Schenectady County Community College culinary professor Susan Hatalsky taught a class last year that included two nursing mothers, and since each session was more than four hours long, the women would have to request time to go and pump milk.
After a few weeks of accommodating the requests, Hatalsky thought to ask where the students were going. Their answer brought her to tears: one said she went to the bathroom and sat on paper towels on the ground.
“It’s so hard to be a new mom. It’s so hard going to school and trying to feed your baby, and you are sitting on the bathroom floor?” Hatalsky said Friday.
Now, the college has a place specially-designed for nursing mothers, a Mamava breastfeeding and pumping unit. The $13,000 structure, which looks from the outside like a sleek photo booth, is funded by a grant, provided through St. Peters Health Partners, from the state Department of Health. The five-year grant program is designed to promote breastfeeding across the Capital Region.
After learning how her students were managing on their own, Hatalsky allowed them to use her office or another vacant office. She said she was happy to have a better alternative to offer students in the future.
Nneka Morgini, administrative assistant in SCCC President Steady Moono’s office, is due to give birth to her first son next month. After returning from maternity leave, she will still be nursing and in need of a place to pump milk during the workday.
“It’s beautiful,” Morgini said, as she peeked inside for a first look at the school’s new pumping station.
Mogini said she plans to breastfeed her child and had worried about how that would work when she resumed her job.
“That was one of my concerns -- working and trying to plan on nursing,” she said. “I need a place where I can be safe and sanitary while here at work.”
The college is the first in the Capital Region to get a Mamava unit, said Erin Sinisgalli, direction of community health programs for St. Peters. Now in its second year, the grant has supported the establishment of lactation rooms in workplaces around the region, as well as the creation of a regular meetings about breastfeeding at the Bornt Branch Library in Schenectady and at locations in Troy.
The grant program has also aimed to create breastfeeding and pumping spaces at daycare centers, doctors offices and public spaces.
“We want breastfeeding being the norm, and for women to be comfortable and have a place to (breastfeed or pump) wherever they go,” said Sinisgalli, citing research that shows breastfed babies experience fewer problems with childhood and adult obesity than babies who are given a formula-based diet.
Moono said the new pumping station works to serve the school’s core goal of expanding access to students. Nursing mothers have to consider whether they will have a place to pump breast milk when they need to. If the school doesn’t meet those students' needs, Moono said, some may delay their schooling and potentially never return.
“This is an access and success issue. You may not think so, but it is,” Moono said. “It’s not a convenience; it’s a necessity. It’s critical.”