Jun 5, 2017

This week’s CHAMPion of the Week is Browning Public Schools (BPS) in Browning, Montana, for adopting the “Breastfeeding in the Workplace” policy! The policy, adopted on May 25, 2016, is part of the larger “Poka-Friendly Community” project taking place within Blackfeet Nation. (Poka means “child” in the Blackfeet language.) The policy incorporates Montana and federal workplace breastfeeding laws and makes it into a policy that protects lactating employees of BPS with accommodations such as breaks and a private space to pump or breastfeed their child.

Nikki Hannon, M.Ed., is the Student Support Coordinator for BPS’ Alternative Education Department and a descendent of Blackfeet and Little Shell tribes. It has been almost a year since she was our CHAMPion of the Week for the work she was doing to advocate for this policy and support lactating students.

For BPS to pass the policy “felt like a huge step forward,” shares Nikki. She adds that this policy technically covers lactating students as well, but she thinks it could go further. She plans to continue to advocate for a student policy that will guarantee more explicit and greater protection. For example, she would like to specifically protect the opportunity to make up class work due to the need to breastfeed or pump.

Nikki explains, “If it’s a policy, [the students] don’t have to fight for it. We need to support these young moms who are trying to be good parents.”

Nikki has also made part of her office into a lactation room. It has a privacy screen, a comfortable chair, soft lighting, and even a water feature and lavender diffuser. She invites pregnant students to come and relax in the chair, and tells them this space will be there for them after they have their babies.

“I keep the conversation alive with them,” says Nikki. “I’m planting the seed with them. What inspires me is how many of them want to breastfeed. They have that desire. They say, ‘I want to try it.’ And I tell them, ‘Just do it. Don’t try it, just do it.’”

Nikki’s dream would be to have a lactation room established in each building across BPS, for a total of 14 rooms. This goal, says Nikki, requires momentum and a community behind it. Her efforts have not been met with resistance, but it’s the kind of work that is often “out of sight out of mind” if there is not a present need or someone talking about it.

“It’s about creating a space initially, and then keeping that space sacred,” says Nikki.

Congratulations, Browning Public Schools, and thank you for valuing breastfeeding and your breastfeeding employees!