La Leche League
Mother-to-Mother Support in the Internet Age
Westhope ND USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 3, June-July 2003, p. 66-67
A pregnant woman wants to know what information she needs to breastfeed her baby. A mother of a toddler has weaning questions. Another mother with a three-month-old is concerned about her milk supply. This sounds like a typical LLL meeting, or even a glance at a Leader’s phone log, but it is just a sample from over 40 questions sent in one day to the Online Help Form program found on LLLI’s Web site.
Each day, women needing support and information about breastfeeding go to www.lalecheleague.org/helpform.html and fill out the Online Help Form. Their questions and concerns are forwarded to the inboxes of Leaders all over the world. The Leaders who have volunteered to take on this extra opportunity touch the lives of families they will never meet. They are as diverse as any group of Leaders, with two things in common: a computer and a desire to help.
Currently, there are 252 Leaders from all over the world answering Help Forms. Some answer one or two forms per month, others as many as seven per week, depending on what works best for them and their families. Leaders can choose what day of the week to receive the forms and have up to a week to answer the mother’s concerns. This can fit in a busy Leader’s schedule nicely. One Leader commented, "It’s nice to be able to say, ‘I’d like to answer one question each week, on Fridays.’" She continues, "Compared to phone helping, email helping is more predictable and flexible. (Is there some kind of mother radar that inspires people to call when my two-year-old has just dumped the jar of tempera paint on the bed?)" Some Leaders find the time when their older children are at school, some when their baby is napping in their arms, others on the weekends when Dad is available to keep children occupied.
Recently accredited Leaders may wish to answer Help Forms as a way to increase their knowledge and comfort answering mother’s questions in phone and meeting settings. As one Leader from Wisconsin, USA commented, "It was a great way to get my feet wet with some very unusual questions without the pressure of the mother standing right in front of me (metaphorically speaking!) and expecting an instantaneous answer." A Leader can take her time to research and word her reply—even asking other Leaders’ input before she sends her reply.
One New York Leader discovered the benefit of replying to Help Forms when she was newly accredited. "Help Forms were a great way for me to increase my confidence as a new Leader. I found phone helping intimidating, but with Help Forms I could take my time and generate an articulate and thorough response. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the time I spent thinking and filling out Help Form replies paid off in helping me to think on my feet at meetings and on the phone." "Online Help Forms and the New Leader," by Heather Voccola, has more information on this topic (Available in Leaven December 1998-January 1999; or on LLLI’s Web site at www.lalecheleague.org/llleaderweb/LV/ LVDec98Jan99p120.html).
Leaders with years of experience, but busy families, often find that other LLL opportunities are hard to fit in with their schedules, but by answering Help Forms, they can still contribute their knowledge and skills. Being asked "new" questions also helps to keep them current. "I get understanding on breastfeeding situations I’d never encounter with a phone call in my community, or at any of my local Group meetings," writes one Kansas, USA Leader. In one situation, she "found something in The Breastfeeding Answer Book exactly suited to her need for information, and [I] learned a few things myself!"
A Leader from Canada states, "Working on Help Forms has helped me keep current with the latest breastfeeding ‘trends and concerns’ that seem to come in cycles." In addition to the resources the Leader herself has, Online Professional Liaison Resource Leaders (OPLRs) are available via email to research more technical questions and provide a "sounding board" for the Leader before she responds.
Aside from the information a Leader can learn, she also has the opportunity to work on her communication skills. One Leader from Nova Scotia, Canada comments, "They’ve helped me develop my listening and reaction skills—there’s no way I can blurt out, ‘Your doctor said to do what?’" The ability to write a response and wait a little bit before sending it can help the Leader phrase things so that they can be best understood.
Rural or isolated Leaders with little opportunity for direct contact with mothers find that answering the Help Forms gives them a way to keep their skills sharp and resources current.
Thanks to the numbers of Leaders who have volunteered to answer Help Forms, mothers can ask their questions and receive replies in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Japanese. Because the questions can and do come from women in various countries, Leaders have the opportunity to reach mothers who may not have any other access to La Leche League. As one Leader states, "I find that one of the most rewarding aspects of answering email Help Forms is being able to help breastfeeding mothers all over the world, some of whom do not have access to a local Leader close enough for them to call on."
"I get to ‘talk’ with mothers from all over the world: England, Israel, Japan, Indonesia, Germany, and more, and I get to find out what LLL resources, if any, these mothers have in their area," was a comment from one Kansas, USA Leader. The Leader then lets the mother know about any local LLL contacts of which the mother may not be aware.
Leaders also get a sense of satisfaction from responding to Help Forms. One Leader comments, "After I’ve finished and sent a Help Form reply, I feel a big sense of accomplishment, and if I was in a low mood, I usually feel better." Another Leader mentions "I get far more feedback from mothers after I send them information than I ever have had with phone help, and 99 percent of it has been positive. I do three Help Forms weekly, and I usually get a response about every other week. One mother sent me a picture of her baby. "
So this past January when 1,126 women asked breastfeeding questions via the Help Forms, their concerns were answered by a diverse group of La Leche League Leaders who responded in the 21st century’s version of the Founders’ kitchen table—La Leche League Help Forms.
For more information on volunteering to answer Help Forms, contact only): hfcoordinator at llli.org (email). The following page, "Tips for Answering LLLI Breastfeeding Help Forms from the LLLI Web Site," in the Leader section of the LLLI Web site has a helpful article with more specific information: www.lalecheleague.org/leaderpages/helpinstrux.html (requires Leader password)
Sandee Luttkus has been a Member of La Leche League for over 16 years and a Leader with the Minot Area La Leche League Group in North Dakota, USA for the past 13 years. She is currently the Help Form Coordinator and the Online Professional Liaison Resource Leader Advisor for La Leche League Online. Along with her husband, Robert, she is raising three sons in a small North Dakota, USA farming community at the Canadian Border.