Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

PhD student mum frustrated with breastfeeding battle

Maryam Hemmati with Boshra Hemmati, 11, and Yosra Hemmati, 1. Photo / SuppliedHerald
Maryam Hemmati with Boshra Hemmati, 11, and Yosra Hemmati, 1. Photo / SuppliedHerald

A PhD student at the University of Auckland is frustrated at having to fight to find an appropriate space to breastfeed her child.

Maryam Hemmati is studying towards a PhD in electrical engineering, as well as juggling a part-time job and being a mother to her two children, Boshra, 11, and Yosra, 1.

She told the Herald that she was unhappy about the lack of a dedicated space solely for mothers to breastfeed their children at the university's Newmarket campus.

"It is really important for me to breastfeed her, she needs to be breastfed. As a mum I have the right to decide how I feed my baby.

"When I was applying for the PhD I noted there was a parental space [at Auckland] ... that was one of the most important things to me."

Her classes were moved last year from the city campus - where there is a specialised breastfeeding facility - to Newmarket.

Hemmati was told she could use a meeting room, which she said was "too much hassle".

"I was asking my husband to come and guard the door... it wasn't easy to manage the timing.

"I'd book the room but there wasn't any kind of system... even if it was booked people would still open the door and come in, it happened to me several times."

"You can imagine the stress I went through, it was too much hassle.

"For breastfeeding you need to be in a comfortable situation... it was awful, the room didn't have any blinds so I had to sit down on the ground.

"You can imagine how difficult it was."

She went to the Auckland University Students' Association with her concerns, and Hemmati said she was then told by the university there would now be a specialised breastfeeding room at Newmarket.

She said the university then told her it had decided not to set up such a room, before the engineering faculty dean confirmed a breastfeeding room would be in place "in a matter of weeks, if not days".

A room fitted with blinds and a lock was provided, but Hemmati was disappointed it would also be used for meetings.

She left some children's toys in the room but they were removed, and she was told by a receptionist that the area was "not a kindergarten".

Hemmati received an email this week saying a first-aid room at Newmarket would double as a breastfeeding room.

Hemmati said she had concerns with this as "the room is shared with something really important and high priority [first aid] and is only open from 8am to 4pm".

In a statement, a University of Auckland spokesman said the university was "committed to being a fair and inclusive place to study and work".

"We have been very responsive in providing facilities, including making two rooms available at the faculty of engineering at Newmarket with locks on the doors and blinds.

"These can be booked for breastfeeding and expressing milk. We have also provided mini fridges for storing breast milk at the Newmarket campus, as we have at our other campuses."

A spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission directed the Herald to the commission website.

It says there is no specific law in New Zealand that deals with the right to breastfeed, "but legal protection for the right is available in some circumstances, such as proven disadvantageous treatment based on direct or indirect sex discrimination".

- NZ Herald

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