At a time when the benefits of breast-feeding have gained national attention, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has been recognized for leadership in encouraging nursing mothers who are students or members of the faculty and staff.
President Jay A. Perman, MD, placed the University at the forefront by establishing a policy, Lactation Support for Nursing Mothers, which went into effect Sept. 23, 2010. At the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center, a lactation room that replaced one formerly housed in the adjacent School of Nursing building has been open since last summer. It is operated by the Wellness Hub at the University. On Feb. 28, the University of Maryland Dental School officially opened its lactation center in conjunction with a class for users and others seeking expert guidance.
For its multiple efforts, the University won a D.C./Maryland Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace Award that was presented Feb. 11 at the Campus Center. The DC and Maryland Breastfeeding Coalitions rated UMB at the gold level in the large business category in recognition of its policy and the "supportive work environment provided to breastfeeding families."
"This is a collective effort, a collaborative effort, said Perman in accepting a plaque from Dana Silver, MD, FAAP, who is a board member of the Maryland Breastfeeding Coalition, clinical assistant professor at the University of MarylandSchool of Medicine (SOM) and a 1991 alumna of the SOM.
"Like Dr. Silver, I'm a pediatrician, and in the final analysis, this is what's good for kids. Can't be any question about it," he said.
The president said the commitment also meets the needs of students, staff, and faculty. "We have a goal of making this a best place to work, period," he said, describing "an enlightened breast-feeding policy" as an important installment in reaching that goal within three years.
Silver, who is now based at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai in Baltimore, noted that Perman has a long history of supporting breast-feeding, including his role two decades ago in establishing lactation support at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The UMB policy states, among other things, that the University will provide space that is "shielded from view and free from intrusion and reasonable education and consultative services and resources to support its employee and student nursing mothers."
Dental School Dean Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, set plans in motion for the School's well-appointed center immediately upon learning of the policy, saying support for lactation is part of "a culture of wellness" in keeping with his own European background. He was aided by Eris Smith, coordinator in the dean's office; Debra Suls, the School's director of student affairs; and John Phillips, Dental School facilities manager.
During Silver's remarks at the award presentation, she called attention to national developments to remove barriers to breast-feeding. Last March, the Affordable Care Act set criteria for businesses, which are described by the United States Breastfeeding Committee along with resources for workers and managers. On Jan. 20, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, issued a Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding for health care providers, employers, insurers, policymakers, researchers, and the community at large. On Feb. 10, the Internal Revenue Service declared breast-feeding equipment and supplies to be tax deductible.
More recently, first lady Michelle Obama, JD, asked the public to help mothers reach their personal breast-feeding goals, a stance that prompted political critics to bring up economics rather than public health issues. Separately, breast-feeding supporters rallied in Washington, D.C., after a museum mistakenly prevented a mother from nursing her infant in public space on federal property despite her rights to do so.
School of Nursing Assistant Professor Lily Fountain, MS, CNM, RN, outlines ways to overcome barriers and gives strategies for mothers, fathers, and other family members of nursing infants. Her classes have been supported by a mini-grant to the Wellness Hub from the Department of Health and Human Services' Business Case for Breastfeeding initiative.
She taught the class, "Breastfeeding Success at School/Work: A Seminar for Expectant and New Mothers AND Fathers," on Feb. 28 at the Dental School. Pictured, from left, are students Doanh Ngo, Christine Liang, Kara Sanders, and Marlene Unisa along with Suls, Fountain, Smith, and Stohler. Sanders assists Fountain in support for nursing mothers; Fountain uses a doll as a prop whose T-shirt says, "Breastmilk is my renewable energy."
Fountain states that, "No woman should feel guilty if she is not successful at breast-feeding. The community, businesses, universities, as well as fathers and grandmothers, can have a significant impact on making the benefits of breast-feeding available to all babies."
Fountain, who along with Silver is a member of the board of the Maryland Breastfeeding Coalition, points out that the health effects, especially when a mother breastfeeds without supplementing with formula, extend beyond infancy to strengthening childhood immunity and reducing obesity and allergies. Mothers also gain health benefits such as reduced rates of ovarian and breast cancer.
The coalition says Maryland falls slightly below the nation's breast-feeding initiation rate, which is 75 percent. By age 6 months, only 13 percent of the nation's babies are exclusively breast-feeding, a marked failure to meet the recommended standard. Nationally, Maryland ranks 39th among states for support of breast-feeding in labor and delivery practices, which are a driving factor in duration and exclusivity of breast-feeding, Fountain says.
The rates drop at 6 weeks and again at age 3 months as the babies' mothers return to work, where many find it difficult to nurse or to use pumps to express milk.
Lisa Goodwin, a financial aid counselor in the Office of Student Financial Assistance & Education, says that she re-entered the workplace after she and her husband, Harold, had their baby daughter, Moriah, but only on condition an employer would accommodate breast-feeding. At 9 months, Moriah remains breast-fed because Goodwin utilizes the UMB policy to regularly visit the lactation room at the Campus Center. "This has alleviated so much stress for me," she says.
Goodwin, who is pictured above at left with Silver and Perman, advises students at the School of Social Work and the Dental School.
Goodwin was among nursing mothers or former nursing mothers who attended the award presentation that was held near the third-floor location of the Wellness Hub. Silver also acknowledged the importance of paternal roles, noting that Flavius Lilly, MPH, assistant vice president for academic and student affairs and director of the Hub, is the father of children who have been breast-fed.
In the photo (left) of the award presentation, Silver, Lilly, Fountain, and Perman stand left to right. In the photo (right) of the Dental School lactation center, Phillips shows the Medela pump and personal supplies.