Your Title IX Rights, Breastfeeding Resources, and More
More than five million undergraduate students are currently pregnant or parenting, which makes up more than one-quarter of the entire student population. It can be difficult to manage the symptoms of pregnancy or breastfeeding while juggling a demanding class schedule, but with the right planning, student parents can thrive. In addition to learning about rights secured under Title IX during pregnancy, this guide provides information about health insurance options, breastfeeding support, and a variety of campus and community-based resources.
Your Rights in College During Pregnancy
Title IX has existed as a federal law since 1972 and works to provide protections for all students of any institution that receives federal funding. Although the law includes many other provisions that all students should know about, pregnant or parenting students are specifically protected as well.
Here are the key takeaways that Title IX requirements include:
- Pregnant or parenting students are protected by Title IX.
Title IX states that no school that receives federal funding can discriminate against someone because of their sex, which includes discrimination due to pregnancy, giving birth, abortion, recovery from childbirth or any related conditions.
- Title IX protections exist both inside and outside classrooms
Pregnant or parenting students are protected from discrimination in every aspect of their educational career, including coursework, extracurriculars, housing, financial aid, administrative services (e.g. career counseling, professional mentorships, etc.) and athletic pursuits.
- Schools must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant students
If a medical professional states it is medically necessary, schools must make it possible for students to take time off due to pregnancy or other related conditions – even if they need more time than is stipulated in school policy. Furthermore, students can’t be penalized for taking time off. School staff must also provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant students, some of which may include assignments that can be done at home or extended deadlines.
- Every school must have a Title IX coordinator
Any school that receives federal funding must have at least one Title IX coordinator who oversees queries, complaints or reports of violations. Colleges and universities must also ensure that all students can easily find the coordinator by providing clear information about their name, location at school and the hours they are available.
What to do if your rights have been violated
According to college pregnancy expert Adriana Alejandre, students first need to ensure they are okay. “If students feel their rights have been violated, it’s important to make sure they take the right steps to give themselves some self-care, because the feelings arising after such discovery will not be pretty.” She continues, “As parents and students, our mental health is key to achieving success.”
In addition to Title IX protections, students should also be aware of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Alejandre notes. “The PDA amended the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964) to cover discrimination against those who are pregnant, going through childbirth or have other medical conditions related to pregnancy. It is illegal if there is discrimination among students who are parents, or parents to be,” she says.
When reaching out for help at college, it’s best to first contact your Title IX coordinator. These professionals are employed by colleges to ensure that all students are treated equally regardless of whether they are pregnant. The school must have a process for addressing grievances in place, so learners should contact the coordinator to find out how to file a complaint.
If they feel the school is not taking appropriate actions, students can also file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). A few things to keep in mind when filing a complaint with the OCR:
- Any complaint must be filed within 180 days of the occurrence, but preferably ASAP.
- You don’t need a lawyer, you only need to write a formal, detailed letter explaining your experience. These can be sent via online form, email or by bringing it to a local OCR office.
- If the OCR feels the school violated Title IX provisions, it works to enforce compliance. If that can’t be achieved, the organization may cut off federal funding at the school due to continual violations.
Where to learn more
Student Health Insurance & Pregnancy
Student Health Insurance Plans (SHIPS) exist to ensure students have health insurance while attending college. Although not every college or university provides SHIPs, those that do typically offer reasonably priced plans that can be rolled into student loan costs so learners don’t have to worry about monthly payments while in school.
Concerns People Have About SHIPs and Pregnancy
Do student health insurance plans (SHIPs) cover pregnancy?
Student Health Insurance Plans are administered individually by colleges and universities throughout America, meaning each will have its own types of coverage. Approximately 1,000 schools currently offer these plans, the majority of which are four-year institutions.
Although SHIPs aren’t connected to government health care plans, they must still abide by some regulations set forth by the Affordable Care Act. Among those is the mandate that all plans cover maternity care (including visits to obstetricians and gynecologists).
Where can I get prenatal care if I have a SHIP?
Colleges and universities that have on-site care for pregnant students sometimes require students to use school services, but others allow them to go off-campus for care. Schools that don’t have medical professionals at the school to give prenatal care usually provide a list of approved providers in the area from which students can select a caregiver.
Will my SHIP cover my baby after birth?
Since SHIPs are administered by individual schools, the answer to this question depends on the institution. While The University of California at Berkeley terminated coverage for dependents in 2015 after citing rising costs, other universities have robust plans for child dependents. Cornell University offers voluntary SHIP coverage for any unmarried biological, step or foster children of current students.
Other Insurance Options
If SHIP plans don’t meet a student’s individual needs, other options still exist. While most Affordable Care Act plans require students to sign up for insurance at specific times of the year, other plans like CHIP and Medicaid allow them to sign up at any time.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) exists to provide insurance coverage for children of families who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid. Individuals can apply for CHIP by calling 1-800-318-2596 or by visiting Healthcare.gov and filling out an application. Anyone applying who appears to qualify for the program will have their details sent to a state agency to verify qualifications before being enrolled.
Services routinely covered include check-ups, vaccinations, doctor visits, prescriptions, dental/eye care, inpatient and outpatient hospital services, labs and x-rays, and emergency services. Some states require parents to submit copayments or monthly premiums, but these will never equal more than five percent of the total family income per year.
Pregnant students who are considered low-income are eligible to receive a range of healthcare benefits via Medicaid, both during and after their pregnancy. Monthly income for individuals must not exceed $1,990/month to be eligible
Services provided include regular doctor visits, pharmacy drugs, labor and delivery services, lab tests, x-rays, care while in hospital and transportation to the doctor.
Adding your baby to your insurance
Regardless of whether a student plans to enroll in a standard Marketplace plan, CHIP or Medicaid, all currently provide coverage for pregnancy and childbirth. And while Marketplace plans typically have an enrollment period toward the end of every year, individuals who are either pregnant or planning to become pregnant qualify for what’s known as a Special Enrollment Period.
Under this provision, pregnant or parenting students can sign up for healthcare or amend their current coverage to fit their needs. Current rules stipulate that new parents are allowed to either keep their current plan and add a new child to the policy or enroll in a completely new plan.
LEARN MORE ABOUT STUDENT HEALTH INSURANCE
Pregnancy Resources on Campus
Campus Childcare Centers
The University of Utah’s Center for Child Care and Family Resources is an example of a great resource for pregnant and parenting students to utilize, as it provides child care, childcare subsidy grants, parent nights out, finals week care and even drop-in babysitting at night.
Many colleges and universities offer robust health services centers. For example, The University of California at Berkeley provides a range of resources, including pregnancy testing, abortion/adoption information, counseling, new parent groups, info about insurance and a student-parent resource guide.
The University of California at San Diego, in addition to providing two childcare centers, has four different types of housing for pregnant and parenting students who want to live on campus.
Student and Family Groups
Harvard Law School offers the Couples and Families Association for students looking to meet other pregnant or parenting students during their time in school. The group regularly hosts events, including those designed specifically for both students and their children.
Los Angeles Valley College, via its Family Resource Center, offers a number of scholarships specifically aimed at pregnant and parenting students who can demonstrate financial need or hardship.
Student-Parent Support Centers
Winona State University in Minnesota provides the Student Parent Support Center for pregnant and parenting learners looking for additional resources and community. Some of the programs currently on offer include workshops, student-parent social events, resting rooms, storage lockers for supplies or toys, lactation rooms, parenting classes and even childcare. A range of scholarships are also available to help single parent-students make ends meet.
Women’s Health Clinics
The University of Florida’s Women’s Health Clinic provides counseling on contraceptives, STI screening and treatment, routine gynecological exams, pregnancy testing and access to countless resource referrals depending on individual needs.
Breastfeeding & Pumping in College
If you choose to breastfeed your baby while in college, you may have questions and concerns about your rights and how to easily feed your baby while juggling your class schedule.
Your rights on campus
In addition to protecting the rights of pregnant students, Title IX also covers those who are breastfeeding. Because schools receiving federal funds can’t discriminate on the basis of sex – and because pregnancy and breastfeeding are specific to a woman’s experience – colleges and universities must preserve the rights of students who choose to breastfeed and/or pump milk on campus.
Specific provisions covered by Title IX include:
- Colleges and universities must provide a space that is not a bathroom for women to breastfeed and/or pump milk. Federal policy says that because breast milk is food, there must be a sanitary place for it to be extracted.
- If a student is working on campus while also studying, they may be entitled to additional breaks to breastfeed/pump until the child turns one.
- Students need to step away from class in order to breastfeed/pump from time to time, and those moments must be considered excused absences.
- Professors must also allow students time away from a long exam to breastfeed/pump with no repercussions.
- Grades cannot be lowered simply due to a student taking time away from class or a test to pump or breastfeed. If students do miss class, they must be given opportunities to catch up on missed work.
- All breastfeeding/pumping students must be protected from harassment or other discriminatory behaviors related to feeding their children.
Where can you breastfeed on campus?
While different schools are likely to have varied rules about specific locations, federal law clearly states that any workplace with more than 50 employees must provide a safe, separate space (that is not a bathroom) designed specifically for breastfeeding students. Often called lactation rooms, these spaces should include a chair, sink, electrical outlets, lockable door, storage, refrigerator and a breast pump.
Check in with your Title IX coordinator about accessing the employee breastfeeding space or other spaces accessible to students. Many campuses feature parent or other student centers that will have a lactation room or other private space you can utilize.
Can you breastfeed your baby in class?
Breastfeeding in class depends on both the rule of your state and the rule of your college. While 49 states (excluding Idaho) now have laws stating that parents can breastfeed in public places, rules for breastfeeding and/or pumping in classrooms may be different. Students who are breastfeeding/pumping – or plan to do so upon the arrival of their baby – should check with the school to find out if policies are in place and what those policies say on the matter.
Montana State University is a great example of a school that provides clear, equitable information on the subject. The institution’s breastfeeding policy states that the school “recognizes the importance and benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their infants, and seeks to promote a family-friendly environment in which to work and study.”
Can you miss class because of breastfeeding?
Yes. In the same way that time accommodations are made for other student needs (e.g. family obligations, doctor’s appointments, specific learning needs), professors cannot penalize any breastfeeding or pumping parent who is absent from class for this reason. They also can’t lower your grade, and they must provide opportunities for students to either make-up the work in class or be sent home with appropriate materials to catch up at home.
Any absence must be considered officially excused and cannot count against the student – regardless of any campus-wide or class-specific attendance policies.
Tips for breastfeeding on campus
Balancing school and pregnancy alone can often be tough for students, especially if it’s their first time being a parent. Once your baby arrives and you’re learning the ropes and figuring out a schedule, it’s important to have a few tricks up your sleeves for breastfeeding on campus.
Student-parent expert Adriana Alejandro shared some top tips from her time on campus as a breastfeeding/pumping mother.
- Get to know your campus.
“Many public colleges and universities have parent centers,” says Alejandro. “Lots of them include lounges where parents can breastfeed, so it’s worth finding these resources.”
- Bring resources everywhere.
“If you are a mother that is breastfeeding, don’t forget to bring breastfeeding pads, in case you begin to leak,” suggests Alejandro. “Carry your pump and bottles with you everywhere, because you never know when you might need to pump.”
- Remember your rights.
“You can pump in public and your school needs to protect you from harassment,” she says. “Any negative comments may constitute sexual harassment or discrimination.
- Know that campus rules don’t apply everywhere.
“If you are breastfeeding outside of school property, know that the laws vary from state to state, so it’s important to check.”
- Talk to your professors.
“If you miss class due to breastfeeding, your absence should be excused; still, some professors may not understand,” cautions Alejandro. “Having a note from your doctor that states you are indeed breastfeeding and that it is important for you to do so on a specific schedule may be a requirement at some universities.”
- Schedule in breaks.
“You may have scheduled your classes back-to-back before college, but trust me, you will need that extra time between courses,” says Alejandro. “Try to keep at least one learning period between each class and, if possible, schedule classes so you have at least one free day per week for doctor’s appointments, rest, etc.”
Can Pregnancy Affect Your Financial Aid?
Pregnancy and having a baby can have an impact on your financial aid and student loans, depending on your situation. Here are few things to keep in mind about student aid during this time of transition.
Your unborn child counts as a dependent
When filling out a FAFSA form even while still pregnant, don’t forget to list your child (or children, if you’re having multiples) as a dependent, as this might help you qualify for more financial aid. To qualify, student-parents must be supporting the child (even if they don’t live with them).
However, there are exceptions to this rule. If a student decides to terminate a pregnancy, or the fetus is unviable, it must be removed from the list of dependents on the FAFSA form.
You may qualify as a dependent yourself
Individuals who are under the age of 24, unmarried, and still receiving support from their parents must report their parents’ income on the FAFSA – provided their child has not been born yet. This rules changes if the student is married, regardless of age or where they are living.
No university can terminate a scholarship or fellowship due to pregnancy
This act would constitute discrimination on the basis of sex and is deemed unlawful.
Taking time off can affect your student loans
Any student, regardless of pregnancy, who drops below part-time status may be required to start paying back their federal loans after the six-month grace period ends. Similarly, if a student takes off a semester, they may also need to start repaying them.
Tips for Managing Pregnancy While in School
Managing assignment deadlines, projects and a social life may feel difficult to balance on its own, but throw in pregnancy and students can often feel completely overwhelmed. With a little planning and determination, however, it doesn’t need to be that way. Student-parent expert Adriana Alejandre shares some of her top tips below.
- Find a village.
“Talking to your baby is beautiful and wonderful, but you will feel like you are going crazy and will need some adult conversations from time to time,” cautions Alejandre. “Social interactions with other students, and student-parents, will feel comforting and not so isolating.”
- Pick a study time.
“It is important yet often so difficult to find time to study,” she remembers from her own experience. “The best times I was able to study was mostly at night when my child slept. Creating a bedtime routine is crucial for your sanity and grades.”
- Be prepared.
Because of changes in hormones, pregnant students often find that they need to eat every two to three hours. It’s important to keep ample snacks and beverages in your bag at all times for when hunger or thirst strikes.
- Break up your day.
Even before the baby comes, pregnant students still may not want to schedule back-to-back classes as they’ll be extra tired from creating another human. If possible, try to schedule breaks throughout the day so you can relax for a bit.
- Keep an eye out for bathrooms.
It’s no secret that individuals who are pregnant have to visit the bathroom more often than those who aren’t. And some pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness, will make finding a restroom in a hurry a necessity. In addition to seeing if your school offers any sort of bathroom-finder app, keep an eye out for where they are so you’ll know where to run when necessary.
How Schools Can Support Pregnant Students
Create inclusive classrooms
Although rules may be in place that give pregnant and breastfeeding students certain rights, that doesn’t mean all professors or students are necessarily accepting of them. Creating welcoming, inclusive classrooms (complete with details about anti-discrimination policies and accommodations in the syllabus) goes a long way.
Focus on the student
Regardless of a student’s pregnancy, marital or parental status, help each student remember that decisions about education are completely his/hers to make.
Work around absences
Faculty and administrators looking to engage in best practice recognize that pregnant or parenting students have absences pop up last-minute all the time. Whether morning sickness strikes or a babysitter falls through, work with students to ensure they’re taking care of themselves and have easy access to any materials they missed in class.
Offer flexible options
Even if a student can’t attend class regularly or take advantage of office hours, other options exist. Consider allowing them to meet with you via phone or video chat, or allow the student to plan far enough in advance that they can make appropriate arrangements.
Provide appropriate accommodations
When in doubt, The Pregnant Scholar recommends that faculty and administrators treat pregnant students like any other learner covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. School employees should not ask for medical information, should refer them to additional resources, and should include an accommodation statement in the syllabus.
Adopt a zero tolerance policy
Discrimination against any student is against the law, and that includes pregnant students. If you witness discrimination against this population, immediately report it to either the Title IX coordinator or the Office of Civil Rights.
Source: The Pregnant Scholar
This website and blog provides parenting tips, reviews of products, parenting news, and ideas for keeping kids active.
- Lamaze International
This organization promotes natural approaches to pregnancy, birthing and parenting for pregnant students seeking holistic practices.
- Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
Operating under the Health Resources & Services Administration, MIECHVP helps new parents learn how to care for their children and provide positive parenting.
- National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
This group of more than 100 community, state, and national organizations works to help pregnant individuals receive prenatal care and their newborns receive infant care.
This nonprofit works to educate parents about potential diseases they can pass on to their unborn children (or breastfeeding newborns) and how to avoid them.
- The Pregnant Scholar
This one-stop website provides a range of information for pregnant students, with special emphasis on Title IX provisions and protections.
Available via both Google and Apple, this innovative app sends expectant parents information about their growing babies, including how it is developing and changing in utero each week. Once the baby is born, parents can keep track of appointments and medical info.
- Planned Parenthood
This national nonprofit with hundreds of local clinics throughout the country is a one-stop-shop for pregnant and parenting students seeking medical services, support and guidance. Some of the assistance provided include birth control, emergency contraceptives, STD testing and abortion services.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
A department housed within the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, WIC ensures women and their children have access to food, healthcare services and education about nutrition via federal grants.