Kirkley Brown is entering the final year of her Nursing degree with an additional classmate in tow.
Lila is four months old, and usually accompanies her mother to campus during the day as she goes about completing her full course load. And for Kirkley, that means finding time for breastfeeding.
“It’s a bit of a time constraint, and certainly it can be challenging sometimes,” says Kirkley. “You have a certain amount of time between classes to feed baby and get food yourself.”
As Lila is Kirkley’s second child, she’s comfortable with breastfeeding wherever she can — whether it be in her car before classes, outside of a classroom after class or, her preferred place on campus, the Nursing lounge. But she knows not all mothers are the same.
“If you’re stressed, you’re not producing. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you might not do it… and for some people, skipping a pump session could detrimentally affect their milk supply.
“If you want to breastfeed, having the support to do it is a big deal.”
Providing clear guidelines, changing stigma
That’s why individuals across the university have worked to develop new Breastfeeding Guidelines for Dalhousie.
Circulated through Human Rights and Equity Services, the guidelines have been developed to provide students, employees and the Dal community as a whole with information about breastfeeding supports and resources. They aim to help ensure a supportive physical and social environment for breastfeeding and pumping — one that enables both students and employees to make an informed decision about how they feed their child.
Read more: Dalhousie Breastfeeding Guidelines
“We hope this will bring awareness of the process for obtaining —and providing — necessary accommodations, outline acceptable spaces and support for such requests,” says Nicole McKeever, advisor, personal Harassment/conflict with Human Rights & Equity Services, “as well as help to foster a positive culture around breastfeeding on campus.
The guidelines are not a new policy in and of themselves — they’re built on pre-established policies like the Student Accommodation Policy and the Accommodation Policy for Employees. But they ensure clear understanding of the university committee’s commitment to supporting the rights of breastfeeding individuals, and that the university will take reasonable measures to support any student or employee who chooses to breastfeed or express breastmilk on campus.
The document came together over several years, as individuals like Medicine student Johneen Manning and Nursing faculty member Kathryn Hayward brought together stakeholders from across the university to come up with clear guidelines.
The importance of support
Prof. Hayward notes that the World Health Authority recognizes human milk as the optimum nutrition for infants, recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond with proper introduction of solids.
“Breastfeeding not only protects the health of infants and children, it also protects the health of mothers,” she says. “From a population health perspective, our ‘best bang for our buck’ in terms of influence the health of the population is through strategies that focus upstream on creation of supportive environments and the development of healthy public policies.
“The creation of breastfeeding policies and guidelines use a population health approach which is rooted in evidence and ultimately helps communities adopt practices and policies that protect, promote and support breastfeeding through the creation of supportive environments.”
As for Kirkley and Lila, she’s glad Dalhousie is offering clear direction about breastfeeding on campus.
“I think it’s very important, in general, to support mothers — because as much as it could make you stop breastfeeding, it could also be the catalyst that leads you to drop out of school,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many people asked me, after I got pregnant, if I was going to drop out. I was determined to continue to my studies, but everyone is different. That support is important.”
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