La Leche League of Paraguay
Celebrating 20 Years
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 6, December 2003 - January 2004, pp. 136-37.
Once upon a time, many years ago, Bernadette Stabler came from Germany to stay briefly in my country, Paraguay. During this time, she planted a seed of love-she founded La Leche League of Paraguay.
In September 2003, LLL Paraguay celebrated its first 20 years. The celebration took place at the downtown Citibank Cultural Center, and invitations were sent to a broad variety of people including mothers, nurses, teachers, and doctors. I was invited to present on tandem nursing at the celebration.
I initially hesitated about the topic. Breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing are not accepted in our culture. When a mother of a young baby becomes pregnant again, she is advised to wean immediately. An abrupt weaning can actually make a young baby sick, due to the sudden change in diet, not to mention the emotional needs of the baby. But, if this happens, the mother's milk is still considered the reason for the baby's illness, since the mother was probably nursing for weeks before she knew about her new pregnancy.
In spite of my hesitation, I decided to prepare a short presentation. Topics presented included the story of LLL in Paraguay, the breastfeeding family, and the importance of support groups, each to be presented by LLL Paraguay Leaders. Supportive medical professionals presented on attachment parenting, the baby friendly hospital initiative, breastfeeding in special situations, and breastfeeding as part of the curriculum of the national university for nurses.
On the night of the event, I was still very anxious and afraid I might lose my voice (that has happened to me before). Leader Leticia Ibarra started with a brief story about activities of LLL Paraguay. Then, my co-Leader, Cyntia Martinez, spoke on "Una familia que amamanta," ("A Breastfeeding Family") and she actually took her whole family on the stage-her husband, Alberto, and children, Ana Laura (11 months old), Ignacio ( three years old), and Alvaro (seven years old). She spoke about how breastfeeding has made a world of difference in her family and created strong bonds of love and understanding among her family members. Her husband also shared his thoughts about how important it is to support a breastfeeding wife and to spread the word to other families.
After this wonderful presentation, and after seeing a whole family quietly sharing their breastfeeding experience, I felt better about my presentation.
When it was finally my turn, I started very slowly and shyly, but gradually felt confident. My presentation focused on my personal experiences nursing my girls, Leila, who is almost two years old, and Laura, who is three years old. I shared my initial surprise of becoming pregnant with a seven-month-old nursing baby. My thoughts, worries, and doubts during that time; my feelings during pregnancy; and difficulties of positioning during the last part of pregnancy and right after the baby came. I also talked about the joy of nursing as a quiet activity with a toddler during the postpartum days, the challenge of helping a toddler though becoming a "big sister," and the joy of watching two little sisters growing up with strong bonds and affection. I ended up the presentation saying tandem nursing takes a lot of self confidence, creativity, and a good sense of humor.
The presentations following shared different perspectives of breastfeeding. Leader Elizabeth Gavilan talked about how important La Leche League support groups are for breastfeeding mothers. An impressive description of children raised with lack of attachment was given by a psychologist, doctors presented efforts to improve breastfeeding rates at a Baby Friendly Hospital and explained detailed pictures of breastfeeding under special situations. A full description of the inclusion of breastfeeding in the curriculum of the school for nurses was presented by an obstetrician.
At the end of the presentations, medical professionals, husbands, children and friends enjoyed snacks and drinks, and a toast to celebrate LLL Paraguay 20 years. Many people told me that they never heard the word "tandem," of tandem nursing, or safely nursing during pregnancy. It was nice to know that I had shared something "new" with such an important audience.
Until very recently in Paraguay, the age of 20 was when a person was recognized as an adult-the age to get a driving license, to vote, and to travel without parents. In a way, LLL Paraguay is now also an "adult" after 20 years in existence. We can speak in front of professionals, be comfortable approaching people of different backgrounds, and can understand the importance of working together with other members of our society to continue the promotion, support, and protection of breastfeeding.
Today, that seed planted many years ago has become a solid tree with many branches reaching different directions, spreading information, understanding, and experiences; but most of all, spreading loving support to many breastfeeding mothers. Today, we look forward to many years to come.
Maria S. ( Pili ) Peña Vazquez lives in Asuncion, Paraguay and is the mother of five children ranging in age from 15 to 2. She has been an LLL Leader since 1994 and currently volunteers at a low-income Baby friendly Hospital.