Pump it up: Alaska’s first lactation pod is located at UAA for staff, students and the general public

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Provided by the Alaska Workplace Breastfeeding Support Project, the first lactation pod in the state is an alternative to bathrooms for mothers who would like to nurse in private. Photo credit: Young Kim

UAA has announced the first lactation pod in Alaska open to any mother that is nursing. The lactation pod is located downstairs in the Student Union, easily accessible due to its centralized location. This pod was provided by the Alaska Workplace Breastfeeding Support Project, which is a grant through the State of Alaska under the section of Women’s Children’s Family Health.

Corrie Whitmore, assistant professor of health sciences, lead the team that wrote the application for the grant.

“The goal of the Alaska Workplace Breastfeeding Support program was to just help Alaska employers in the workplace improve their accommodations for lactation, so for moms who are breastfeeding or pumping especially for their children,” Whitmore said.

According to the Affordable Care Act amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards, employers are required to provide breaks to employees to express breast milk for her child for one year after the birth of the child. This also requires employers to provide a place other than a bathroom that is private from coworkers and the public for mothers to nurse during the workday. Not only does UAA have a large number of employees, but also students and the general public that spend their majority of time on campus.

“One of the things that I think made our application strong was that UAA is an employer that has many employees, but we also have students who are parents that need a place to breastfeed and pump and this is a space that is open to the community so it also provides that option for our community members who find themselves here to participate in an event, take a class, or here for sports, so it’s a good option that will get a lot of use here,” Whitmore said.

In the past, the Professional Studies Building had two lactation rooms available for use. However, they are now being turned into a new pharmacy. There are other places on campus besides the lactation pod where individuals can go for breastfeeding needs.

“The other place people can pump on campus is in the study rooms in the library, so they are private rooms and they’ll give you tape and a piece of paper to put on the window in the door, so that’s one option,” Whitmore said.

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The lactation pod has been stirring up excitement in the UAA community. Some students believe this is another step in creating an accepting presence on campus.

“I think it’ll be very beneficial just for the general population because, it just sets a presence that we’re a welcoming and diverse in general, not just for different ethnicities and orientations, but also for gender equality and I think it’s great,” Sarah Johnson, bachelor’s degree in human services and pursing an occupational endorsement certificate in children’s behavioral and health, said.

Without a lactation pod, many mothers resort to using a restroom to pump or feed their child, which not only limits their space but is also unsanitary.

“Personally, I don’t want to eat in the bathroom, so I don’t want to pump or feed my son there, but I also don’t want to use the bathroom in a way that limits other people’s ability to use the bathroom and inconveniences other people. When there’s something like this [lactation pod] it’s not inconveniencing other people,” Whitmore said.

Breastfeeding has become more acceptable in public, but nonetheless, pumping takes more effort, space and resources.

“I’ve fed my kid everywhere, there’s actually less stigma around that than there used to be and one of the ways we normalize breastfeeding is by treating breastfeeding like it’s normal,” Whitmore said. “It’s just hard to do that with pumping because pumping is something that you need an electrical outlet, a table and a place to sit. So you need more specific things.”

Not only is the lactation pod the first at UAA, but in the state of Alaska. Hopefully, in the near future this will open opportunities to provide more lactation pods around the state.

“The Student Union is a central location for campus, open 99 hours each week, easy for students, faculty, staff and guests to access,” Annie Route, Student Life and Leadership director, said. “[I am] so happy women will have a clean, private space to pump or breastfeed and not have to use a bathroom stall. It was no fun doing that when I was a young UAA mom. Thanks to Dr. Corrie Whitmore and the staff of UAA Facilities for their dedication to bringing the pod to our campus community.”

On March 24, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate Alaska’s first lactation pod at 2:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Student Union which is open to employees, students and campus visitors. The Provost and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Bruce Shultz, and other campus leaders will be showing their support by attending the ribbon cutting. Also, the state will be giving away 50 onesies with an “Eat Local” design for mothers and babies who attend. Stop by the Student Union and check out the new exciting edition to UAA.