WASHINGTON – Breast-feeding policies at Maryland universities don’t really address the kind of problem that came up recently at American University, when a professor breast-fed her sick child during her initial class, prompting a national debate.
Adrienne Pine, an assistant anthropology professor at American University, found herself at the forefront of controversy after she brought her sick daughter to work and breast-fed her, according to published reports. She said she made the decision to prevent the cancellation of that class.
Pine, who was unable to be reached by Capital News Service, did not violate any rules since American University does not have an official policy on breast-feeding, the university said in a statement. However, the university does follow the Washington, D.C., law that provides nursing mothers with frequent breaks and a private place to express milk, but does not specifically prohibit or allow breast-feeding in any particular environment, the statement said. The university also provides leave for an employee to care for a sick child.
Maryland’s law has a more place-specific tone, saying, “A mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location in which the mother and child are authorized to be.” It goes on to say, “A person may not restrict or limit the right of a mother to breast-feed her child.”
Most Maryland universities surveyed by CNS encompass this law in their policies.
Salisbury University allows teachers who are nursing to suspend class for a period of time and later reconvene, cancel class or arrange for a colleague to conduct the class if the need arises, the school’s Associate Vice President for Human Resources Marvin Pyles wrote in an email.
Salisbury does not yet have a designated area for nursing mothers, but is in the process of developing one by Dec. 31, as required by the University System of Maryland. In the meantime, the college encourages faculty to use their offices, wrote Pyles.
At Loyola University Maryland there is a room reserved for lactation called “The Mothers Room.”
“In accordance with Maryland law we cannot restrict where women — our employees included — breast-feed, and we provide a mothers’ room for their convenience and privacy,” Nick Alexopulos, media relations manager at Loyola, wrote in an email.
The room is limited to nursing mothers and provides a hospital-grade breast pump for the mothers’ use, according to the school’s website.
The University of Maryland, College Park also includes the state law in its policy and provides lactation rooms on campus, wrote Brian Ullmann, assistant vice president of university marketing and communications, in an email.
Professors at Frostburg State University are able to take leave when their child is sick, said Kathy Snyder, Frostburg vice president of human resources, but the institution has not had to deal with professors breast-feeding in the classroom.
“That’s nothing we’ve ever encountered,” she said.
Jen Shaffer, an anthropology professor at the University of Maryland College Park, is not surprised about the stir that Pine’s actions have caused.
“Breast-feeding in public is generally not something that takes place,” she said, however, she does not feel that there should be a stigma attached to the action.
“It’s a normal bodily function. In some point of our life, we’ve all breast-fed,” she said. “I worked in Africa and it’s not a big deal.”
Since breast-feeding is something that many mothers do, Pine said she was, “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy,” in an online essay she wrote about the incident called “Exposeing My Breasts on the Internet.”
On the first day of Pine’s “Sex, Gender & Culture” class her daughter woke up with a fever. Not wanting to cancel the first class session, Pine brought the child to work with her, according to The Washington Post. The baby crawled on the floor during the 75-minute class where Pine had to remove a paperclip from her mouth and keep her away from an electrical outlet. Pine’s teaching assistant helped by rocking the girl, and when the baby became restless Pine breast-fed while lecturing to her 40-student class.
“I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it,” she said. “But if they did, they now know that I, too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”
Her actions were viewed as “unprofessional” by some of her students and created a buzz around the university’s campus, according to The Post.
“Almost anything having to do with women catches attention,” said Martha Ackelsberg, a professor who teaches about women and gender at Smith College in Massachusetts.
Ackelsberg said that both women who breast-feed and those who are in the presence of it may experience some discomfort, “largely because in our society women’s bodies are sexualized.”
But when it comes to policy creation, she said people should think about what makes sense.
“Practices and policies need to be worked out by people talking. People who are affected.”