Twenty-six percent of all undergraduate students are raising dependent children while in college, totaling at 4.8 million students, according to a 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Of that number, 71 percent of student parents are women.
BYU student and athletic training major Casey Brown is one of those students. Brown gave birth to her daughter, Cindy, in May 2017 and continued school the following semester. Brown said she was nervous to go back to school after having her daughter, but she felt earning a degree was important.
“I had worked so hard and put in so much time already and was so close to getting my degree,” Brown said. “I just wanted to finish and have all that hard work pay off.”
Dixie Sevison, director of Women’s Services and Resources, has worked in education for over 21 years and said she has interacted with many student parents during this time. When asked what advice she would give to student moms, she said she would tell them to continue their education.
“Stay in school. You can do this,” Sevison said. “It may seem hard at the time and you may feel you are giving up precious time with your baby; however, looking back you will be glad you completed your education. It is much harder to return to school later in life.”
BYU student Alison Lefler also decided to stay in school after having her daughter Rosanna in November 2016. Lefler continued to work on her double major in Spanish and exercise and wellness after her daughter’s birth.
Both Brown and Lefler graduated in December 2017, and they offered the following advice to women who currently are or are planning to become student moms while attending BYU.
Lefler and Brown both said they take advantage of those who offer to watch their babies. Brown said while it can be uncomfortable, letting family members or those in her ward take care of Cindy has allowed her to continue school and even complete an internship.
Lefler also has family who help with Rosanna but for those without relatives nearby, she said they should find other “mom friends” with children around the same age. Lefler has found friends through her ward, talking to other women at the park, and attending ‘Book Babies’ at the Provo City Library.
“(Finding friends) has really helped because we’re going through the same thing,” Lefler said. “We both need the help and the kids really enjoy being with the other kids.”
Many childcare providers are also located close to BYU campus and can be found through the Care About Childcare website.
Lefler said she also accepts help when it comes to the financial strains of being in school and raising a child. She and her husband receive financial aid, scholarships and help through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — a program that helps low-income postpartum women and their children obtain supplemental foods and other nutritional resources.
Single parents can also apply for scholarships through Women’s Services and Resources.
Brown said when it came to scheduling her semester, she wished she had signed up for classes occurring around the same time every day in order to give Cindy a more consistent nap schedule. She also advised student moms to talk to their professors before the semester begins to see which ones are willing to let students bring their babies to class.
Nursing lounges and changing stations can be found around BYU campus. For women who are breastfeeding, pumping breast milk can provide a way for the mother to have more flexibility with the length of her classes. Most insurance providers cover the cost of a breast pump for women and it can be shipped to her for free.
According to a Babycenter article by medical advisor Diane Sanford, taking a few minutes each day for self-care can help women decrease frustration, irritability, self-criticism and even the chances of postpartum depression. She suggested mothers continue to eat right and exercise, take breaks with other adults, keep expectations realistic, develop and use a support system, focus on the positive, and try to laugh about something daily.
Although many women have a hard time prioritizing their emotional health, Sanford said in her article that mothers who take care of themselves are not being selfish. By practicing self-care, women can recharge and benefit their families even more.
Lefler said for those who feel scared or guilty, they should remember they matter just as much as anyone else does.
“You can do it. Form a support system and get the help you need to finish because you have important goals too and things you want to accomplish in your life,” Lefler said. “A baby can only add to and help you be even better at what you do.”