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La Leche League: the Catalyst for a Revolution in Attitude

Mary Hurt
LLLI Conference Team
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 43 No. 2, April-May-June 2007, pp. 34-35

In October 1956, the first LLL meeting was held. The meeting was to give rise to a dream and vision that every mother who wanted to breastfeed her baby would be able to do so. The seven remarkable Founders of LLLI did not realize that the information, encouragement, and support they first offered as a neighborhood resource would grow to a worldwide organization reaching millions of mothers around the world.

What they also couldn't have anticipated is how they would profoundly influence others to find additional ways to help breastfeeding mothers and families. They sparked a gentle revolution in thinking about breastfeeding, childbirth, parenting, and nutrition.

The Founders were the first to bring breastfeeding knowledge to the medical profession and, indeed, were instrumental in the development of a new profession, that of lactation consultant. The Founders were pioneers and they influenced other trail blazers who were responsible for a positive change in breastfeeding information and support, natural childbirth, loving guidance, and good nutrition.

At the LLLI Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA on July 20-23, 2007, Judy Torgus, recently retired LLLI Publications Director, will moderate a panel of these pioneers. Judy, herself an LLL pioneer, joined LLL in 1959 and attended a meeting at Mary White's home while pregnant with her first child. She began her LLL work by volunteering to answer letters from mothers who had breastfeeding questions. She used her writing and editing expertise as a volunteer for many years before she became an employee of LLLI.

Judy became the editor of publications about all phases of breastfeeding. During her 30 years on staff, she edited dozens of LLLI publications including THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, LEAVEN, and NEW BEGINNINGS.

The distinguished group gathered for this panel of pioneers will share insights into how the influence of LLLI motivated them to communicate their message of change to the world. Useful information about breastfeeding was scarce in the 1950s and 1960s, but publishing THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and collecting published resources helped LLLI to build a network of physicians and others with an interest in natural infant feeding.

Panel participants include Dr. Lawrence Gartner, who said that although he had an interest in breastfeeding when he attended medical school and held a residency, he never had any formal or informal education in breastfeeding. Dr. Gartner says, "It was LLLI that taught me about human lactation and breastfeeding at a time when no one else could have done it."

Soon after Dr. Gartner published Breastmilk Jaundice in the early 1960s, he was approached by LLLI to present his findings and discuss the implications of jaundice for breastfeeding. Dr Gartner states, "I have been doing that very thing now for more than 40 years." Dr. Gartner credits his association with LLLI for his education on human lactation and leading to his continued research in human milk and jaundice and to becoming an educator in the field of breastfeeding and lactation.

Dr. Gartner states, "My association with LLLI also led to my becoming one of the founders and the third president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, in which I am still active." He still refers mothers to LLL for breastfeeding help, and is editor of Breastfeeding Medicine, the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. In addition to his participation on this panel, Dr. Gartner will present "Update on Jaundice in the Breastfed Baby."

Dr. Ruth Lawrence, another panelist at this session, first began as medical advisor to a local LLL in Rochester, New York, USA. The local LLL Group that was forming realized that the Founders had Medical Advisors for their Group and asked Dr. Lawrence to help them in this capacity. She began dialoguing with Dr. Gregory White and is to this day on the LLLI Board of Medical Advisors. Dr. Lawrence has just been elected as Chair of the Section on Breastfeeding for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Lawrence will also present the session "The Management of Breastfeeding."

Dr. Audrey Naylor says that more than 30 years ago she attended a series of Lactation Workshops presented by two LLL Leaders and it changed her life because she began focusing on breastfeeding. She will bring to the panel her expertise as Founder and CEO of Wellstart International, whose purpose is to provide clinical services to breastfeeding mothers and education about breastfeeding and lactation management to health professionals around the world. Dr. Naylor states:

The ever-expanding literature regarding breastfeeding, lactation, and human milk make it crystal clear that breastfeeding is a fundamental component of the essential building blocks needed to achieve maximal good health using the broadest definition of good health which includes physical, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects. There is truly no substitute for human milk or for the process of breastfeeding. All mothers and their families deserve to be given the most current information as they consider how they will feed and nurture their children.

Dr. Naylor, who was instrumental in developing the 10 Steps for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, will also present "A Comprehensive and Updated Look at the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding."

Panelist Chele Marmet is an internationally recognized lactation consultant pioneer. Ms. Marmet was a Professional Liaison LLL Leader who realized that some mothers needed more intricate information than she could provide. She developed the first educational program to specifically train people in the lactation consultant field. She is recognized for her seminal research on the clarification of the correct description of infant sucking patterns and the development of suck training techniques for babies with sucking problems. She is a founding member of the US National Breastfeeding Committee.

At the young age of nine, Chele decided that she wanted to breastfeed her future children after watching a mother breastfeed. Two years before the birth of her first child, she went to an LLL meeting with her cousin. Chele says, "That same cousin gave me as gifts when my first child was born, a membership in LLL, THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, and Niles Newton's book The Family Book of Childcare." Chele is still an active Leader 32 years later. In addition to the panel, she will present "Fixing the Almost Failures: A Step by Step How To."

Another panelist who is instrumental in the medical field is Kittie Frantz, RN, IBCLC. Kittie's mother suggested she contact LLL when she experienced sore nipples with her first baby. At a time when the procedure was more informal, Kittie was accredited at a meeting in the Chicago area where the Founders asked her questions about breastfeeding as she sat nursing her second baby. Kittie is internationally known for over 40 years of work developing breastfeeding programs, and is the Coordinator of Lactation Education at the University of Southern California and Clinical Instructor in Pediatrics at the Kech School of Medicine. Honored as the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates, she is frequently invited to instruct at universities and medical conferences in many countries.

Kittie believes that in addition to helping nursing mothers, LLL helps parents become more skilled at parenting. With parenting books recently running the theme of "how to get your baby to sleep longer or be quiet," Kittie asks the question: "Doesn't breastfeeding do that?" In addition to participating in this panel, Kittie will present "Self-Attachment: Doing What Comes Naturally."

Panelist Faith Bedford, who was an LLL Leader for 18 years, was the Founder of the International Lactation Association. She says that after spending time raising three children and tending to a small herb and honey farm, being an LLL Leader and Lactation Consultant at her local hospital, she returned to school and begin researching American Impressionist Painter, Frank W. Benson. In between classes and research, Faith began writing stories and essays about life in the country. She began reflecting on quiet pursuits and simple pleasures for her column "Kids in the Country" in Country Living magazine, which evolved into her book and her other session at the Conference, "Barefoot Summers."

Another panel participant is Ina May Gaskin, who is called the "mother of modern midwifery" by many. Ms. Gaskin is the author of Spiritual Midwifery and first heard about LLLI in 1974 after she had already breastfed her first baby. She had been attending home births since late 1970 and she and her assistants had already assisted in several hundred births, with every mother having been able to breastfeed her baby. In June 1974, they encountered a mother with the a breastfeeding problem that they couldn't solve. The mother obtained Karen Pryor's book, Nursing Your Baby, and that is how Ms. Gaskin found out about LLLI.

Ina May states that in the early years of her community's formation and development, they didn't have running water to homes or electricity. She says:

This lifestyle made us an anomaly in the US at the time; we had been raised in small towns and suburbs with all of the amenities of modern life. This made breastfeeding absolutely necessary for the good health and survival of our babies.

Ina May will also present "It Takes a Family to Have a Baby: A Pioneer in Natural Childbirth Shares Her Insights."

Peggy O'Mara, another panel member, was an LLL Leader who became the editor of Mothering Magazine, a premier publication of the natural family living community. Each issue takes a contemporary look at subjects such as attachment parenting, organic living, nutrition, and alternative health and education. Peggy will also present the session: "Standing Tall as a Breastfeeding Mother."

Other former LLL Leaders included on the panel will include Barbara Nicholson, co-founder of Attachment Parenting International (API). The mission of API is "to promote parenting practices that create strong, healthy, emotional bonds between children and their parents.

Perhaps other members of this panel will concur with Dr. Gartner when he says:

I offer deep appreciation to LLLI, its Founders, Leaders, and supporters for the education they have given me and for being an important stimulus to me over many years. Thank you LLLI.

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