La Leche League Breastfeeding Café: Breaking the Mold
Alison Parkes and Angela Eldridge
Colchester Great Britain UK
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 43 No. 3, July-August-September 2007, p. 60
It was spring 2005. Over the 10 years of LLL in our town, our Group had ebbed and flowed in terms of the numbers of mothers who came to Series Meetings. At first we had met in each other's houses; then in an effort to enable more mothers to access us, we had found a town center venue. But our numbers continued to fluctuate and when we came to celebrate our 10th anniversary in spring 2005, our Group had two Leaders, a few committed Group members, and very few new mothers attending. We held an Evaluation Meeting to discuss how we could reach more mothers. We discussed the needs of those mothers and whether our Series Meetings were meeting those needs. We realized that:
- New mothers in our town want to meet more than once a month to establish friendships and have access to the support they need at this critical time in their lives;
- Women are comfortable in a more informal setting than a Series Meeting provides;
- Series Meeting topics may not address a new mother's urgent concern;
- Mothers can be deterred from returning to LLL meetings by the format of planned topics where they may feel that LLL has "an agenda" to convey; and
- The mothers who attend Series Meetings can unwittingly create a stereotypical impression of a homogeneous group of women who support causes such as home birth, cosleeping, anti-vaccinations, or vegetarianism.
The prospect of change worried us. Might LLL philosophy be the casualty of this experiment? Might our Group degenerate to become a mother/baby gathering or a toddler group just like many others? We were anxious not to lose the special quality of LLL breastfeeding support that we know and love from our personal experiences of Series Meetings. But how could we be sure to retain it? We started by deciding to introduce the following changes:
- Bimonthly get-togethers (e.g., second and fourth Friday mornings);
- Drop-in format;
- Plenty of time for refreshments and chat;
- Informal seating arrangement;
- Change of name from "LLL meetings" to "La Leche Breastfeeding Café";
- No longer use Series Meeting topics;
- Focus on breastfeeding needs of the mothers present; and
- More toys and activities for babies and young children.
At first we tried setting up tables and chairs almost like a real café, and we didn't always hold a group discussion. Often a new mother would come and ask a question, which would lead to a whole group discussion. This gradually became part of our regular format, which we felt enabled us to keep LLL philosophy at the center of our get-togethers. Now these are elements of what we do:
- Seating arranged in a semicircle, with everyone introducing themselves;
- Leaders, Applicants, and Group members circulate and ask how breastfeeding is going. If a mother has a question, it is addressed. If appropriate, the Leader may ask her if she would like to discuss it with the Group;
- Whole group discussion of topic generated from mothers' own concerns;
- Qualifying statement always given, along the lines of, "Take what is right for you and your family"; and
- Notices given at the end of the discussion with information on LLL and membership.
If for any reason there is no particular question or breastfeeding challenge that comes to the fore, we still get together as a whole group:
- Leader asks if there is anything related to breastfeeding that anyone would like to discuss;
- Leader introduces a question such as, "Tell us what you like and dislike about breastfeeding?" or any other question that she might want to use from her experience of leading Series Meetings;
We have taken steps to promote our new style of La Leche Breastfeeding Cafés through posters, links with our local hospital, and advertising in local magazines for pregnant women and mothers of young families. We know that there are ethnic minority groups in our town that we have not yet reached, and we have plans to do so.
The atmosphere of the La Leche Breastfeeding Café is decidedly more inclusive. While we may have lost an element of that sense of belonging to a like-minded group, we know that our Group is truly welcoming. One of the spin-offs is that we don't have to plan Series Meetings any more, as our genuine interest in the mothers we meet usually generates spontaneous discussion. We were initially worried that LLL philosophy might be lost, our experience has shown that there are ample opportunities to introduce philosophy and refer mothers to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and other LLL publications.
Our membership has more than doubled. If all of the mothers who regularly come to our Breastfeeding Café were to turn up at the same time, there'd probably be 40 mothers at once! Many of these women do not necessarily fall into the image of "typical" Group members. Yet our impression is that these mothers feel welcomed and accepted and they appear to be receptive to LLL philosophy. By attracting more mothers to the Breastfeeding Café, we can avoid reinforcing a stereotypical image of LLL as supporting causes other than breastfeeding. Instead, we simply celebrate the fact that women are breastfeeding. By breaking the mold, we are able to reach more mothers and give them access to all that LLL has to offer.