Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Student mum's battle over breastfeeding at university

An Auckland business student says she is being pressured not to breastfeed her young baby in class because university officials believe it will distract students and staff.

A breastfeeding rights group has expressed dismay, arguing the university shouldn't discriminate against a mother trying to do the best for her baby.

But the University of Auckland says although it is committed to being fair and inclusive, bringing young children into postgraduate sessions could affect others working towards their final grade.

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Holly Blair, 30, had planned to return to the Business School this semester to finish her master of professional accounting, but was told by her department she could take 6-month-old Jude to class only as a "last resort".

Mrs Blair told the Herald she had several meetings with the university about breastfeeding her baby in class. The meetings started before he was born because the university's three childcare centres were fully booked and had long waiting lists.

But since speaking to the Herald at the weekend, Mrs Blair has been told a vacancy has come up.

Mrs Blair has had six months' maternity leave and has only one semester left on the course, which is a pathway to becoming a chartered accountant.

She said she considered putting Jude into a daycare closer to her home near Howick but the hour commute would have made breastfeeding impossible.

She planned to limit the classes she had to attend to six hours a week by watching the remaining classes online from home.

"The whole time they have been not very flexible and not very open ... The university has a policy that you can have your baby in class for the purpose of breastfeeding, but the Business School's position has been, 'Well, that's fine for the university, but the Business School wants to have a professional environment so you can't do that'.

"I've asked, 'Can't you just let me try it and if it's really disruptive then at least I know that I've tried'."

Following Herald inquiries, Mrs Blair received an email from the Business School yesterday saying a vacancy had come up at the Alten Rd Early Childhood Centre and to contact it promptly if she wanted the place, which she planned to do.

A university spokeswoman confirmed one of the 300 spaces at the centres had become available last week. She said the university had discussed Mrs Blair's options before the baby was born and an extra room close to the teaching room had been made available for breastfeeding.

The university was committed to accommodating requests for babies and children to be on campus as far as reasonably possible and with flexibility and sensitivity, she said.

"However, taking a child occasionally to a one-hour undergraduate law lecture, for example, is very different to bringing a child into a postgraduate highly interactive group session where the assessment counts towards the final grade."

Breastfeeding spaces were provided on campus to allow students and staff needing them to feed somewhere quiet and with storage facilities for expressed breastmilk.

Breastfeeding Alliance chief executive Julie Stufkens said any university, workplace or venue should ensure breastfeeding women were not discriminated against: "It is commendable that the woman wants to continue to breastfeed, but she also wants to continue her study for her future. I think the institution should do its best to provide a way for her to be able to do that."

Mrs Stufkens was pleased to hear the university had helped Mrs Blair find suitable childcare.

- NZ Herald

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