Babies, Breastfeeding, Exams, how do we work out a solution

Babies, Breastfeeding, Exams, how do we work out a solution?

A mom of a 10-month-old baby girl is upset because she was not permitted to breastfeed during a college exam at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Rebecca Mabrey is an online student, but she still had to go to the campus to take an exam — and she was turned away at the door because she had her baby and a stroller in tow. The proctor of the test told her she could not have an infant in the classroom during the exam, because she might serve as a disruption to the other students.

via College Student Complains She’s Not Allowed to Breastfeed During Exams — Well, Duh! (VIDEO) | The Stir.

This is a bit tricky.  You know me, women should be able to breastfeed their babies anytime, anywhere.  Denying a woman the right to breastfeed her child in a public place is an act of discrimination.  People providing goods and services, including educational institutions have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

It would be unfair to exclude someone from the exam because their needs are different from the majority.  Accommodation is a fundamental and integral part of the right to equal treatment. The principle of accommodation involves three factors: dignity, individualization and inclusion.

  • Dignity: Persons must be accommodated in a way that most respects their dignity, including their privacy, confidentiality, comfort and autonomy.
  • Individualization:There is no set formula for accommodation. Each person’s needs are unique and must be considered afresh when an accommodation request is made. A solution may meet one person’s requirements but not another’s, although many accommodations will benefit many other people with similar needs.
  • Inclusion:Achieving integration and full participation requires barrier-free and inclusive design and removing existing barriers. Preventing and removing barriers means all persons should have access to their environment and face the same duties and requirements with dignity and without impediment. See also Section IV-1a(i) – “Preventing, reviewing and removing barriers.”

See more at: OHRC

Here’s the tricky part, having a baby present in an exam room, with other students taking an exam is undue hardship.  Babies are very distracting, and I know I don’t have to explain why.  I believe adults need to accommodate babies and children in most public places, as babies and children are people too!  But, in an exam, where extraordinarily amounts of concentration and deliberation are needed, and quiet is expected–a baby is a reasonably unwelcome addition.  The college exam room is truly not a place for children, it puts undue hardship on the other students and can adversely affect their futures to an unreasonable degree.


There is another component to the need for accommodation in equal right treatment, and that is the responsibilities of the person seeking accommodation.  The responsibilities of the breastfeeding mother in seeking accommodation are:

  • request accommodation
  • explain why accommodation is required, so that needs are known
  • make needs known to the best of his or her ability, preferably in writing
  • answer questions or provide information about relevant restrictions or limitations, including information from health care professionals, where appropriate and as needed
  • take part in discussions on possible accommodation solutions
  • co-operate with any experts whose assistance is required
  • meet  standards once accommodation is provided
  • work with the school on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process
  • discuss her accommodation needs only with persons who need to know.

Adapted from OHRC

It was the responsibility of the student to seek accommodation with the school prior to the exam date, and the school’s responsibility to provide her with accommodation.  I could think of many ways this situation could have been resolved in advance.  The school may have even had an existing policy into which this notification for accommodation could have been worked into, but it was never given a chance to exercise that flexibility.

I do hope that this situation has brought attention to the extra challenges breastfeeding mothers face in trying to continue their educations while their children are young.  I hope they use this as an opportunity to install inclusive policies that provide extra accommodation to nursing mothers, including a pathway to access that accommodation.

I also hope they have given Rebecca Mabrey an opportunity to make up this exam, as I’m sure this was an honest mistake.