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LLL New Zealand Turns 40

Rosemary Gordon
Taupo New Zealand
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 2, April-May 2004, p. 34.

The year 2004 marks the 40th anniversary of La Leche League in New Zealand (LLLNZ). Just as it is quite an achievement these days for a marriage or other relationship to last for 40 years, it is also an achievement for an organization to still be making a difference 40 years later, and in a radically different society from that in which it began in 1964.

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the story of the founding of La Leche League at a church picnic in 1956 in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, USA, but are you equally aware of the tenuous beginnings of LLL in New Zealand? After reading an article about LLL in Reader’s Digest in 1963, Auckland mother Kathleen Peace corresponded with one of LLL’s Founders, Marian Tompson. On April 25, 1964, Kathleen organized the first meeting of a support group for breastfeeding mothers in Mt. Albert, Auckland. Kathleen kept a diary of those early meetings and this is what she wrote about that first meeting:

Attended by five mothers with eight babies and youngsters, all soon found mutual interest and became good friends. The agreement which underlies this group is that as primary members of this woman’s organization, each is willing to help each other, and each will look to help and encourage other mothers in this maternal care of their babies.

This was not an “official” LLL Group as such—indeed, in the early years as La Leche League expanded throughout the USA and overseas, much was done “unofficially” and “informally.” In Australia, an Australian mother, Mary Paton, also had some contact with the Founders, but she ultimately decided that Australia needed its own organization rather than one imported from America, and she founded the Nursing Mothers’ Association of Australia (NMAA), now known as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). However, fortune took another turn when a New Zealander, Yvonne Procuta, who had become an accredited LLL Leader in the USA, returned home in 1965. By 1967, she had begun the first “official” Group in Cambridge, rapidly followed by other Groups throughout the Waikato region and the cities of Christchurch, Auckland, and Dunedin.

By 1973, the 100th Leader had been accredited and in 1975, Yvonne became the first National Coordinator of LLLNZ. In 1981, LLLNZ became an Incorporated Society and in 1988 it became an autonomous Affiliate of LLLI, enabling it to be solely responsible for its own services and programs without the feeling that there was a need to seek permission for everything from LLLI.

The New Zealand 40th Anniversary logo is appearing in several places in 2004 editions of Aroha, LLLNZ’a member magazine, instead of the customary LLLI Logo. The ruby represents 40 years and the gold represents the fact that human milk is the gold standard for infant feeding, while the fern leaf identifies the logo as uniquely New Zealand. LLLNZ will celebrate its 40th anniversary in a number of ways during 2004, but the main focus will be the Conference in Wellington in September, with the theme, Making a Difference: 40 Years of LLL in New Zealand.

And make no mistake, La Leche League has made a difference. When LLL first came to New Zealand, breastfeeding rates at two weeks (as collected by Plunket—the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society and the main well-child provider in NZ) were just under 50 percent.

By 1985 they were peaking at just under 86 percent—at a time when LLLNZ was responsible for well over 100 Groups and almost 350 Leaders. While other social factors were also at work during this period, LLLNZ certainly played a significant role in helping to reverse declining breastfeeding rates by making breastfeeding acceptable again, by giving out accurate breastfeeding information, and by providing valuable mother-to-mother support to women who wanted to breastfeed their babies.

This article was adapted from Rosemany Gordon’s “Director’s Column” in Aroha, the LLL of New Zealand Member’s Magazine, June 2003.
Rosemary writes: “...our magazine is called Aroha, not Aurora—which is also a lovely name! But Aroha is Maori (pronounced something like Ah-ro-ha). It means love, sharing, caring, concern—and much more.”

Rosemary Gordon has been involved in LLL for over 25 years, 19 of them as a Leader. She has been on the Board of LLLNZ since 1989, and is currently Director of LLLNZ, as well as LLLNZ’s representative on the New Zealand Breastfeeding Authority. She and her husband live in Taupo, New Zealand, and have three adult sons.

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