New mothers will now have a safe place to breastfeed at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with the opening of their first breastfeeding room. On Thursday, university officials unveiled ‘The Nook’ to faculty, students, staff and guests at the Human Sciences Building.

“I think this is another great way to support our faculty and the students who are moms as well and help the health of infants in Arkansas,” said Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Ark.). “As a nurse at Children’s, it’s real important to me and continues to be as a legislator.”

The space is the first of its kind in the state on any university campus, officials say. When mothers walk inside, they’ll find a chair to rest while they feed their baby or pump their milk, a refrigerator to store it when they’re done and even some reading material to keep them company while they wait.

“I learned today this is the only university that our WIC director from the United States government says out of seven states that has such a room for their students and employees to be able to take care of their babies while they’re pursuing their career or their studies,” said First Lady Susan Hutchinson. “…Once again UAPB is historical and is ahead of her time in establishing this… .”

Research shows that breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits to not only babies, but also mothers. According to the American Pregnancy Association, babies who are breastfed have fewer illnesses. For example, the rate of ear infections, respiratory problems, asthma and allergies are lower in babies whose mothers provide them with breast milk. Additionally, the APA says mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight quicker and have lower rates of uterine and breast cancer.

“It’s so important to have a place that’s clean, that’s sanitary and that’s quiet that you can go and breastfeed your child,” said Bentley. “I think it’s going to help the success of students that are here that are moms who are breastfeeding or faculty that’s here.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests women breastfeed for about the first six months of their child’s life through at least the first year. However, statistics reveal the racial disparities in making that happen. A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of Black mothers starting and continuing breast-feeding was less than their white counterparts. The survey based on data from 2011-2015 showed that white mothers initiated breast-feeding 79.2 percent of the time and black mothers 64.3 percent. Also, white mothers continued breast-feeding at 12 months 30.8 percent compared to black mothers at 17.1 percent.

“What we know is that minority mothers are less likely to breastfeed whether it’s because they lack support at the healthcare provider level, family level or employer level,” said Sharhonda Love, Arkansas Minority Health Commission director. “So, the fact that UAPB not only as an employer, but as a school for students who are mothers can still get their education and still be able to breastfeed their babies is extremely important.”

The CDC sites several reasons why women chose to start and continue breastfeeding including unsupportive work environments. But, with the opening of ‘The Nook’ at UAPB, officials are hoping to have a hand in changing that culture.

“The university in of itself carries so much prestige and we look to our institutions to run the gambit, be on the forefront and some people might think this is backwards because we have formulas,” said Hutchinson. “But, it’s actually a good science for our mom’s to be taking care of their babies this way and supplying them with the special formula that only their mom can make for them. It’s exciting that UAPB is shining a light on this for us to follow suit.”