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La Leche League International
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Contact: Kimberly Cavaliero or Mary Lofton
Phone: 847-519-7730 ext. 233 or ext. 271

SCHAUMBURG, IL (February 15, 2000) – An episode of Law and Order, an NBC television show, airing February 9, 2000, portrayed the death of a breastfed infant from dehydration and failure to thrive due to neglect on the part of the mother and exacerbated by her lactation counselor’s overbearing attitude. The show portrayed breastfeeding advocates in general as rigid, inflexible zealots. In reality a breastfeeding counselor can play an important role in a new mother’s life by providing information and support especially in cases where a mother is having difficulties breastfeeding. La Leche League International (LLLI) encourages mothers to seek assistance from a qualified medical professional, lactation consultant, or La Leche League Leader.

We would like to bring clarification to other points written into the show. They are listed as follows:

We do not feel the portrayal of the lactation counselor as a villain was realistic. A breastfeeding counselor such as a lactation consultant or La Leche League Leader is trained to acknowledge the feelings a new mother may be experiencing including those of anxiety, exhaustion, and stress. These counselors are expected to extend patience, understanding, and a caring attitude to the new mother. A trained counselor also knows the signs of dehydration in a breastfed baby and can give the mother the information she needs to identify the signs that show her baby is receiving enough milk. These signs include:

  • The baby nurses frequently averaging at least 8-12 feedings per 24-hour period.
  • The mother should listen to be sure she can hear the baby swallow as he/she is breastfeeding.
  • The baby will have, after the third day of life, 6-8 very wet cloth diapers or 5-6 wet disposable diapers as well as 2-5 bowel movements per day.
  • The baby should gain at least 4-7 ounces per week after the fourth day of life.
  • The baby will be alert and active, appear healthy, have good color, firm skin, and will be growing in length and head circumference.

We feel that a mother who acts in the manner portrayed in the show is neglectful of her baby and whether she is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, neglect plays a larger role in the matter than the method of feeding. The closeness of breastfeeding along with the hormones produced in human milk also assist the mother-baby dyad in the bonding process, therefore making the mother more aware of her baby’s cues.

The show also stated that the character of the mother signed a "contract" agreeing to exclusively nurse her child. She then used this contract as an excuse as to why she didn’t supplement the baby with artificial baby milk at a point when the baby was not thriving. LLLI is not aware of any such contract being used in hospitals and would not be supportive of one if it did exist.

It is imperative for television writers and producers to check facts with organizations such as LLLI so as not to misrepresent breastfeeding and breastfeeding advocates to the general public.

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