The idea to make George Washington a more baby-friendly university began as a day dream for Lori Lerman.
A registered nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant, Ms. Lerman was participating in sessions about creating more baby-friendly hospitals at the 2011 International Lactation Consultant Association conference when she wondered: What would it take to make George Washington a completely baby-friendly university?
What began as just an idea grew into the Breastfeeding Friendly University Project, a university-wide, collaborative effort to support the breastfeeding families in the GW community and to further education about the importance of breastfeeding.
The project had its first major event last week in GW’s Marvin Center, featuring remarks from Vice President for Human Resources Sabrina Ellis, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Charles Macri, Director of Benefits and Wellness Erica Hayton, Director of Faculty Personnel Administration Charys Williams and Ms. Lerman.
The panelists spoke about increased benefits for working mothers and future goals for the project and answered questions from the audience. Provost Steven Lerman made introductory remarks, telling the audience that the project will help create a university environment “that is supportive of all of us” and is one he and his wife, Ms. Lerman, “care about a great deal.”
More than 100 community members are now involved in the project, said Ms. Lerman, adding that the high turnout for the event signifies the university’s support for the initiative.
“I think this is something that’s time has come at GW,” she said. “The enthusiasm and the fact that nobody wanted to stop asking questions—this all shows that this project is meeting a need, and I think the event was a good beginning for what now needs to continue as an ongoing process.”
In just a year, the Breastfeeding Friendly University Project has created seven dedicated motherhood rooms across George Washington, including rooms in the Marvin Center, Old Main, and on the Mount Vernon and Virginia Science and Technology Campuses.
More than 50 GW mothers meet twice a month as members of the university’s two La Leche League groups, and there are four La Leche League leaders-in-training at the university.
The Breastfeeding Friendly University Project also has a dedicated meeting and consulting place in GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services, and is in negotiations with a new breast pump company to offer recyclable and shareable breast pumps for GW employees.
Project members are also involved in committees to address different sectors of the university, including human resources and community support, hospital and health care services, professional school education, communication and outreach and research.
Ms. Ellis told the audience that her participation in the project has been a “truly transformative experience” as a woman and human resources leader. Noting that working mothers are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce, Ms. Ellis said it is crucial that the university support them.
“If we really want to continue to be a competitive organization, we have to make sure there’s a place here for working mothers and working parents,” said Ms. Ellis.
Dr. Macri spoke about the efforts of the GW medical community and the university’s health sciences programs—including the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Public Health and Health Services—to expand its education on breastfeeding for GW students. The GW Hospital has two full-time lactation consultants on its staff and plans to add more motherhood rooms for staff and patients.
Dr. Macri said the university also works closely with the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington—located nearby at 2141 K St., NW—and hopes to develop a certificate program to train volunteers to work with breastfeeding patients.
As a university, GW has made “leaps in the right direction” in becoming breastfeeding friendly, said Ms. Hayton. A mother of a two year old, Ms. Hayton spoke about expanded coverage for new mothers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which includes full coverage for breast pumps rentals and purchases and the use of lactation consultants.
“There’s a lot in the works,” she told the audience. “This is just the beginning, but we’re really excited to move forward.”
Ms. Williams shared her own experience as a working mother nursing her child, now 15 months. She praised the efforts of the Breastfeeding Friendly University Project, telling the audience that support in the workplace is key for breastfeeding mothers.
“I could not have done this without a supervisor and office staff that would allow me to shut the door, without having to tell them I was pumping every three hours,” she said. “You can still be a good employee and a good mother.”
Click here for more information on the Breastfeeding University Friendly Project.