UND medical school expands options for nursing mothers

Until this month, some nursing mothers working as students, faculty or staff at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences had difficulty finding a place to breastfeed or pump milk for their infants. One woman was even pumping in a tiny, dark closet in a co-worker’s office because she didn’t have a private office of her own. When a few mothers and expecting mothers found out about this inconvenient situation, they decided to take action.

Now, a new “Mother’s Room” on the fifth floor, Room 5513, of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences is dedicated to nursing mothers and offers them privacy, refrigerated storage and peace of mind. "It makes it a more family-friendly environment for students, staff and faculty," said Elizabeth Burns, professor of family and community medicine at UND and leader of the mother’s room project.

The space is the result of a yearlong process by Burns and a committee of advocates from the medical school to find a suitable, private location at the facility and create a university-approved policy for the space as well as the users. Some departments have offered students private space in years past, including the Office of Student Affairs and Financial Aid, which also has assisted in arranging video transmission of lectures to nursing mothers. The new policy will apply to all students, faculty and staff.

Naomi Lelm, a project coordinator with the Rural Assistance Center, has had two children while working at the medical school, and said it was hard to find places to pump that were private and on campus. She said that if nursing mothers don't have a room or office to go to, they feel trapped.

“It’s a constant struggle to find balance. Having a supportive work environment can make all the difference in the success of a breastfeeding mother, both in the workplace and as a mother providing for her child,” Lelm said.

Burns said the process of returning to work or school can be challenging for nursing mothers. It is difficult to balance long hours in class or at work with child care.

"We wanted to help the transition back to work be as convenient as possible for the mothers," she said. "It's a challenging time for mothers to be at work or in school."

In creating a room to serve new mothers who want to keep learning and working on campus, the UND medical school is joining the UND College of Nursing in serving as a model for other schools in the nation that are striving to improve facilities and working environments for women. The College of Nursing has a mother’s room, as well.

"It is our hope that more facilities in the community, and around the country, will create spaces like the mother’s room," said Kristine Sande, project director for the Rural Assistance Center and a member of the mother’s room committee. "It is a family-friendly initiative to do."

Women interested in using the room may contact Susan Splichal at (701) 777-3274 or ssplichal@medicine.nodak.edu
-- Wendy Opsahl, Communications Coordinator, Center for Rural Health, wopsahl@medicine.nodak.edu, 777-0871