Brookings pledges to be breastfeeding friendly community

The South Dakota Department of Health chose Brookings as the pilot community for the Breastfeeding-Friendly Business Initiative on March 22. 

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Business Pledge shows that a business is willing to provide an environment where mothers are able to breastfeed in public spaces and enjoy a welcoming attitude from staff, management and other patrons while breastfeeding.

This initiative supports the Department of Health’s goal to improve the health and well-being of mothers, infants, children and families. Part of this is increasing the number of women who breastfeed for at least six months after their baby is born. 

According to the Nestle Nutrition Institute, breastfeeding is considered the nutritional gold standard for infant nutrition and feeding and benefits their health, growth, immunity and development.

Brookings Supports Breastfeeding, a group of local health professionals and educators, has been working to make breastfeeding in public and pumping at work a nonevent since 2012.

“By nonevent, we mean mothers should not feel as if they are being harassed or made to feel ashamed or looked down upon for doing what comes naturally,” said Julia Yoder, the marketing and public relations director at Brookings Health System. “They’re just trying to provide the optimum nutrition for their child.”

Some of the groundwork prior to this project includes a community discussion about breastfeeding, surveys and focus groups determining barriers in Brookings. The Brookings Health System also became a baby-friendly hospital, one of only three and the first non-Indian hospital in the state, which provides optimal care to breastfeeding and helping new mothers get started. 

The initiative is important to Brookings and other communities so mothers don’t have to feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public or have a difficult time pumping when they return to work, said Jennifer Anderson, assistant professor of communication studies and theatre.

“If it’s possible to breastfeed, that’s what we want all mothers to try to do,” Anderson said. “We want them to feel empowered to do that, and, if they have chosen to, we would like them to be able to do it for as long as they’d like to without any additional barriers or challenges.”

The three main entities involved with this project are South Dakota State University, Brookings Health System and the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Other businesses that have taken the Breastfeeding-Friendly Business Pledge include the city of Brookings, 3M, Hy-Vee, Brookings County and the Children’s Museum. 

“Hopefully at some point all of the businesses will get touched, ” said Joni Frolek, membership director at the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce. “And we’re hoping through the media coverage we’ve had that people see it and keep seeing it and then they take that initiative on their own.”

The classes of Anderson, Rebecca Kuehl, assistant professor of Communication Studies and Theatre, and Rebecca Britt, assistant professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, will go out into the community and promote media kits for the initiative, which include a ‘Breastfeeding Welcome Here’ window cling, information on the benefits of breastfeeding, model policy language and staff education tips, among other things.

The professors said responses from their classes have been positive, with the students wanting to know more and become educated on the subject. The professors were contacted by the Students’ Association to support breastfeeding on campus by passing a resolution on the matter.

“I think it’s cool that students are seeing that they can do something about this. It’s an issue they care about and are willing to be trailblazers for,” Anderson said.

Prior to the Breastfeeding-Friendly Business Initiative coming to Brookings, The University Student Union had been accommodating mothering requests and working with the need for at least 10 years, according to Jennifer Novotny, executive director of The Union.

Novotny said this year The Union has received 10 to 15 requests for mothering rooms in the building, but with excellent signage and dedicated space, the number would grow.

“This is not a grand amenity, but rather, a basic need for public space,” Novotny said. “Making space available for women to be successful in managing the care and feeding of their children should be a standard practice in public spaces.”

Though there have been hurdles in unexpected places and easy access where they didn’t expect, the Brookings Supports Breastfeeding group is determined to defeat the stigma around breastfeeding. 

Despite being family-oriented and wanting healthy children, people in the Midwest seem to feel talking about breastfeeding is taboo, Anderson said.

“To want to do a normal biological function that’s going to feed your child, I want that to be as much of a nonevent as taking a lunch break,” Anderson said.

In 2015, a state law was passed in South Dakota that protects women breastfeeding in public. All they are trying to do, Frolek said, is ask the businesses to follow the law already in place and be welcoming to breastfeeding mothers, whether employees or customers.

“Each business needs to do exactly what they can to make that a good experience,” Frolek said. “That’s why the big message we want to send to people is whatever you have as long as you’re trying, that’s great.”

Following the pilot project, the Department of Health will assess the outcomes and discuss the opportunity to expand the Breastfeeding-Friendly Business Initiative to other communities throughout the state. 

Even though the pilot will end, Frolek said she can’t imagine that Brookings Supports Breastfeeding will die down any time soon.