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A Look at the Concepts

Fiona Reynoldson
London England
Eileen Harrison
Rennes France
Monique Kitts
Ringgold GA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 6, December 2003 - January 2004, pp. 128-9.

La Leche League Leaders, wherever they are in the world, share a common philosophy as defined in the 10 concepts. This philosophy is not simply theoretical, but intensely practical. Although no Leader's life, no Leader's family will look exactly like that of another Leader, still we recognize this common theme in each other and in the choices we make. La Leche League Leaders don't just talk about the philosophy, don't just believe in it as "a nice idea" but take that belief and make it "real" in numerous ways every day.

LLL philosophy is based on the belief that babies and young children have needs, that instinct or something similar can lead us to identify and meet those needs, and that this ability to understand and respond is enhanced by the breastfeeding relationship. Recognizing and understanding the beliefs behind individual choices help us to identify LLL philosophy in action. Living the 10 concepts in her own unique way connects a mother to LLL.

Some people refer to the concepts as "ideals." Others are uncomfortable with this word. A different perspective can help some of us feel more comfortable with the choices we make and about the diversity of ways those around us incorporate LLL philosophy into their lives.

Webster's New World Dictionary gives the following definition for the word "ideal": "thought of as perfect or as a perfect model; exactly as one would desire; of a perfect kind." The words "perfect model" in this definition suggests that an "ideal" is an action or choice that is better than others. Ideals may not be comfortable things to live with; a mother may feel very aware of often not living up to them and sometimes it may seem useless to try. We may set ourselves up for failure when we think in terms of ideals. We may judge other people, too, according to standards we have set for ourselves or believe LLL has set for us. Sometimes it can interfere with our ability to help each mother in the way that is most beneficial to her because comparing her "ideals" with our "ideals" triggers our biases. It may even limit the women we consider for leadership.

Looking again at the concepts, there are no models, no defined choices of action. LLL doesn't tell us how to live our lives. LLL philosophy provides a common stage on which we can base our actions; a basis from which Leaders can make individual decisions; a belief system that motivates our personal parenting choices. Any "ideals" are our own; models that we imagine conform to the philosophy. Living LLL philosophy, therefore, is not really achieving specific goals, but using this set of principles to guide our breastfeeding and parenting decisions. If we are using LLL philosophy in developing our goals for ourselves related to our children, we are living that philosophy.

LLL expects that Leaders' and Leader Applicants' choices will reflect and reveal LLL philosophy. Focusing on the motivation for a choice rather than a specific action can help us see how a variety of choices can all be congruent with LLL philosophy.

The following suggests some of the ways in which mothers might live LLL philosophy. Consider using it as a starting point to reflect on the 10 concepts. Perhaps invite your co-Leaders, your Chapter, or some Leader Applicants to join you.

How might a mother, whatever her circumstances or background, demonstrate her belief that "mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby"?

Some ideas: "baby" her baby; use breastfeeding to meet her baby's emotional as well as physical needs; keep her baby close; hold him when he is too full to nurse and is not ready to sleep; observe her baby to learn how he signals his needs; be committed to responding promptly to her baby's needs.

How might a mother show her understanding that "mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply" if her baby's health or hospital policies mean that she and her baby may be separated after birth?

Some ideas: make preliminary inquiries about hospital policies; if possible, choose a birth place that is flexible; negotiate with the health care team to ensure she can be with her baby early and often. Be informed about potential difficulties and plan to avoid, minimize, or persevere to overcome them.

If "in the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food," how might a mother also fulfill her own needs, including the need to contribute to the family's income?

Some ideas: be creative about how to include the baby in her activities; learn when her baby is most likely to stay happily with another person; be flexible about when and whether to leave; keep separations as short as possible and start them as late as possible; work from home; be able and available to go to her baby if he needs her; plan her work with an understanding of the needs of babies in general and her own baby in particular; develop her schedule to accommodate her baby's schedule; look for alternative sources of financing.

How might a mother demonstrate a belief that "breast milk is the superior infant food"?

Some ideas: have confidence that her healthy, full-term baby doesn't need water or formula supplements; give priority to breastfeeding in the first year; appreciate that the ill toddler who returns to exclusive breastfeeding for a couple of days is receiving good nutrition.

How might a mother show that "for the healthy full-term baby breast milk is the only food necessary until baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth"?

Some ideas: practice exclusive breastfeeding in the early months; learn about and watch for signs (and false signs) of readiness for solids; wait for her baby to show an interest in other foods; have confidence that her baby will eat when ready; be willing to reconsider a decision to offer solids if her baby's reaction is negative.

If she believes that "ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need," how might a mother manage negative feelings about breastfeeding her older child?

Some ideas: give herself permission to have negative thoughts, actively seek support and empathy; keep in mind her child's age and maturity when making decisions about weaning; consider establishing some limits to make the breastfeeding experience more manageable; increase "other mothering," especially before her child asks to nurse; understand that natural weaning takes into account both the child's and mother's needs; watch her child for signs that weaning is proceeding too quickly and respond with compassion and flexibility.

How might a mother show a commitment to the idea that "alert, active participation in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start" if she is medicated or her birth experience is primarily controlled by the medical team?

Some ideas: recognize that being alert and active is a help, not a requirement; be informed about birth procedures; choose a birth place where intervention is not routine; choose a health care team, if possible, that values the mother's role; take an active part in decision-making; be informed about possible obstacles to a good start for breastfeeding and be prepared to minimize or overcome them.

If "breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby's father," how might a mother manage if the father is reluctant or is unsupportive? If she recognizes that "a father's unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child's development from early infancy" how might she compensate if the father is unwilling or absent?

Some ideas: communicate her feelings and needs to her partner in positive ways; show that she values his contribution; provide opportunities for the baby and father to interact in enjoyable activities; show confidence in the father's parenting skills; build a support network among other family and friends; encourage the development of relationships between the child and other close friends and family.

What are some ways in which a mother might show that "good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible"?

Some ideas: make whole foods her first choice; eat more home cooked meals where she has control over the ingredients; read product labels for nutritional information; plan menus using a variety of foods from different food groups; introduce more whole grains into the family diet; reduce sweets and sweeteners and substitute more natural sources of sweetness for refined sugar; offer fruit, raw vegetables, and other nutritious foods for snacks or desserts; reduce fats, especially saturated fats.

How might a mother demonstrate her belief that "from infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings"?

Some ideas: learn about characteristics of ages and developmental stages; expand her resources by learning from individuals and books with a similar philosophy; be aware of challenges to her patience so that she can learn to avoid, minimize or overcome them; manage her time and space to minimize difficult situations; recognize a responsibility to set some limits and teach her children what they are; work toward greater consistency while maintaining sensitive flexibility; maintain a positive attitude and perspective, realizing that she will continue to learn more about her child and develop her parenting skills as he grows.

Fiona Reynoldson is Coordinator for Leader Accreditation for Future Areas in Asia. She lives in London, England with her, husband, Tony. They have four adult children and three granddaughters. Eileen Harrison is Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for "Europe 1" and "Europe 2," and a member of the Leader Accreditation Department Council. She leads a Toddler Group and the Ille-et-Villaine Chapter's monthly Leader Applicant meetings in Rennes, France. Eileen and her husband, Richard, have four adult sons and two granddaughters. Monique Kitts lives with her husband, Aaron, and three children. She is Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for the Southern Region, EUS.

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