“The best way to learn to do something is to hang around people who are already successful at what you want to do. Ergo, if you want to breastfeed, La Leche League (LLL) meetings are a great place to be!” says Dawn Burke, a La Leche League leader in Georgia, who I spoke with about her experiences at LLL meetings. “Pregnant moms benefit by learning ahead of time how to avoid or overcome things that can derail breastfeeding. Everyone spends so much time focusing on the birth. That is just a day or two out of your life. Breastfeeding goes on much longer. It’s important to spend some significant time before the birth focusing on breastfeeding, too. “
La Leche League was founded in the 1950s, a time when very few American women breastfed. Hungry for support, seven young mothers in Illinois began meeting regularly to provide each other with breastfeeding support, and to share information and tips. They called their group La Leche League because at the time saying breastfeeding was considered indiscreet. Today LLL is an international organization with meetings in sixty-eight countries.
La Leche League is a single mission organization, whose goal is to provide mother to mother support for nursing women and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding. Leaders are all mothers with personal breastfeeding experience, who have also gone through additional training on providing breastfeeding support. They volunteer to provide support over the phone and through monthly meetings. Support is always free.
La Leche League also provides a wealth of breastfeeding information on their website, and through their publications including The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Sweet Sleep. Meetings are held in a variety of locations including libraries, churches, hospitals, and private homes. A meeting usually has a specific topic, but all breastfeeding questions are welcome and there is always the opportunity for mother to mother support.
There is something almost magical about the support that comes from sitting in a group of other nursing moms, who don’t mind if your baby is crying, or you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. At meetings a lot gets said, but often a mom goes home with one tip that makes life a bit easier. Maybe it’s something about how to get more rest at night, become comfortable nursing in public, or prepare for going back to her job. Maybe she gets a view of an older baby, and what’s going to be coming along for her in a month or two. Maybe she passes along a suggestion to a new mom, who wonders how she’ll make it if mothering means permanently being this tired, this overwhelmed.
Shannon Vyff, a leader in Massachusetts I spoke with, remembers attending her first meeting with her jaundiced, colicky two week old. “It was my first time seeing other babies latch and I learned easier ways to do it, and how to feed ‘on-demand.’ I realized I didn’t really need to keep notes and time how often my baby nursed. I relaxed a bit. I loved being able to talk to other breastfeeding mothers since no one in my family breastfed, including my mother. So I kept attending and eventually became a leader. At meetings there is support for the duration of breastfeeding, and even natural weaning if one wants it.”
“Meetings put tools in your mothering toolbox.” Burke, the leader from Georgia, says. A mom can come to a meeting and say, ‘My baby is doing such-and-such, and I don’t know how to handle it.’ She’ll get five or six other moms who will say, ‘Oh, I went through that. Here are some things that helped me.’ Then she can choose the suggestions she thinks will be a good fit for her family. It’s OK to show up even if you didn’t manage a shower that day or your socks don’t match– we’ve all been there and understand that the early weeks with a new baby are intense. It’s a way to get out of the house with your baby for a bit and talk to actual adults.”
Meetings are not just for first time moms. “Although I’d successfully nursed two children, my third was a challenge from the start.” remembers Brandy Late, a leader from Kentucky who spoke with me about her breastfeeding experiences.” I had trouble getting him to latch. Once we were well established in nursing, I developed a very painful infection. My husband is in the military, and we had no family nearby for help or support. I’d never been to a La Leche League meeting before, but I knew I needed to be around people who understood how important breastfeeding was to me. Without La Leche League, I’m not sure that I would’ve been able to persevere through the difficulties we encountered. Now I love sharing information with moms and being part of their breastfeeding support system.”
You can attend a LLL meeting if you’re pregnant and thinking about breastfeeding, if you’re breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, if you pump but only give your baby your milk in bottles, if you weaned your baby but want to relactate, or if you want to learn about breastfeeding or get mother to mother support for any reason. You’re always welcome to bring your baby and there’s never a cost. Visit the La Leche League International website to find your local group.
Julie Brill, CCCE, CLD, CAPPA Faculty teaches independent childbirth classes in the Boston area and trains doulas and childbirth educators in New England for CAPPA. Her doula anthology, Round the Circle: Doulas Share Their Experiences, is available at Round the Circle and at Amazon. Julie is a La Leche League Leader and the mother of two teenage girls who were breastfed into toddlerhood.