“It’s the right thing to do”: Comfort station for nursing parents at Michigan fair

MSU Extension community nutrition instructor Carol Bublitz collaborates with community partners to create a designated private and clean space for nursing parents at St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair.

The signage advertising the breastfeeding station at the St. Clair County Fair.
Photo: MSU Extension.
The breastfeeding station at the St. Clair County Fair. Photo: MSU Extension.

During the 2022 St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair, members of the St. Clair County Agricultural Society, known as the fair board, became aware that some infant feeding needs were not being safely met, in part because some parents are uncomfortable breastfeeding in public.

Community support for breast/chestfeeding, or nursing, parents is essential in maintaining human milk as the main source of nourishment for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends to exclusively feed breast milk to babies for the first six months after birth. With limited public designated spaces available, the simple act of nursing a baby can become a challenge for new parents.

Understanding these challenges, MSU Extension community nutrition instructor Carol Bublitz and fair board member and MSU Extension educator Jacqueline Rabine collaborated to ensure nursing parents attending the St. Clair fair now have a comfortable, private and safe space to feed their babies.

Promoted as "The Best Family Fair in Michigan," the St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair, which is held at Goodells County Park, is about inclusivity and support for families. This effort recognizes the health benefits associated with feeding breastmilk to babies, including positive impacts for both the baby and parent. The comfort station for nursing parents was first implemented at the July 2023 fair and will continue for a second year at the upcoming July 2024 fair.

“It takes a village”

Bublitz points to the value of community collaboration in creating the nursing station.

"You've heard that it takes a village to raise a child," she said. "The county park, fair board and MSU Extension are only a few members of that village."

To help make the comfort station a reality at the fair, Bublitz invited the local Women, Infants and Children (WIC) agency to be another member of that village. WIC staff hosted an informational table outside of the comfort station, providing breast/chestfeeding resources and support for nursing parents.

MSU Extension's SNAP-Ed staff also provides coaching to that “village.” To determine the needs and readiness of all organizations involved in the intervention, staff conducted a qualitative interview and readiness assessment. Based on the information gathered, MSU Extension SNAP-Ed staff coached the partners to create a dedicated lactation space with over 25,000 people seeing or using the space.

Overcoming challenges, increasing visibility

One challenge faced at the 2023 comfort station for nursing parents was a lack of awareness among parents attending the fair. There was one yard sign placed at the fair promoting the comfort space in 2023. Feedback received from parents included to promote the comfort station more in the future.

With that in mind, plans for the 2024 St. Clair County 4-H and Youth Fair include advertising the comfort station on the fair map and adding signage to ensure more nursing parents are aware of its availability.

The comfort station, located in the Visitor Center, is air-conditioned, offers comfortable seating provided by a local church, a table for breast pumps and privacy screens. Other supports also include running, potable water for rinsing pumps, a refrigerator, free bottled water and a table with books and activities to occupy and educate school-aged children who accompanied the nursing parent.

Parents who used the space in 2023 shared their experiences and thoughts through a survey. Responses were overwhelmingly positive, with many parents who used the comfort station expressing gratitude:

“This was a great space as I’m here alone and it helped a ton!”
“This was an unexpected surprise!”
“Do it again next year! This was perfect and such a great idea!”

The president of the St. Clair County Agricultural Society, Rob Usakowski, agreed.

“I had a couple of people compliment us on the mom's comfort station," he said.

For other communities interested in creating their own nursing spaces for parents, Bublitz hhas advice to offer based on lessons learned.

"Make it as easy as possible," she said. "Do not overcomplicate it. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be clean, safe and private, and an outlet would be nice for those who need to pump. Breastfeeding is the healthy choice, make it also the easy choice."

For more information and resources on infant feeding, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food = Healthy Babies webpage.

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