Why La Leche League?

I have some exciting news to share: I am officially an accredited La Leche League Leader! I thought I should explain what this means and why I have decided to put in the work to become involved in this very important organization. It has taken me almost two entire years to get here. The application process is quite involved, as the organization wants to make sure that all Leaders represent the group well. There was a vetting process, a lot of reading and writing, and two years of meetings, discussion, and role-playing. Even after all of that, I am passionate about helping in this way in which I think I can be very helpful. Jacob and I had almost every nursing setback (bad latch, jaundice, hospitalization, low supply, oversupply, pumping difficulties, clogged ducts, mastitis…) and we lived to tell the tale! I want to use my experience to help others. If I can do it…well you know.

Formed in 1955 by seven women who were upset at the startling low breastfeeding rate in the United States (around 20%), the group began to meet to discuss the art of breastfeeding and the issues that surround attentive, child-first parenting ideologies. The group is international today, providing in-person and phone support to mothers in South Africa, the Philippines, and across the globe. The organization’s accredited Leaders hold meetings in which mothers can come and discuss any topic related to childrearing, best practices for birth, and of course, breastfeeding.

The LLL Philosophy:

The basic philosophy of La Leche League is summarized in the following statements:

  • Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.
  • Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.
  • In the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food.
  • Breast milk is the superior infant food.
  • For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth.
  • Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.
  • Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy.
  • Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
  • From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.
  • In our society today, breastfeeding is picking up in popularity as people rediscover that the simplest and most natural things are often the healthiest choices for our families. After the propaganda supporting formula in the fifties and sixties, many mothers were led to believe that formula was a healthier choice because it was scientifically based. Now we have so much more information. Of course, many mothers still choose not to breastfeed for so many reasons. Perhaps she were never exposed to a relative nursing her child. Maybe she has heard that breastfeeding is harder, or that formula-fed babies sleep longer. The cost of formula isn’t always a deterrent, either. Many government-support organizations, like WIC (Women, Infants and Children) will give formula for free to qualifying families. Many mothers are told that feeding their infant is a family responsibility, to be shared with the baby’s father and relatives and not “hoarded” by the mother. La Leche League aims to normalize breastfeeding by supplying non-judgmental support. Women who formula-feed do attend meetings. They often want strategies to use less formula, or to discuss what went wrong. Mothers at meetings lend a kind ear and are full of the advice that comes only from hands-on experience. There are classes and books on breastfeeding available to all mothers, but what we do not have very much access to is actually watching mothers who breastfeed interact with their children, feeding them and otherwise. The breastfeeding mother needs so much support. It is truly an art that can only be taught by experienced mothers and a supportive community of knowledgable and kind women. Women actually not being able to breastfeed are quite rare; which makes sense if you consider that in the days before the invention of formula, these families would have no other option but finding a wet nurse. This should encourage mothers to try their hardest to make it through those initial tough days and persevere with nursing.

    After all, breastfeeding certainly has its benefits. Breastfed children have lower incidences of cavities, allergies, respiratory problems, and even SIDS. It is thought that perhaps the more frequent night-waking associated with the healthy digestion of breastmilk is better for a newborn’s health–not just digestion, but in avoiding the deep sleep state that may lead to SIDS. (This is simply a theory, and I am not referencing any source material other than my own brain.) Breastfeeding has been proven to lower the rate of breast cancer in nursing mothers. Each year of breastfeeding decreases the risk, in fact, so that a woman who nurses for two years in her lifetime doubles the prevention risk of one year of nursing. (Source) Breastfeeding mothers and babies are sick less often, resulting in fewer days missed for mothers employed outside of the home. This is just a start.

    To explain my involvement with the group, I wanted to mention the benefit of nursing that is closest to my heart, which is the bond between mother and child and the confidence children gain from this bond. Having an early and close, trusting relationship with one’s parents is so important to development later in life. Responding to your baby’s needs is the most effective way to teach him or her to trust you, and therefore, to trust the world. A child whose cries are ignored learns only that crying is ineffective, and that her cries will not result in her needs being met. She may cry less as a result, but this does not at all mean that she is a happier baby. She is a baby who is, at that tender age, already certain that the world is a place in which she will not get what she needs, and that her mother will not provide for her in the ways she desperately needs. The popular conception that letting a child “go without” a little bit leads to a stronger or more independent child are completely backward. Children should be responded to and dealt with respectfully. This doesn’t mean that, as your child ages, you will meet every want; it means that you will strive to meet the emotional need behind the request. Jacob certainly doesn’t receive a quarter of the things he asks for, but he is not ignored. He is very self-confident and outgoing, and I think those are positive signs that reflect the way he was treated as an infant. He believes the world to be a good place in which he will not receive everything he wants, but always what he needs.

    This is not a “new” idea. It’s actually Biblical.

    Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast.

    Psalms 22:9 NLT

    The mothers I encounter at meetings, sometimes on the verge of tears, overwhelmed and frustrated with a “natural” process that is not going so easily, or harsh words from a family member about whether or not breastmilk and breastfeeding are worth it NEED the support that they find at meetings. It is a place to get necessary information, or to vent, or just to sit back and watch wonderful mothers parenting their children. It is so important that our society has this safe haven for moms.

    La Leche League is a non-profit with very few operational costs. I think the chapter I belong to has had about $60 in the bank account since I joined. 🙂 The time and materials at meetings are donated by women who just want to see their fellow mothers succeed, and that is a beautiful thing. They never pressure mothers even to join the organization if they are attending meetings, even though the dues are only $40. One of the leaders’ husbands makes the copies of educational materials for new mothers, and we meet at a library or someone’s home.

    My plan is to start a group that can meet in the mid-county area to serve mothers who don’t want to drive as far as Huntington Beach or Ladera Ranch to attend a meeting. I am starting to reach out to possible locations now (made more difficult by recent legislation that prevents libraries from hosting community meetings).

    Wish me luck! Questions? I am happy to answer, and it will be good practice. 🙂

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