After five years of taking classes part-time, I recently completed my MPH in Maternal and Child Health. What began as the profound personal experience of giving birth to my eldest son ten years ago became a career path. I became involved in the local birth community, becoming a volunteer doula and certified breastfeeding educator. I taught breastfeeding classes at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in South Minneapolis for eight years and continue to provide volunteer breastfeeding support to anyone hinting they could use it.
Given that breastfeeding is my public health pet project, I was thrilled to complete my field experience with the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition . Using tools from The Business Case for Breastfeeding (a comprehensive government program designed to educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace), I conducted an online needs assessment survey on a convenience sample of students, staff and faculty at the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota to gather information on knowledge of, and access to, lactation rooms, and attitudes about breastfeeding and workplace accommodation. Our findings indicated that students were less aware of the existence of lactation rooms than non-students, and men were less aware of them than women.
Students reported mostly finding lactation rooms on their own (walking past a lactation room, seeing signs) as opposed to non-students who reported finding them by word of mouth or through more official University channels (human resources, printed materials, University website, etc.). Respondents reported the need for more lactation rooms in the Academic Health Center that were conveniently located and better advertised. Our sample reported feeling that supporting breastfeeding at the workplace would decrease absenteeism and turnover and improve the public image of and recruitment to the Academic Health Center.
The road to my MPH has been long, but it has been rewarding. I have developed my public health knowledge and skills and was able to work in an area dear to me. It is gratifying to know that the work I put into my master’s project may be used to inform the ongoing work at the University in making more lactation rooms available for our community’s use.