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Keeping the LLL Message Clear

Eileen Harrison
Rennes France
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 3, July-August-September 2006, pp. 64-5

The purpose of LLL is:

  • To help the mother learn to breastfeed her baby;
  • To encourage good mothering through breastfeeding;
  • To promote a better understanding of the value of breastfeeding and related subjects.

How can we effectively do this? How can we help mothers learn and understand the value of mothering through breastfeeding? Are we generally effective, or do some of the things we do limit the "audience" of those willing and able to listen to us? Are we more comfortable talking to those who agree with us and share our goals and values than to those who are still attached to the sort of common cultural values that we don't share?

In our own realization of what makes breastfeeding and mothering enjoyable and easy, we may embrace ideas encountered in LLL meetings and through other LLL members and Leaders. To us, these seem like natural extensions of the LLL basic message and we may come to take them for granted. I'm thinking here of topics like cosleeping and attachment parenting, for example.

When something we believe in is completely separate from LLL (what religion we are, what political affiliations we have, or what our professional background is), it may be easy to identify when we are mixing causes. When the topic is a tangent to LLL philosophy, when it has areas that touch but do not overlap, or barely do (like home schooling or natural medicine), we may also find it relatively easy to see when we may be mixing causes.

Many of us may lose our way, though, when it comes to interlinking issues or issues that may fall entirely within the LLL purpose and philosophy but only represent a small part of it. In the case of attachment parenting, for example, this is one way of being available to recognize, understand, and respond to baby's need for our presence as well as for our milk. Cosleeping, likewise, is one solution to the main aim of recognizing that parenting is a round-the-clock responsibility. However, neither cosleeping nor attachment parenting is the only way to meet these goals.

Perhaps even more difficult to remember is that these solutions are also not necessarily the best way for an individual family to meet those goals. How often do we give the impression that they are the ultimate goals, that everyone will get there in the end if she just perseveres enough?

Examining our personal biases is an important regular exercise. It keeps us on our toes as far as unspoken messages go. Many Applicants (and Leaders) think of exercises as something they have to do (like an exam) in order to be accredited rather than recognizing their intrinsic value in our ongoing work as Leaders. The Bias Exercise, like other exercises, is not "I've done that and can tick it off my completed list" or "to pass" and then move on toward accreditation, but is something that is useful to return to at regular intervals during all our years as Leaders. It reminds us to examine those deeply held beliefs, to recognize why we hold them, and to give ourselves permission to believe them. It also reminds us that other people have different values and goals, and that theirs also have roots in their experience and deserve our respect.

Helping mothers learn more about breastfeeding, about mothering, about themselves and their babies begins with listening to them and really hearing what they are saying, considering where they are coming from, and working with them where they are. We are more likely to gain mothers' attention if they feel heard and respected, accepted for who they are and what they do (even if we believe we would do something differently). Helping others is less about who we are than about who they are. When they feel comfortable with us and trust us, they are more likely to try some of the new ideas they hear about—not from a sense of pressure to conform to our expectations, but from a genuine curiosity about what makes mothering through breastfeeding such a pleasure for us. And, if they don't want to try something new, finding in LLL respect for their abilities and choices as mothers and practical suggestions that fit their lifestyles will leave them with a positive image of what LLL has to offer. In the short term, helping mothers feel good about their mothering and breastfeeding experience will be beneficial to them and their babies. In the longer term, we may just have planted a seed that will grow in the future.

Article adapted from Feedback, LLL Great Britain, June 2005.

An Exercise to Explore Personal Bias

Thinking about our own biases, and how remarks at meetings might trigger unfortunate responses, is helpful preparation for leadership. Biases are the ideas that define our expectations—things we think of as "right." They can interfere with communication by closing our minds to new information, or by causing us to send conversation-stopping messages because we feel threatened. You might identify the biases that could affect your work as an LLL Leader (Trudy Hart, LAD Lifeline, No. 4).

Following is one example of how a Leader thought through her own bias about cow's milk (thanks to Mary O'Mally, Maryland/Delaware/DC, USA, and LAD Lifeline, 1997, No. 4):

  • Look at a belief you hold strongly. (Cow's milk is not made for human consumption. When mothers call with concerns over a fussy baby, my first thought is for them to eliminate dairy products from their diets.)

  • Identify the reasons for it. (My daughter cried her way through her first four months of life until I eliminated dairy products from my diet.)

  • Understand and recognize your right to your beliefs. (This happened to me and is true for my family.)

  • Identify reasons for different beliefs and approaches. (Babies fuss for many reasons. Not everyone is sensitive to dairy products.)

  • Understand and recognize that people who have different beliefs have the same rights. (When mothers hear a variety of possibilities, they can figure out what they think is causing their baby's fussiness.)

  • Be willing to integrate other people's information as well as ours into our approach to helping. (I need to make a special effort to listen to what a mother is saying. When I listen, I can learn from each mother's experiences and so be more informed for the next mother.)

It is useful to give some thought to how Leaders recognize personal biases in order to help mothers effectively. Even a quick, knowing glance between co-Leaders can leave a mother feeling judged. Perhaps you can recall remarks that came up at your local Group meetings and caused you to feel bothered. Thinking about responses and body language ahead of time can help a Leader create a welcoming atmosphere for each mother who comes to meetings. While Leaders continue to present LLL philosophy, we also want mothers who believe differently to feel respected at meetings (2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK, pages 40-43). Qualifying statements are one way Leaders show respect for all mothers at meetings. The 2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK discusses qualifying statements on pages 36-37. Finding phrasing that feels comfortable to you can help you convey sincerity.

As you consider personal bias, you might also think about how this could apply to co-Leader relations. Although Leaders share a common breastfeeding and parenting philosophy, we may implement and present it in different ways, have varying personalities and styles, as well as unique family situations and needs. We need to give co-Leaders the same respect we give to mothers in the Group. The 2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK discusses co-Leader relations on pages 87-89.

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