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The Baby Faire

Morgan Kennedy Henderson
Newton MA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 4, August-September 2002 p. 91.

The Baby Faire is currently an annual event in seven US cities: Boston, Massachusetts; Rosemont, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Miami Beach, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Edison, New Jersey. I encourage Leaders and Areas in and around these cities to get involved in organizing a booth—there are so many women out there with little information on or support for breastfeeding. This is my story and some ideas on how to reach a large number of these women!

On the last weekend in April 2002, my co-Leader, Diana Fisher Gomberg, and I organized a booth on behalf of LLL of Massachusetts/Rhode Island/Vermont (USA) for the Boston Baby Faire. Although the Faire has been going on for a number of years in Boston, we didn’t have a presence there in the past because our Area Conference was always scheduled for the same weekend.

When we arrived at the Faire, we saw that sponsors included Carnation, Gerber and Babies-R-Us, each with a considerable presence. In addition, there were booths offering anything from free formula to nursing wear to an ultrasound broadcast on a big-screen television. The atmosphere was quite different from a typical LLL Conference!

With funding from LLLI and our Area, we were able to get a small booth near the back of the hall at a nonprofit rate. Working closely with Schielany Bautista, Marketing Coordinator at LLLI, we stocked the booth with books, tear-off sheets, Catalogues, slings, and contact information for local LLL Groups. Everything from LLLI was shipped directly to the exhibit hall, and was in the booth by the time of our setup the day before the Faire started.

We had a La Leche League banner, and some colorful slings, but it became very clear that we needed something more attention-getting, especially since our booth was next to the "comfort station"—a place provided to nurse one’s baby and learn all about formula at the same time! Around all the comfortable nursing sofas, there was a huge banner, plenty of handouts, and video "information" running constantly. We added two posters of pregnant and nursing mothers to our own display and hoped for the best.

Baby Faire literature states that between 20,000-25,000 people come through their doors in the course of the Boston event. It’s a huge public relations opportunity for LLL to provide free handouts, sell books and slings, and log a great number of contacts. We talked to people about basic nursing concerns as well as adoptive nursing, weaning, toddler issues, and breast reduction. Those of us working at the booth felt positive about the number of people we reached, although we had a general consensus that there was the potential for reaching a lot more.

Imagine the Possibilities

There is a lot of work and precious LLL resources that go into the organization of a booth; we count our efforts at the Boston Baby Faire as a success on many levels. That said, it is clear that we could have had a much bigger impact on the attendees than we did. In general, we Leaders have contact with people sympathetic to our message. Mothers do not seek us out unless they want to learn about LLL, or are curious about the idea of breastfeeding. The Faire is definitely an event where we are not preaching to the choir!

Baby Faire attendees are people who may not know about LLL at all, or may be on the fence about nursing their baby. They are being handed all sorts of information and samples suggesting that breastfeeding is difficult, not always possible, or is a decision of convenience rather than health. They can hear "information sessions" about "infant nutrition" or "infant feeding difficulties" or "toddler nutrition" presented by formula companies. They currently see all these options before getting anywhere near the LLL booth.

Now imagine a large, carpeted booth near the front entrance of the exhibit hall. It is decorated with pictures of nursing mothers and beautiful babies. There are comfortable places for mothers to sit and nurse. Mothers from local Groups are there with their own babies, offering mother-to-mother support. There are pre-made packets of breastfeeding information with basic handouts that can be personalized with local Group information. Leaders are present to answer questions and hand out information. There is a circle of comfortable chairs where, every 30 minutes, a Leader offers a discussion on some aspect of breastfeeding. Attendees have the opportunity to purchase items that are attractively displayed on their own table.

Such a booth would allow LLL to be as visible as the formula companies, or those selling bottles and infant equipment. It would counter the idea that nursing is fringe, or should be tucked away in the back. And most importantly, it would allow us to demonstrate in a number of ways that nursing is normal, healthy, beautiful, and possible!

Obviously a booth like this requires a huge commitment of resources on many levels. LLLI, Areas, and local Leaders would need to commit funds and time to making this a reality. At a one-time cost, a professionally designed booth set-up could be purchased that is sent to each city along with other supplies. With enough planning, money to cover many of these costs can be sought through local and national grants, local sponsors, and fundraisers. Is this worth the effort? If American Baby’s estimate of 20,000 plus attendees in each city is accurate, we could conservatively reach 140,000 people with La Leche League’s message—many of whom would not otherwise have access to it. This is an effort worthy of consideration on all levels of La Leche League’s leadership.

For information on organizing a La Leche League booth, contact Schielany C. Bautista, Marketing Coordinator, at 847-519-7730 ext. 206, or sbautista at llli.org (email).

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