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Mothers Who Experience Separation from Baby:
How to Determine Whether a Possible Applicant Meets the Prerequisites

Nancy Spahr
Peru IN USA
Eileen Harrison
Rennes France
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, pp. 64-65.

Does LLL accredit as Leaders mothers who have experienced separation from their babies? If you ask this question at a Leader gathering, you might get a variety of answers, for example:

  • We didn’t before, but now we do.
  • No, of course not.
  • It depends on the situation; the decision is up to the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD).
  • The sponsoring Leaders decide whether a mother meets the prerequisites or not.

In fact, the answer is not as simple and straightforward as any of these. Each separation experience involves a variety of factors and may or may not be consistent with an experience of mothering through breastfeeding. Lending our unique perspectives, both Leaders and LAD have a responsibility to assess whether the mother meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership (part of Appendix 18 of the Policies and Standing Rules Notebook [PSR]). It is important that we discuss our observations and understandings together with a goal of agreeing on the appropriateness of an application. Though impressions can be a strong influence, we have a responsibility to work from the LLLI Leader accreditation policies rather than our personal understandings or preferences.

Before deciding to recommend a mother, make sure you have a complete picture related to her experience, her understanding and agreement with LLL philosophy, and how she could both present and represent it. It is important to be thorough, open, and honest as you talk with the mother. The time you take now will be well spent. If the mother does not fulfill the prerequisites, you avoid the disappointment and frustration of a stalled application. If her experience does fulfill the prerequisites, she will already have thought carefully about, and perhaps have written down, elements of her experience that will be relevant to her application. This can help the application proceed smoothly and efficiently.

The Statement of Commitment that each of us signs when we become Leaders begins, “I am personally committed to good mothering through breastfeeding, as presented in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and other LLLI publications.” A good place to start a dialogue with the mother is therefore with The Womanly Art. Encourage the mother to read it carefully and imagine whether she can picture herself saying these kinds of things in this mother-to-mother way. You may especially want to direct her to Chapter 9, “Making a Choice.”

The LLLI Leader Application Packet contains the 10 concept statements that summarize LLL philosophy, PSR Appendix 17 (“Concept Policy Statements”), and PSR Appendix 18 (“Applying for Leadership”). Carefully go through the concepts with the mother and explore whether/how her experience provides an example of LLL philosophy in action. It may be important to particularly consider what impact separation might have on different aspects of mothering through breastfeeding, such as responding to an increased need to nurse due to a growth spurt, readiness for solids, and how a baby weans. If mothering through breastfeeding increases the mother’s capacity to understand her baby and enhances the baby’s responsiveness to his mother’s cues, what might be the consequences of having a third person regularly responsible for the baby?

Chapter 5 in the Leader’s Handbook, the 2003 Request for Personal History form (ask your LAD representative for a copy), and PSR Appendix 17 are good resources for developing questions to stimulate discussion. The article, “A Practical Philosophy: A Look at the Concepts,” from the December-January 2003-2004 issue of Leaven, may also be helpful. Your LAD representative can offer additional ideas.

The following set of questions, based on LLLI Leader accreditation policies, can help us in determining whether a mother meets the prerequisites.

From the concepts and prerequisites:

  • How does the mother understand LLL philosophy about a baby’s need for mother’s presence in the early years,* and how does she see her experience as an example of this philosophy? (* The “early years” usually include up to about age three, during which time the child is learning about and discovering how to manage his separateness from mother.)
  • How does the mother demonstrate her understanding of nursing at her breast as the optimal way to nurture and comfort her baby as well as provide nourishment?
  • How is she able to recognize, understand, and respond to her baby’s need for her presence as well as for her milk, especially during the time she isn’t with the baby?
  • How does her management of the separation show respect for the baby’s needs, especially the need for her presence?
  • From the Guidelines for Leaders (part of PSR Appendix 18):
  • How has the candidate’s mothering through breastfeeding experience included being available and responsive to her baby’s needs?
  • Has she used substitutes for her milk and/or nursing at her breast? If so, which, for how long, under what circumstances, and with what results?
  • Are the separations ongoing? How has her management of the separations reflected the baby’s changing needs?
  • If “a mother who experiences extensive, ongoing separation from her baby is unlikely to fulfill the Mothering Experience Prerequisite,” what makes this situation likely to be an exception?
  • What, if any, impact has the separation made on mothering through breastfeeding?
  • What arrangements has the mother made to lessen separation between herself and her baby and/or worked to minimize disruption of breastfeeding? How has this changed as the baby has grown?
  • How does she present and explain LLL philosophy to others in light of her experience? What has she learned that makes LLL philosophy real for her?
  • How does the candidate think she would help other mothers experiencing situations similar to her own? For example, would the candidate’s helping focus be on separation as inevitable (or even a good thing), on making separation work, or on ways to delay, minimize, or avoid separations? Can she think outside societal norms and expectations and help others do the same?

From PSR Appendix 17:

  • How does the mother understand breastfeeding as a means to provide a complete way of meeting a baby’s primary needs, which include touch, acceptance, and warmth, as well as food? How does she understand the intimate interaction between mother and baby, which deepens as the breastfeeding relationship continues and serves as the framework for increasing a mother’s capacity to understand her baby, all while enhancing the baby’s responsiveness to his mother’s cues? How does this understanding serve as a basis for how she approaches the other concepts—how she recognizes and responds to each of her baby’s needs?
  • How does/did her separation situation allow for continuing flexible availability to her baby? Has she been able to arrange her schedule around her baby’s needs/schedule, or has he had to adjust to her schedule?

An LLL Leader provides an example in action of LLL philosophy. She demonstrates that the philosophy is both practical and achievable. It is our mutual responsibility to maintain the philosophy that underlies our organization and serves as a foundation for our helping suggestions to breastfeeding mothers.

Nancy Spahr is the Director for the LLLI Leader Accreditation Department and has been a Leader for 27 years. She has two sons and two daughters, three of whom are grown, and one breastfed granddaughter. Eileen Harrison is Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for “Europe 1” and “Europe 2,” and a member of the LAD Council. She is British but has lived in Rennes, France for the past six years, where she leads a Toddler Group and the Ille-et-Villaine Chapter’s monthly Applicant meetings. Eileen and her husband, Richard, have four sons ranging in age from 30 to 22, and two granddaughters ages 5 and 2.

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