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Breastfeeding and Working--An International Perspective

Rebecca Magalhães
LLLI Director, Action and Development
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 2, April-May 2002, pp. 42-43.

A few years ago, I read the following quote “A good idea has no age: only a future.” It was said by Frederico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO and printed in 1995. That quote really struck a chord with me and I put it on the bulletin board in my office. One of the goals of the LLLI Action and Development Department is to be on the lookout for potential opportunities and new ideas.

In October of 1999, LLLI received an email from Jennifer Hicks, an expectant mother and graduate student in journalism with a focus in global health. Jennifer explained that she would be working on a master’s project—something she hoped would make a positive impact. Further, she said that she felt strongly about women’s health issues and breastfeeding and wanted this project to benefit LLLI. As Director of the Action and Development Department, her email ended up in my inbox.

Immediately, I thought of an idea that had surfaced years before and proposed it to Jennifer. The idea was to publish a book on the experiences of women from around the world who are breastfeeding or have breastfed—a kind of educational “coffee-table” book. Jennifer loved the idea and in consultation with others in La Leche League, decided that the focus of the book would be “breastfeeding and working around the world.”

After much hard work, Jennifer has graduated and successfully completed her master’s thesis on the development and publication of this book. In the meantime, she gave birth to her son and became a breastfeeding mother herself. Jennifer is continuing to volunteer her time working with LLLI staff to implement this project. If adequate funding is raised through grants and individual donors, LLLI will develop and publish this book, which will depict employed mothers from around the world who are committed to doing whatever is necessary to breastfeed and nurture their babies in the best way possible.

This project is in keeping with the tradition of learning through individual women’s experiences; a tradition that has been so important to LLL from its beginning. The seven Founders of LLL knew instinctively that people learn best by example. They shared their personal trials and triumphs to help each other with mothering and breastfeeding. They did what thousands of Leaders and members now do daily around the globe through meetings, phone calls, chat boards, articles, and books. In addition to information and support, LLLI offers a “place” where mothers can come together to celebrate the quirks and joys unique to the breastfeeding relationship.

Description of the Project

The book is intended to demonstrate that breastfeeding is possible for employed mothers, no matter their economic status, type of employment, or where they live. Through photographs and personal narratives, the book will feature mothers from six continents who are breastfeeding or have breastfed their children. The photographs will emphasize varied cultures and environments, and together with the narratives, will illustrate that employment and breastfeeding can be accomplished in a variety of real-life situations. A featured mother could be a nurse in India, a business tycoon in Brazil, a rural worker in Zimbabwe, or a jewelry maker in the USA. The common bond is that all of these women have been motivated to continue breastfeeding and to find innovative solutions to breastfeed their children when employed. Some are finding work they can do at home, while others may need to work in the physical place of their employment.

Why Now, Why LLLI?

Projections show that by the year 2010, 70 percent of all women will work outside of the home. Employed lactating mothers all over the world face challenges. In some countries women are given little or no time for maternity leave, making it difficult to establish a breastfeeding relationship. In the United States it is not uncommon for a mother not to receive a paid maternity leave and often she must struggle to maintain her milk supply once she has returned to work. It is urgent to change the negative environment surrounding breastfeeding for employed mothers. In spite of these obstacles, many women are still reaping the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, and LLLI would like to share their stories.

What does the book mean for Leaders and members?

The book will boost LLLI’s efforts in several ways. A percentage of the profits from the sales of the book will be returned to LLL entities in the countries directly involved in producing the book. Featured mothers will send an inspiring and empowering message: Employed women can breastfeed their babies. The book will serve as a bridge to introduce more women to the joys of breastfeeding and the beauty of an organization like LLLI. LLL has always learned from women who practice breastfeeding, as this book will demonstrate.

A Tool for Networking with Other Organizations

This book can help thousands while strengthening LLL’s network. The book can serve as a tool that will open ties with organizations that have the potential to promote breastfeeding on a broad scale. For instance, complimentary copies may be available so that any LLL Area can request a copy to be placed in the local obstetrician’s waiting room. It would be important to make the book available at national physicians’ conferences. It may also be offered to college and university department chairs in fields such as public health and anthropology. It may be sent to the ministries of health and labor in many countries. The book can also open dialogue between LLL Groups and local companies that are not currently breastfeeding-friendly.

What Can You Do To Help?

This project, a joint effort between the Action and Development Department, the Funding Development Department, and the Publications Department, will be counting on the assistance of LLL Leaders and Groups around the world. The goal is to secure enough outside funding to be able to distribute copies of the book to various individuals, organizations, and government and health entities. To this end, LLLI has sent out requests for funding to potential donors and foundations and is currently implementing a mailing to selected individuals and celebrities. LLLI has received donations from Lands’ End and Kodak for this project. You can help by donating to the project (more information is on the Advocacy Page of the LLLI Web site at www.lalecheleague.org/advocacy. html) or by sending in names of potential donors or funding sources to:

Sharon Bell-Wilson
Director, Funding Development Department
Email: SBell-Wilson at llli.org
Phone: 847-519-7730, ext. 240
OR
Rebecca Magalhães
Director, Action and Development Department
Email: RMagalhaes at llli.org
Phone: 847-519-7730, ext. 260
957 N. Plum Grove Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173-5194 USA

The lesson I learned from this project is that ideas really don’t have an age—only a future!

Rebecca Magalhães, a Leader since March, 1977, is the director of the LLLI Action and Development Department, as well as the grandmother of 10 breastfed and breastfeeding grandchildren. Her grandchildren (4 boys and 6 girls) range in age from 9 years of age to 1 year old. Jennifer Hicks lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA with her husband, Bill, and 18-month-old son, Elliot. She teaches a writing class at Davenport University and enjoys taking walks and picking blueberries with her family in their spare time.

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