, national rates for exclusive breastfeeding are 79 percent at birth and 49 percent at six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Back in 2012, Bartels partnered with the Work-Life Center to help improve conditions for lactating mothers. To ensure that campus facilities were keeping up with the demand, the Work-Life Center added new lactation rooms and made substantial updates to several existing rooms says Kathy Kasabula, child care operations administrator at the MIT Work-Life Center. That meant adding hospital-grade breast pumps, comfortable chairs, refrigerators for storing breast milk, and artwork to make the room feel more welcoming and comfortable. New mothers can schedule private pumping time through each room’s assigned coordinator and know that lactation rooms are cleaned and sanitized every day. A full list of campus lactation rooms and contact information is available online.
“We now have 16 rooms on campus and continue to work with facilities to maintain high quality standards for all rooms. We also work with campus construction to insure new rooms are added during construction,” Kasabula says, adding that the Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide spaces other than bathrooms where new moms can nurse.
In addition to policies focused on lactation rooms, MIT has also expanded its support services for mothers who are having trouble breastfeeding. In-home visits are available to eligible members of the MIT Health Plans.
“The new consultation service and lactation room upgrades may sound like insignificant changes, but together, they go a long way in easing the transition for new moms who are returning to work or school” says Bartels. Kasabula adds, "We've made significant progress in supporting breastfeeding and with regard to our overall goal of easing the transition back to work for new moms, though this remains a challenging process.”
“The research is clear that when you can [breastfeed], it’s the thing to do,” Bartels says. “…If employers want women in the childbearing age group to be productive and to stick with the job because the job is supportive, they need to do this the right way.”