University of Vermont

Spotlight on Staff: Nursing Mothers and Growing Families

Staff Council Advocacy for Nursing Mothers and Growing Families

Nursing Mother Sign

Welcoming a new child into your family presents unique challenges that can be difficult to manage. Staff Council is here to help.

To Nurse or Not to Nurse

For new mothers, the question of whether to express breast milk after returning to work is an important decision. At the University of Vermont, the choice to continue to nurse is made easier for some by the fact that there are several rooms on campus designated for the use of nursing mothers. For women who do not have personal space where they can express milk or nurse in private, these lactation rooms are vital. (Because of its work to support this important group within our community, UVM is recognized as a breast feeding friendly employer by the Vermont Department of Health.)

In spring 2013, Staff Council Representative Lynn Tracy heard from several colleagues with concerns about the nursing mother lactation space in Waterman’s fourth floor women’s restroom. “I was approached by more than one new mother about their frustrations with the nursing mother’s set-up. As their Staff Council Representative, I felt strongly about my responsibility to bring up their concerns,” Tracy said. “It was readily apparent that the fourth floor nursing mother’s space needed to be addressed as it was simply a cubicle in the middle of the restroom.” Upon investigating the concern, Tracy found that some new mothers had constructed elaborate privacy screens around their cubicle or in their office so they wouldn’t have to use the designated space in the restroom, and that didn’t sit well. “I knew that whatever the solution, it required a higher level of quality and comfort for nursing mothers,” Tracy declared.

Tracy brought the concerns of these nursing mothers to the Staff Council's Compensation, Benefits and Budget Committee on which she serves. Soon a work group was formed—made up of Tracy, Naima Dennis, Marilyn Eldred, and Debbie Stern—to investigate the needs of nursing mothers and begin a larger discussion on parental leave. Marilyn Eldred took the lead in getting the work group focused. “I wanted to find out what was being offered on campus and what we could do to improve the existing facilities if they were not adequate,” said Eldred. “Additionally, I felt it was necessary that we raise awareness around campus that breastfeeding is the best thing for our children and that nursing mothers need our support.”

The group reached out to Barbara Johnson, Associate Vice President for Human Resource Services, to help devise a reasonable plan to address the concerns in Waterman and help educate employees about the needs of nursing mothers. The work group also expressed their desire to encourage supervisors to designate space for nursing mothers in their buildings.

Johnson noted that while the space in the Waterman women’s restroom met the state standards for a lactation room, it was not ideal, and she wanted to partner with Staff Council to find a solution and educate the University community. The work group drafted a recommendation and together with Johnson identified the Faculty/Staff Lounge in the Waterman building as a potential nursing mother room. The Lounge, while a place to eat lunch or make a personal phone call, was not being used to its fullest potential. The work group began a vetting process with staff in Waterman and while most feedback was positive, concerns were raised about the Lounge being “taken over” by nursing mothers. Working with Human Resource Services, concerns were addressed as carefully as possible, the space was deep-cleaned, some old furniture moved out, and a six-month trial began with the Lounge serving a dual purpose.

The Question of Parental Leave

Having made headway on the nursing mothers front, attention shifted to concerns being expressed by staff about Parental Leave. This is a challenging subject and it continues to be an area of focus for Staff Council’s Compensation, Benefits and Budget Committee. In the meantime, however, the Council has made progress in assisting employees who are planning to expand their families understand options, resources, and next steps available to them.

As the result of feedback shared by fellow staff members Kerry Swift and Brooke Cote, Staff Council collaborated again with Human Resource Services by helping to design a “one stop” web page to help staff find vital information related to expanding the size of their family. The “Resources for Growing Families” webpage is a place where expectant parents can go to begin planning their leave, learn about programs or resources, or educate themselves on work policies—without having to search around and potentially miss important information.

“We had all the information on the HRS website already,” said Rodman Cory, Human Resource Services Lead for Communication and Constituent Relations, “but it took some energy and effort to gather it all together in one place. Staff Council took the time to collaborate with us on the process and the end result is a user-friendly page that will make it much easier for individuals with growing families to find the information that they need.”

Working Together to Get Things Done

These are just two examples of how Staff Council is working with staff through the appropriate channels to bring positive change to the University of Vermont.

Staff Council is comprised of elected Representatives from across the University who volunteer their time to help make UVM a better place for our entire community. If you want to get involved or simply wish to learn more about what Staff Council is doing, visit our website at www.uvm.edu/staffcouncil.

If you have a question, concern, or idea to share related to working at UVM, Staff Council wants to hear about it. You can e-mail us at Staff.Council@uvm.edu or call us at 656-4493.