Most Merced County high schools have added specialized rooms on campus where staff members and students can breastfeed their infants in comfortable privacy.
The rooms are equipped with refrigerators, heaters, fans and reclining chairs to help make feeding babies as comfortable as possible, said Angela Waskiewicz, a Golden Valley High child development teacher and certified lactation specialist.
A breastfeeding mother can fill up bottles in private, preserve the bottles in the fridge and take them home at the end of the day to use or freeze for the child the next day.
“The more a mother breastfeeds and pumps, the more she is going to make,” Waskiewicz said. “So the idea is she should pump as many times as her child would eat if they were together.”
Breastfeeding, Waskiewicz said, is superior to formula-driven diets.
A 2016 study by the Merced County Health Department revealed local mother breastfeed infants at a rate lower than the state average, especially for minority communities.
Fresno County has the highest exclusive breastfeeding rate in the central San Joaquin Valley in 2016. Kings County had 64.8 percent of its mothers exclusively breastfeeding, Madera County had 65.4 percent, Merced 61.3 percent and Tulare 53.8 percent, the Fresno Bee reported in July.
Last year, Waskiewicz equipped the first lactation room in the school district at Golden Valley through a grant from First 5 Merced County.
She received positive feedback and started coordinating with administrators the opening of lactation rooms at several MUHSD campuses.
Nine of the district’s 10 designated schools now have lactation rooms.
Golden Valley High is keeping its one lactation room on campus, Waskievicz said. Atwater High now has one room with two stations.
The Yosemite High and Independence High campus have one room serving the child development center with two stations. There is another room on campus that serves mothers of Sequoia High and Merced Adult School.
Livingston High and Buhach Colony High each have one room with one station.
El Capitan High has not designated a lactation room, Waskiewicz said. But accommodates mothers with a space in the nurse’s office as required by law, she said. El Capitan High School administration did not respond to requests for comment.
The new rooms at the five campuses in total cost $6,460, Waskiewicz said, which was paid for by a First 5 Merced County grant with matching funds from the school district.
The practice has been spreading throughout the Valley.
Each high school and middle school, if needed, has a designated area (room) set aside that has a lock on the door, where a student can breastfeed uninterrupted, according to Tanya Desmond, the interim manager of Health Services at Fresno Unified.
Waskiewicz said she is well aware of the criticism that comes with making accommodations for teenage mothers, including those who claim money is being spent on rooms that encourage teen pregnancy.
“By no way, shape or form are we promoting teen pregnancy,” Waskiewicz said. “But it is a reality. And we should support a teen mother and their infants the same way we support our adult mothers.”
The Fresno Bee’s Barbara Anderson contributed to this report.