Pump and Circumstance: New Title IX Protections for Breastfeeding Students

Pump and Circumstance: New Title IX Protections for Breastfeeding Students

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As the new academic year begins, an exciting development is set to transform the landscape for breastfeeding student parents across the nation. Starting August 1, 2024, students will have the legal right to lactation breaks, designated lactation spaces, and other necessary accommodations, thanks to updated regulations from the U.S. Department of Education interpreting Title IX of the Education Amendments Act.

A Landmark Change: Title IX and Lactation Support

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs. The recent updates to Title IX regulations aim to provide comprehensive protections for pregnant and parenting students, ensuring they have the support needed to balance their academic and parenting responsibilities.

Key Updates in Title IX Protections:
(From the Center for Work Life Law) 

  • Medically-Necessary Leave and Accommodations: Schools are now required to provide pregnant and postpartum students with medically-necessary leave and reasonable accommodations, including lactation breaks and spaces.
  • Clarity on Responsibilities: The updated regulations specify who is responsible for ensuring that students receive the necessary academic adjustments, leave, and anti-discrimination protections.
  • Anti-Discrimination and Privacy Protections: The updates continue to ban discrimination based on pregnancy-related conditions, including abortion and miscarriage, and now include protections based on parental status. Additionally, the regulations offer important privacy protections for students.

The Impact on Student Parents

For student parents, these changes represent a significant step forward in creating a more supportive and equitable academic environment. By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of breastfeeding students, educational institutions can help ensure that these parents do not have to choose between their education and their commitment to breastfeeding.

Practical Solutions for Educational Institutions:

  • Creating Lactation Spaces: Schools must designate private, non-bathroom spaces for lactation. These spaces should be accessible, comfortable, and equipped with necessary amenities such as seating, electrical outlets, and refrigeration for milk storage.
  • Implementing Flexible Schedules: Institutions should consider flexible scheduling options to accommodate lactation breaks without disrupting students' academic commitments.
  • Raising Awareness and Providing Resources: Staff should be trained to inform students about their rights and the available accommodations. Clear communication channels should be established to ensure students know where to seek help.

Real Stories: The Impact on Student Lives

Understanding the real-world impact of these changes is crucial. For many student parents, the ability to pump milk during the school day can significantly affect their academic performance and overall well-being. I had an opportunity to speak to a Sarah Wells Bags follower recently about her experience; read more from Lori* below:

When I was in school for respiratory care, I vividly remember asking my teacher if there was a place where I could pump. He said he would check, but he came back with a disappointing "no," despite there being multiple empty classrooms available. As a result, I ended up pumping in the bathroom for an entire year. The experience was disheartening and isolating. Later, when my baby was closer to one year old, I asked another teacher, a woman; her response was even more disheartening. She questioned why I was still breastfeeding, implying that there was no longer any value in it. I firmly told her it was my decision and that I believed in the ongoing benefits of breastfeeding. I wish I could have shown her the CDC's recent recommendation to breastfeed for two years or more. 
The memories of those bathroom pumping sessions are still vivid. I felt so lonely and paranoid about the cleanliness of the environment. I struggled with severe postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA), and I am certain that not having a safe place to pump contributed significantly to my mental health struggles.
Fortunately, my experience improved drastically when I began working at a children's hospital with my second baby. There, I had a safe place to pump and amazing coworkers who supported me, even if it meant picking up my slack. This supportive environment made a significant difference, and I did not experience PPD or PPA the second time around. Having a positive pumping space contributed greatly to my improved postpartum mood.
Now, as I navigate my third breastfeeding journey, I am confident that my pumping experience at work will be positive. I won't have to worry about dirty environments or feeling lonely in a bathroom stall. I know the importance of a supportive and clean pumping space, and I am grateful for the progress we've made.


Conclusion: A Path Forward

The updated Title IX regulations mark a significant milestone in the journey toward educational equity for student parents. By ensuring that breastfeeding students have the necessary support and accommodations, we can create a more inclusive and supportive academic environment. As we move forward, it is essential for schools, advocates, and the community to work together to implement these changes effectively.

Through continued advocacy and collaboration, we can empower student parents to succeed both academically and as caregivers, ensuring that they do not have to choose between their education and their children’s well-being.

1 comment

Amanda S
Amanda S

Wow! I hadn’t even thought about student parents and needing to pump. I’m sure full time school, especially in person, is so challenging as a parent. I’m sure these changes help to ensure everyone who wants access to a clean and private pumping space can get one.

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