Photo: @UTM via Twitter
Breastfeeding openly in public isn't considered too scandalous these days. Even Pope Francis encouraged moms to openly nurse in the chapel a few years back, after a long history of forcing them into the bathroom to feed their little ones.
But it wasn't always like that. It used to be pretty common for moms to be shamed for breastfeeding if they weren't fully covered up. Several years ago, after a few high-profile incidents where mothers were asked to leave a public space while breastfeeding, the City of Toronto launched a campaign to let people know that breastfeeding is a human right, and it made a big difference.
Still, despite the growing awareness of breastfeeding and chestfeeding, and a growing openness to the fact that babies need to eat, whether by bottle or breast, it’s not always easy for parents to find a comfortable spot to feed their babies or pump milk away from home. For students, who often don’t have the same opportunities to stay home on parental leave with their infants, comfortable places to feed their babies or pump milk can be especially important.
The University of Toronto, Mississauga (UTM) campus is working to address this gap. It recently became the second post-secondary institution in Canada (after Toronto's Humber College) to offer a Mamava lactation pod to its students.
You may have seen a lactation pod before, maybe in an airport or a retail store. They're freestanding spaces that provide a clean, comfortable and private option to breastfeed or pump.
While U of T already offers a number of identified spots for feeding and pumping on all three campuses, the options aren't always inviting or accessible. Often, the suggested locations are tied to 9-5 office hours, so they are not helpful for many students, including those attending evening classes. For parents who are pumping milk, doing so in public may feel a bit more awkward, requiring equipment and an electrical outlet.
“Pre-COVID, we had a pressing request to find resources almost immediately for a student, because we didn’t have any spaces available in the evening,” says Kaye Francis, manager of the Family Care Office, in a recent article on the University’s website. “We started looking for new options.” The pod is open to students, staff and even those visiting campus for workshops or meetings.
The installation of the Mamava pod is another step forward in UTM’s commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all. Of course, one pod in one location is just a start, says Jennifer Hartman, of the office of communications at UTM. “As students have been gradually returning to campus since February 2022, this year will provide us with more information about reactions to the pod and frequency of pod use," she says. “The need for additional pods (at UTM or one of the other two campuses) will be determined based on use of this pod and feedback from the university community.”
The Mamava pod aims to be comfortable, and it offers full privacy, is wheelchair accessible, and features two benches, electrical outlets, a mirror, lighting, shelves, a Bluetooth SmartLock and a charging station. Access is free and is controlled by the Mamava app, available on the App Store or Google Play, which means it is designed for autonomous access. No appointment is necessary, and access is on a first-come, first-served basis, with notifications via the app letting you know when the unit becomes available.
Breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents should be allowed to feed their babies or pump milk whenever and wherever they want, but everyone is different and some still prefer complete privacy. Pods like UTM's give parents more options and more flexibility. Post-secondary schools across Canada, take note!