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It's All about Mothers and Babies

Kathryn Major
Independence MO USA
Report on sessions from the 2005 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 190-197

Two years ago I made plans to attend the 2005 LLLI Conference in Washington DC from July 2 to 5. Little did I know that in April 2005, my home would become a nursery once again—this time to a pregnant stray cat and her five newborn kittens.

Seeing the intense need these babies had for their mother brought back a lot of memories. What has really touched me is the infinite patience this mother has shown caring for her kittens. Even as they've grown older, she clearly enjoys the time she spends with them, whether nursing, playing, or just being around them.

In addition to all of the excitement and great opportunities of attending a top notch international event, there was a glorious atmosphere at the Hilton Washington during the LLLI Conference. In the session rooms, the elevators, the pool, the ballroom at lunch, and every nook and cranny of the hotel, I saw families demonstrating the simple and timeless love of being together—a hallmark of every La Leche League Conference. The theme, Breastfeeding: Ancient Art, Modern Miracle, captured the essence of our organization's long-time connection to mothers and babies.

Excitement surrounded me from the moment I arrived in Washington DC. Even at the airport, I found myself looking at other travelers and their children and wondering whether they were headed to the same destination as me. Some Conference attendees wore LLL shirts to help identify each other and to begin making new friends.

Washington DC is a city that is already filled with travelers from all areas of the world, but the hotel became a truly global setting while LLL was gathered there. The Hilton was overflowing with sounds of parents and children speaking in different languages. Families come in all shapes and sizes, but there's a noticeable difference in the way an LLL family listens and responds to each other.

Even those new to the Conference were able to find help easily. The LLLI Alumnae Association provided a "Navigating the LLLI Conference" table to assist and support all Conference participants, whether they were first-time attendees or foreign visitors.

An International Beginning

As the 19th LLLI Conference opened on Saturday night, we gathered in the huge International Ballroom for the Opening Ceremonies. Bright banners draped the stage with colorful images of nursing mothers and babies from ancient pottery to modern day. They formed a backdrop that drew continuous compliments throughout the Conference. Participants arrived and had an opportunity to visit with old friends and view images on big screens from the 2003 Conference in San Francisco, California, USA while others lined up for the traditional Parade of Nations. Anyone is welcome to walk in the Parade, and many LLL members and their children from around the world dress in national clothing and carry banners and flags to represent their country. It was an enthusiastic way to begin the Conference and involve family members of all ages. Attendees couldn't help but feel proud (and emotional) when they saw how many countries—over 40—were represented. Kathy Dounoulis from Markopoulo, Greece, brought her mother and three children (ages seven, five, and 20 months) with her to Washington DC. "I'm thrilled to see so many Leaders and members," she commented. Teresa Soller of Westerville, Ohio, USA said a high point for her was, "Watching the Parade of Nations and being in awe of the effort people made to get to the Conference."

Carol Kolar, Director of LLLI Education and Member Services, welcomed us and introduced Dr. Lawrence Gartner, who gave moving tributes to Dr. Gregory White and Dr. Hugh Riordan. Dr. White passed away June 16, 2003, shortly before the last International Conference. As the husband of LLLI Founder Mary White, Dr. White originally suggested the idea of an organization to help mothers breastfeed their babies. He was one of the first Medical Advisory Board members and a member of the Professional Advisory Board for 46 years. Dr. Hugh Riordan, a distinguished psychiatrist and friend of LLL, died January 7, 2005. He was a member of the Health Advisory Council and a former member of the LLLI Board of Directors. In 2001, he received the Founders' Award for continuous, outstanding, and exemplary contributions to breastfeeding.

As a breastfeeding community, we are lucky to be supported by so many outstanding people from around the world. Hedy Nuriel, Executive Director of LLLI, gave an enthusiastic welcome, saying, "It's so great to see this audience!" LLL received a $15,000 grant from the Ripplewood Foundation in New York that enabled 30 Leaders from 12 US states and 15 countries to attend the Conference to "Learn new ideas, new technologies, and new information for their work with mothers and babies worldwide."

Marcia Lutostanski, chairperson of the LLLI Board of Directors, introduced JoAnne Scott and presented her with the LLLI Award of Achievement for her many years of service as the Executive Director of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Board Members Sharon Vines and LaJuana Oswalt presented Leaders from Kansas, USA with an LLLI Leader Award to recognize their collaborative work in the Kansas Library Project, which involved purchasing and donating a copy of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING to every public library in the state of Kansas. Leaders from Europe received an LLLI Leader Award for their contribution to the "Protection, Promotion, and Support for Breastfeeding in Europe: A Blueprint for Action."

The guest speaker for the evening was Barbara Coloroso. Her topic was "Just Because It's Not Wrong Doesn't Make It Right: From Toddlers to Teens—Teaching Kids to Think and Act Ethically." Coloroso, a mother of three and former Franciscan nun, brought a unique perspective to the ethical issues that we all deal with today. She talked about the importance of "seeing others as a ‘thou',"—in other words, treating others as you would want to be treated. She emphasized the need for deep caring. Children need to know they are cared for so that they can care deeply about others. As parents, we make small daily choices that may not have life-changing effects on our children, but she said, "When it's life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy, you don't let it go."

Children need to learn how to think so that they can make good decisions when they are faced with really difficult choices, especially when their parents aren't looking over their shoulders. We want them to be able to "discern what is right, be willing to act on it, and be willing to act when the burden is heavy." It can be difficult for them to stand up for what they believe is right, but when deciding how to speak up in a challenging situation, they can ask themselves, "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" Lonna Ellsworth of Chesterfield, Missouri, USA, said that she enjoyed the way that Barbara Coloroso spoke without notes—energetically sharing stories and reaching out to the enthusiastic audience. Barbara's new book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander is available through the LLLI Catalogue (No. 1651-7, $13.95).

The Circle of La Leche League

Sunday morning's General Session began with an inspiring musical rendition of the "Circle of Life"—or perhaps we should call it "The Circle of LLL." The Founders were seated onstage. They tenderly handed a doll representing a new baby from the first to the last of the group. Experienced Leaders then joined them onstage, each holding the baby for a moment before passing him to the next Leader. As the stage filled with progressively younger Leaders, teenagers, and finally small girls, there wasn't a dry eye in the house! We all felt as though we were a part of the circle of life and celebrated with a standing ovation.

Heidi BK Sloss, a member of the LLLI Board of Directors, announced a Special Service Award to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health for the US Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign, "Babies Were Born to Be Breastfed." This ongoing campaign launched in June 2004 and can be found in radio, television, and print media across the USA.

Ros Escott, BappSc, IBCLC, the featured speaker of the morning, opened her session entitled, "Head to Toe: Breastfeeding Does Make a Difference," by renaming it "Artificially Fed Babies Are Different from Head to Toe," because breastfeeding is the normal state of health, and artificial feeding is the abnormal state. As she said, "No other component of our way of life has a greater potential to influence health than the food we eat." She explained that breastfeeding has a programming effect on the body that influences the behavior of all body systems and health outcomes. She reviewed all of the body systems, such as the digestive, immune, and cardiovascular systems, providing specific examples of research studies on the benefits of breastfeeding. In families where breastfeeding has been passed down from mother to daughter for multiple generations, she believes that immunity to diseases from previous generations is also being passed down.

Numerous studies have proven that the normal state of infant health is negatively affected by foreign proteins and pathogens introduced by artificial feeding. Large amounts of money are spent treating diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that could be avoided by avoiding artificial feeding. As Escott explained, keeping mothers and babies together as much as possible encourages their complementary immune systems to respond defensively to pathogens.

Individual Sessions and Big Decisions

As we filed out of the Ballroom, it was time to move on to the concurrent sessions. Clutching a schedule and map, attendees found their way to their selected sessions. So many choices, so little time! It was hard deciding which sessions to attend when registering. Many attendees chose topics that were applicable to specific situations they're currently dealing with, such as "Creating a Connected Family Life" or "The Sandwich Generation: Caught in the Middle." Health care professionals found important sessions that gave them continuing education credits as well as knowledge on cutting-edge breastfeeding issues.

In addition to the sessions, the LLLI Alumnae Association offered rejuvenation activities on health, relaxation, and personal hobbies. A special Founders' Parlor was available so that Conference participants could sign up for a time slot to chat with one or two Founders at a time in small groups.

Members of the LLLI Board of Directors scheduled chats at various times over the three days so that they could be accessible to anyone with questions about the organization. Paloma Llerma, Mexico, loved the opportunity to talk to other Leaders from all over the world. She commented that attending the Conference helped her feel more comfortable in her role as a member of the LLLI Board of Directors.

Some participants prepared and displayed poster presentations that could be viewed throughout the Conference. Topics included promoting breastfeeding in a community or recognizing inflammatory breast cancer. Sophie Yang, Taiwan, said she really benefited from the Communication Skills workshop she attended before the Conference. The Conference Bookstore and the Exhibit Hall were open and stocked with items for attendees to take home to their LLL Groups or friends and family back home.

Human Milk: It's More Than Just Food

After the morning sessions, we were welcomed back to the Ballroom for a great lunch and more information. Katherine Shealy, MPH, IBCLC, RLC, one of the co-authors of the Centers for Disease Control's Guide to Breastfeeding Interventions (which was offered for free in the Conference Bookstore), shared key points from the publication with us, including the emphasis on peer support through state programs, La Leche League, and professional education such as the LLLI Physicians' Seminar. This document can be found on the Internet at feeding or ordered by sending an email to

Jean Moneyhon, the Mistress of Ceremonies, introduced Stephen Buescher, MD, an award-winning professor of pediatrics and the head of the Inflammation Section in the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia Medical School and Director of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship Training Program. Dr. Buescher was a warm and witty speaker with great passion for his work. "Human milk," he said, "is a specialized human infant support system that provides protection, nutrition, and information to the nursing infant." Since human milk is heterogenous (constantly changing) compared to artificial baby milk, which never changes, it can do a better job of meeting the needs of a developing infant. Dr. Buescher stated that the health care dollars saved by breastfeeding would amount to $3.6 billion.

In his explanation of how human milk works to protect infants, he explained that lactose is the most prominent component of milk, but that half of the lactose and half of the fat in human milk are non-nutritive; they pass through the infant digestive tract either intact or broken into smaller, working pieces. Instead of being used by the baby for energy, these leftover components are utilized by the beneficial intestinal flora—the "good" bacteria such as bifidus and lactobacillus.

Inflammation is currently a very hot topic in medical research because scientists are realizing that inflammation in response to an infectious agent often causes more damage to the body than the infectious agent itself. One of Dr. Buescher's most intriguing points was his explanation of the role of anti-inflammatory components of human milk. These components control the inflammatory response in the infant's body, so even if infectious agents are in the intestine, no outward signs of infection are present in the infant.

Another fact that every nursing mother is already aware of is the milder smell of bowel movements from a breastfed baby. Dr. Buescher told us that hydrogen is produced by the digestion of human milk in the intestine, but very few odoriferous and toxic compounds are released. In nature, this helps to improve the survival rate of infant animals. If they can't be detected by smell, they're less likely to be killed by predators. Smell also plays an important role in the transfer of milk to the infant. A doe teaches her fawn what is safe to eat by the scent and flavor of her milk. This can be an advantage and disadvantage for human infants, as we know that infants receive associated flavors and substances like nicotine in human milk.

Dr. Buescher charmed the audience with his sense of humor and obvious love for mothers and babies. He was definitely a favorite!

The World Faire of LLLI

Sunday night was the moment many younger Conference participants were waiting for: The World Faire! The Ballroom was filled with tables and displays from our global LLL village. Both children and adults enthusiastically circulated among the tables collecting stamps and stickers in special passports. It was an opportunity to meet Leaders from many states, countries, Divisions, and Affiliates, and to see products that came from all areas of the world. Always popular, LLL of Japan wrote out names in Japanese characters; LLL of Israel offered postage stamps and brochures; LLL of Guatemala had their very well-known woven handbags and other textile goods for sale; and activities such as drawing and dancing were taking place on the stage. Some of the most interesting items for all Conference attendees were the breastfeeding promotion brochures from other countries. You can always find a special gift at the World Faire—something that's traveled many miles to get there!

Mastering the Art of Doing It Now

Some registrants celebrated the US Independence Day holiday on Monday morning by joining in the early rejuvenation activities such as pool aerobics or a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Others enjoyed the chance to sleep a little later and prepare for the 8 am concurrent sessions. At 12:30 pm, it was time once again to share a meal with friends. The six to eight year olds of the Chance to Dance group charmed us with their version of "Syncopated Clocks." Rachel O'Leary of the Board of Directors presented James Akre, recently retired from the World Health Organization, with an LLLI Award of Achievement for outstanding support of breastfeeding.

Donna Cookson Martin introduced the presenter, Rita Emmett, who spoke about "Mastering the Art of Doing It Now." Ms. Emmett has written The Procrastinator's Handbook and The Procrastinating Child (Available from LLLI. No. 1656-7, $10.95). Emmett shared a lighthearted look at the cost of procrastination while acknowledging the financial, physical, and emotional tolls that result. Sometimes the dread of doing a task uses up more time and energy than simply doing the task itself.

She asked attendees to think of and share with those at our tables the "one thing you're putting off that, once you accomplish it, will move you closer to success or happiness." To stop procrastinating, she explained how to use the "STING" method:

Select one task

you've been putting off. Break it down to just one small piece if it's complicated. For instance, if the task is cleaning the kitchen, reorganizing a drawer is just one piece of the larger task.
Time yourself.
Use a kitchen timer so you don't have to watch the clock and give the task one full hour. Children might need to reduce that time to just 10 or 15 minutes.
Ignore everything else
that needs to be done.
No breaks
Give yourself a reward
when the task is completed.

Some people who procrastinate put off doing the things they love to do. Emmett commented that people should find a way to incorporate enjoyable activities into everyday life. Children need to learn how to have fun. She mentioned a survey of children who were asked if they wanted to be a parent someday, and 80 percent said "no" because they believe parents are always in a hurry and don't get to do fun things. Emmett stated that everyone can overcome procrastination and have a great time doing it!

Founders' Tea Party

On Monday afternoon, we gathered in the Ballroom for tea with the Founders and "Music from a Mother's Heart." It was an opportunity to share a light meal and learn more about the Founders and their families. The tables were gorgeously decorated with a variety of teapot centerpieces and a lovely program and commemorative teaspoon for each guest. As attendees entered the Ballroom, Lu Hanessian (also the Gala Dinner speaker) played piano and sang songs from her new CD. Janet Jendron, Mistress of Ceremonies, invited the Founders to share with the audience a favorite song they had chosen from their family's memories. Assisted by the musicians, each Founder sang her selected song. The audience joined in with the help of the lyrics that were in the program.

Founder Marian Tompson presented an Alumnae Award honoring Marjie Hathaway, who, with her husband, Jay, and Dr. Robert Bradley, founded the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth. Marjie told us about how LLL changed her life. After hearing Dr. Bradley speak at an LLLI Conference in 1965, she searched for a doctor who would deliver her child without drugs. Unable to find one, she flew to Denver to have Dr. Bradley deliver her baby. His encouragement to "start something" in her community was the beginning of a great adventure.

Leaders who had served for 25 or more years were recognized with a warm round of applause. The audience also watched a very family-friendly music video called, "Let Them Be Little" by country artist Billy Dean. The chorus, "Let them cry, let them giggle, let them sleep in the middle" was met with cheers and applause by enthusiastic attendees.

At the end of the Tea, a lovely presentation called We Remember honored Leaders who have passed away since the 2003 Conference. It was an introspective moment, remembering women with whom we've worked closely.

Fireworks and Fountains

On the evening of July 4, Conference goers celebrated at the Gallery of Gatherings. The Independence Day festivities at the Washington Monument and Capitol Building were shown on the big screens in the Ballroom while people visited with friends and enjoyed chocolate fountains and snacks. Whenever and wherever LLL members come together, we can always count on interesting conversation and chocolate!

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter

The final morning of the Conference opened in the Ballroom with a performance by the Chance to Dance children, ages eight to 12 years old. Many proud parents were there taking pictures while their children danced. Betty Crase welcomed everyone in a variety of languages and Heidi BK Sloss presented an LLLI Service Award to the Advertising Council for their work on the National Breastfeeding Campaign.

Another very touching moment came when Dr. Jack Newman, a Canadian physician and popular speaker at many LLL Conferences, was presented with an LLLI Award of Excellence for outstanding work in breastfeeding. The audience gave him a standing ovation and a very emotional Dr. Jack thanked "all the mothers and babies who came through our clinic and taught me about breastfeeding."

The speaker for the riveting main session was Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a psychologist and the father of five children. The session was titled, "Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter." He asked, "What makes a child easy to parent?" and listed a number of attributes, such as "listens and attends to us; follows us; trusts us; takes our cues on behavior; feels at home with us; seeks our help; and looks up to us." All of these things are actually attributes of relationships, and he emphasized that parenting doesn't happen outside of the relationship—without these characteristics, we would consider a child "difficult" to parent.

Like many precious factors in relationships, these attributes can't be taught, but they can be lost. The basis for attachment theory is the drive to be in close proximity to another person. Neufeld believes that this is the key element in both parenting and teaching. Parents of school-aged children can relate to the burning question at the beginning of each new school year: "Does he like his teacher?" If a student likes his teacher, we know the year will go more successfully.

He made the case that attachment is the normal course of behavior; the attachment of elements forms molecules, the attachment of planets forms solar systems, the fetus attaches by the umbilical cord, the infant by breastfeeding and carrying. Plants attach to the earth by way of their roots, and though hidden below ground, they are the key to successful growth.

Attachment also creates dependence, and in some cultures this is appreciated and respected. Unfortunately, many more cultures have encouraged a more independent approach to child-rearing. Parent-child relationships are meant to be hierarchical and are most successful when parents use loving guidance and take the lead. Children have instincts to dominate because they are naturally self-centered before adulthood, and yet they aren't ready to make decisions in an adult world.

Though parents may seek counseling for children's behavior problems, Neufeld stated that most behavioral problems are actually relationship problems. He encouraged parents to use methods of discipline that don't divide the parent and child. Neufeld also stated that today's teens are more likely to have competing attachments in peers and outside activities. They have more problems because attachment has broken down too soon. It is important for teens to be more attached to their family than to their peers until they achieve enough maturity to relate to peers without losing their individuality.

In closing, Neufeld emphasized that parenthood is no longer lasting as long as childhood. Many children need attachment until they are in their early twenties. We need to hold onto them until they can hold onto themselves; to guide and direct them; to shield and protect them; and to raise them to maturity. Neufeld provided a fascinating and enlightening session. One attendee commented, "It was like lightbulbs were going off!"

Lunch on Tuesday opened with the Chance to Cheer participants on stage. Afterwards, a special gift was presented to the Founders by Ellen Shein and Sharon Vines: a beautiful Hibel lithograph and memory books for each Founder compiled from personal notes written by Leaders from all over the world.

Rachel O'Leary introduced the main speaker, Audrey Naylor, a physician from California, co-founder of Wellstart International, and a real clown at heart, who was speaking on "Breastfeeding -- Modern Miracle." Where Ros Escott's focus was on the system-specific effects of human milk and Dr. Buescher's approach was focused on the composition and action of human milk on the infant's body, Dr. Naylor's focus was on the global benefits, and the fact that there is no substitute for human milk and the process of breastfeeding. She talked about the many risks to reproductive success that infants of all species must survive: hypothermia, infection, starvation, accidents, abuse, and abandonment—all must be avoided in order to reach adulthood. Luckily, breastfeeding makes that possible for infants and provides outstanding levels of secretory IgA, which is at its highest available levels at one day postpartum. Over the course of the first two years of growth, an infant's immune system develops and reaches maturity.

Even in this decade, Dr. Naylor said that 10 million children worldwide die every year due to conditions that could have been helped or prevented by optimal breastfeeding. Much work remains in overcoming the barriers and improving the opportunity for a healthier start for all babies: longer maternity leaves, bringing babies to work, controlled marketing of formula, education of health providers, and good postpartum care.

Silver Threads That Lead to Gold

The Gala Dinner and Closing Celebration was an elegant affair that opened with the Chance to Dance teens showing off their well-rehearsed routine. Marian Tompson presented Dr. Paul Fleiss with the Founders' Award. He shared his memories from the early days of LLL and said, "Thank you, La Leche League, for my career!" A highlight of the evening was the presentation, "Let the Baby Drive," and music by Lu Hanessian, author and host of the Discovery Health Channel's show, "Make Room for Baby." She shared insights from her personal journey in parenting and described how parents can cope with popular opinion and the self-doubt that causes many to disconnect from their intuition. By following intuition, explained Lu, parents are seeing with their hearts and being open to learning from their children. A theme echoed in one of her songs was, "So forgive me if I learn along with you, your baby steps will be my own baby steps, too."

At the end of the 19th International Conference, attendees were invited to join in the celebration that will be the 50th Anniversary Conference in 2007 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. A golden year for LLL! As stated in the program book for the Gala Dinner and Closing:

We are grateful to those who have kept the art alive and for those who continue to pass the legacy of breastfeeding from generation to generation, as we celebrate an Ancient Art that has become a Modern Miracle. You are the difference in the health and well-being of our children.

Kathryn Major has been a Leader in Kansas City, Missouri, USA for 12 years and is currently part of the LLL US Western Division's Publications/Online Workgroup, supporting Area Leaders' Letter Editors and Area Communications Coordinators. This was her fifth LLLI Conference. She works as a paralegal, homeschools her 15-year-old daughter, Celia, and has two shelties and a house full of kittens.

Last updated Friday, September 29, 2006 by sjs.
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