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Balancing school and family

By Manda Perkins
On April 22, 2014

Melanie Barlow isn’t an average student. She may be juggling a full class and work schedule like most students, but she’s also a full-time mom. Although she’s off the clock while in class, pursuing a degree in international business, her responsibilities as a mother are never on pause.

Barlow is an advocate for breastfeeding and has breastfed all four of her children. When she decided to go back to school in 2012, her youngest was still taking milk.

“I very rarely took him to class, mostly because I didn’t know if I was going to offend other students or offend the professor,” Barlow said. “So, if it was a really large class, I would actually nurse my baby with a blanket over my shoulder or just my shirt pulled down in the back of the classroom just to keep him quiet and content.”

Barlow said because she had already experienced breastfeeding before returning to school, managing class and feeding schedules was easier than it might have been.

“A lot of these students are newlywed and this is their first baby, and with your first baby it’s really tricky,” she said. “You have a lot of a learning process. Breastfeeding is not as easy as people make it seem to be, and fumbling around under a blanket isn’t comfortable. So, unless someone feels comfortable trying to get a baby to latch onto the nipple in public, which most aren’t, then it’s really important for them to have somewhere they can go where don’t feel like they’re being sent to the dungeon as a naughty child.”

USU has nine spaces available for mothers to nurse or pump. The location of these rooms were added to the interactive campus map April 10.

Nicole Jackson, a wellness assistant in USU’s human resources department, surveyed six of the rooms in December 2013, noting their condition and compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

“I was kind of surprised how (some) were even in a unisex bathroom or something with a chair just kind of thrown in there,” Jackson said. “I would go in and there would be trash just sitting on the chair, so I felt that if people needed to use it, it wasn’t a very suitable condition.”

Jordy Guth, a planner and architect for USU, said most of the rooms were implemented voluntarily in 2008 by Facilities and the former Women’s Resource Center with about a $10,000 budget. The buildings were not anticipated to have mothers rooms, so some are located in unisex restrooms.

“The key thing is that those were done based on a demand that was identified,” Guth said.”Certainly more are being put in place now, and we have the potential to do even more, depending on the demand and what people want.”

Because of the Affordable Care Act, all buildings built from 2010 and on will include a space for employees and students to nurse or pump. Guth said these rooms are now officially part of the USU design standards: It can be multipurpose, but must be lockable and cannot be in a restroom.

“I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “I’m definitely a big supporter of implementing more if there’s a need. I’m not getting any complaints or any requests. Mostly people just want to know where they are.”

As a university employee, Jackson said it’s important these rooms be comfortable and private. Jackson is able to pump in her office on campus, but knows not all other employees or students are that fortunate.

“It’s not comfortable as is, so if you are in the bathroom and are either breastfeeding or pumping and you hear someone knocking on the door, you don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “If you’re stressed out or nervous, the milk flow isn’t as good … You have to be relaxed and in a comfortable environment because stress kind of inhibits milk production.”

In an email to The Utah Statesman, Jamie Huber, program coordinator of the Center for Women and Gender, said providing these spaces for nursing mothers is vital to help students and employees maintain a “life/work balance.”

“USU has a very family friendly atmosphere, and I believe having space for students and employees who nurse is part of the family-friendly policy,” she said. “I have come across many staff and faculty who are very supportive of the nursing rooms.”

Eric Olsen, associate vice president of Student Services at USU, was instrumental in providing the nursing space on the second floor of the TSC, but refused to comment.

Barlow is a board member of the Nontraditional Student Association and encourages mothers and young families to contact their office if they are seeking additional places to nurse, as there may be spaces that can be made available.

“I didn’t start college when I was younger because I started having babies,” Barlow said. “If I could’ve been able to bring my child up here with me on campus, then I would’ve been more likely to have gone to school.”

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