PATERSON, NJ - Whether it’s the forthcoming introduction of body cameras or following the NYPD’s lead in using a data driven method to analyze crime and direct resources, the Paterson Police Department is, at least from a technological perspective, moving forward.
“Our end goal is to have the police department become a 21st Century department,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said recently.
When it comes to accommodating working mothers on the force, or civilians that perform their job duties within the police department, the Paterson Police Department is going all the way to biblical times, which, according to Police Officer Sujeire Bilbao, is a huge step forward.
On Monday, Bilbao will lead the opening of a “mother’s room” inside Paterson Police Headquarters, something she believes is the first of its kind within any law enforcement agency in the United States.
A 15-year veteran of the Department, Bilbao is committed to breastfeeding her daughter as long as she, and her own body, will allow it. In order for her, and other new police mothers to continue what she called the “journey of providing life” to their children past three months, or when law enforcement agents typically go back to work after childbirth, having the opportunity to safely pump and store their breast milk on duty becomes necessary.
The Paterson Police Department has always complied with federal regulations when it comes to allowing for space to pump, Bilbao clarified before crediting Chief Troy Oswald, as well as the two police union presidents, Mason Maher and Alex Cruz, for taking a huge step forward by creating a private, comfortable, and permanent space for it.
“Without words you are letting us know you support us,” she said is the message they are sending to new mothers.
“This room symbolizes history, present, and future,” Bilbao, who reflected that she always saw the women in her family breastfeeding when she was growing up, said. Adding that it became a personal goal to establish the space not just for herself, but for other “mothers in blue,” both those on the job now and those that will come in the future, Bilbao became emotional about how important it was to her to have reached this point.
“I’ve always known that if God allowed it I wanted to breastfeed,” Bilbao said. “It wasn’t until I became a mother in 2017 that I understood the challenges,” she continued, volunteering that breastfeeding is “hard work” and an “around the clock cycle,” that takes organization and dedication.
What once served as an office in what many would consider an antiquated police headquarters is now not just a “mothering room” but also a beacon of support for all new mothers that may come through its doors.
The space allows for two mothers to pump at once, both privately, behind closed curtains and while sitting on comfortable leather chairs. Each space also contains a sturdy table, and everything in the room was chosen with ease of cleaning and sanitizing in mind. There is also storage space for the pumped milk to be safely kept throughout the day.
While the work that took place in the room, including installing the wall between the pumping spaces and rearranging the lights so the room would be well lit, was done by DPW workers, the costs, Bilbao said, is a donation that she attributed jointly to the Paterson PBA and her two-year-old daughter, Jayla.
Pointing out a copy of “The Womanly Act of Breastfeeding,” a space where the mothers using the room can leave notes for each other, and clips allowing for pumping mothers to hang pictures of their children, something she said helps while trying to express milk, Bilbao shared with TAPinto Paterson her hope that the mothering room will be seen as a “positive message for new mothers” filled with “supportive energy.”
“Breastfeeding is not a trend,” Bilbao said, pointing to the health benefits long associated with it.
By providing mothers with the permanent space any uncertainties regarding breastfeeding on the job are taken away, according to Bilbao, something that takes a way a “layer of stress.”
“This is a huge help for new moms that want to breastfeed.”
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