Pumping breast milk is a very personal business. You want to do it in a comfortable, clean environment, and preferably with a bit of privacy. And this is one area where EUR doesn’t always deliver. In some cases, circumstances are so dreary that women have even stopped pumping breast milk – and consequently stopped breastfeeding – altogether. Arusik Grigorian (RSM) devoted her master’s thesis to this subject, and has caused quite a stir in the process.
For those readers who haven’t entered this stage in their lives yet, nursing mothers collect their breast milk with a pump to feed their infant at a later stage. In addition to the general nursing mothers rooms in the Tinbergen and Van der Goot buildings, EUR’s individual faculties also offer facilities to this end. Although some do a better job than others.
RSM’s nursing mothers rooms on the seventh and ninth floors of the Mandeville Building are converted accessible toilets. In T-7, they took the trouble of taping down the lid, but the toilet in T-9 doesn’t even have a lid. There’s a desk chair in the corner, a fridge to store the milk in, and a sink for cleaning bottles – which is partially covered by a large table in the room on T-9. Hardly ideal, in other words.
And in breach of the law. Because Article 4:8 of the Working Hours Act explicitly states that nursing mothers rooms have to offer sufficient privacy, have to be clean and have to include a bed or couch that the user can rest on. And that regular toilets are not suited for this purpose.
Ignorance rather than unwillingness
“This sends women the signal that breastfeeding is gross and inferior,” says former EUR student Grigorian, who herself is mother to a little girl of almost 1. Grigorian also pumped breast milk while working on her thesis. “I was genuinely shocked by what the women whom I interviewed for my study ‘Breasts at Work’ told me. They feel disregarded by RSM, as if their workplace does not allow them to be normal women.
“Some of them were so disgusted by the nursing mothers rooms that they stopped using a breast pump altogether – which means they stopped breastfeeding. How can we still be seeing this in 2016, at a university that attaches such strong importance to diversity?”
Referring nursing mothers who want to use a breast pump to the accessible toilet is definitely not OK.
RSM is taking these points of criticism very seriously. “Of course, we were aware of this situation,” says diversity dean Saskia Bayerl. “It has been a point of attention for quite some time – throughout the University, incidentally – but so far, nothing has been done about it. Indeed, it’s a difficult and rather personal subject to broach with your manager or male colleagues. In other words, I would call it ignorance rather than unwillingness. As a result, it hasn’t been put on the agenda up till now.
“But now it will. On the one hand, we need to change our culture within the faculty. If we want harmonious relations between the sexes, it is very important to promote inclusiveness and allow people to be themselves. In addition, our recently-appointed Director of Operations Anne van de Graaf will shortly be inventorying what can be done differently or improved.”
Van de Graaf: “Referring nursing mothers who want to use a breast pump to the accessible toilet is definitely not OK. We need to ensure that they feel welcome here. To achieve this, we are examining whether we can convert the current facilities into dedicated, comfortable nursing mothers rooms – without toilets.
“Another idea could be to use empty offices on floors that we are currently redesigning – perhaps in a joint project with Social Sciences, who are also set up in this building.”
“They simply haven’t given it enough thought”
Jacomijn Klitsie (doctoral candidate RSM)
Jacomijn, mother of Floris, doesn’t find the nursing mothers rooms at RSM particularly clean or inviting. “The toilet hasn’t been used in ages, so that it’s quite grotty and dusty. They’ve taped the lid down, but it has actually been pulled loose again. Someone really needed to go, apparently. The nursing mothers room on T-7 is directly next to the coffee corner. This means you don’t have much privacy. Which is a pity.
“Particularly since apart from this, RSM is very accommodating to me as a young mother, in terms of flexible work hours and time for pumping milk. That’s why I don’t think it’s a case of ‘ill will’. They simply haven’t given it enough thought. Probably somebody decided at one point: ‘I want to use a breast pump – I’ll get a desk chair and sit over here.’ After which they called it a nursing mothers room.”
“I had to swallow a few times when I first saw the room”
Stella Pfisterer (researcher at RSM)
“OK, so this is it.” Stella Pfisterer, mother of Maximilian, had to swallow a few times when she first saw the nursing mothers room on the seventh floor of the Mandeville Building. “You’ll find everything you need there. But that’s it. I don’t use the fridge: I don’t feel comfortable leaving my bottles of milk there unsupervised where anyone can mess with them.
“I prefer to use the nursing mothers room at the Partou crèche, where I drop off Maximilian a few days per week. It offers a lot more privacy and comfort, with a nice couch and a cushion. It’s more geared towards mothers and children, in other words. Although I do have to walk a bit to get there.”