Specializing in the Normal Course of Breastfeeding


Penny Piercy, RALA and Susan Moore, CLA

Reprinted from Ten-Gallon Tidings, Spring 2004

How many times have you responded to a telephone call from a mother who wonders whether her newborn is getting enough milk?  Do you wish you had a nickel for every time you’ve reassured a mother that it’s normal that her three-month-old baby isn’t sleeping through the night?   You can probably recite the many advantages of breastfeeding in your sleep and identify a case of thrush based on the suffering mother’s colorful description alone.   If so, you are a typical La Leche League Leader—which is to say, someone not so very typical at all!

What sets a La Leche League Leader apart from others who advocate for and help mothers to breastfeed?  Quite simply: the fact that our Leaders are or have been breastfeeding mothers who find that their own personal beliefs are reflected in the ten concepts of LLL philosophy.  Mother-to-mother help along with a first hand knowledge of the normal course of breastfeeding is what makes a La Leche League Leader unique.

LLL Leaders exist to help all mothers who wish our help, whether or not they agree with our philosophy.  At the same time, LLL Leaders, unlike volunteers for most organizations, actually represent the organization.  That means a Leader is expected to understand and agree with all of LLL philosophy and to find it workable in her life.  Her “example in action” is important to our credibility.

ACLAs often hear statements like these about mothers Leaders would like to approach to apply for LLL leadership:

  • “Gloria has been through every breastfeeding challenge in the book: cesarean delivery, premature baby, inverted nipples, thrush, mastitis, and more.  She’s so encouraging to other mothers who are suffering from problems with breastfeeding.”
  • “Dionne is a labor and delivery nurse at the local hospital.  She breastfed her children when they were babies and is planning to become an IBCLC.  She says we could even use the meeting room at the hospital for Series Meetings.”
  • “None of my co-Leaders or I work.  Margaret has lots of experience with pumping and storing milk and can really relate to the other working mothers in our Group.  She would be a help as a Leader!”

How might mothers with special areas of expertise help LLL?   Leaders may have sometimes heard that “LLL doesn’t accredit specialist Leaders.”  Is that true?

Each of the fictional interested mothers described above has skills and experiences that might be valuable to other mothers. While the Leader facilitates meeting discussion and offers information and clarification as needed, Group members like these provide a variety of experiences and ideas that help the Leader to meet the needs of many different mothers.   These mothers are involved in mother-to-mother support as they share information and their experiences with other Group members.

Without more information, it would not be possible to assess whether leadership is a good fit for “Gloria,” “Margaret,” or “Dionne.”   If a Group member has specific skills or experiences that you think might be of special benefit to the Group, it is important to take the same thorough approach to pre-application dialogue that you would with any interested mother.  If a mother approaches you with interest in leadership premised on her special skills or interests, or on a desire to form a new Group to meet the needs of a special population of mothers, it is important to clarify LLL Leaders’ roles and obligations.

In order to apply for accreditation as a La Leche League Leader, a mother must meet all of the Prerequisites for Leadership as outlined in Appendix 18 of LLLI’s Policies and Standing Rules Notebook found on page 219 of the LEADER’S HANDBOOK (2003).  Always contact your local LAD representative if you have questions about a prospective application.  An application for leadership is founded first and foremost on a mother’s personal breastfeeding and mothering experiences and how those reflect La Leche League philosophy.   Applicants will expand on their own experiences through reading LLL resources, corresponding with a Leader Accreditation Department representative (ACLA), developing communications skills, practicing telephone helping, and participating in Group management activities.  The broader perspective developed during the application time, along with the resources she has at hand, will help a new Leader be able to aid and empower mothers with a broad variety of personal experiences or challenges.

To be accredited as an LLL Leader, an Applicant demonstrates knowledge of breastfeeding management (among other requirements).  This includes knowledge about how to avoid and overcome many difficulties, as well as when she needs to consult a support Leader, and when it’s better to refer a mother to professional help.  As with other aspects of her work, each Leader brings her own particular experiences, or challenges she has weathered: “collectively, LLL Leaders provide a variety of real life examples of mothering through breastfeeding and ways that challenges to breastfeeding can be overcome” (LLLI PSR Appendix 18.2).

Because of the broadened awareness and additional knowledge acquired during application time, along with the resources and support network available to us, Leaders can help other mothers whose experiences are different than our own.  Leaders who have only given birth to single babies can help mothers of twins, a Leader whose baby was born via a cesarean section can support the mother who is considering a home birth, and Leaders who are not themselves employed outside the home can assist employed mothers.   Indeed, in many less populated areas, the LLL Leader may find herself one of the only sources of support for a mother with special circumstances.

When a Leader finds she shares a particular interest or experience with a mother she is helping, she may experience a special sense of empathy with that mother and be able to forge a heightened rapport with her.   Every individual Leader has her own special areas of expertise, based on her personal experience, interest, and training.  In fact, LLLI keeps a Leader Specialty File to assist those seeking Leaders with personal or counseling experience in specific situations.

Additionally, some communities offer meetings aimed at mothers with certain distinctive experiences/needs, such as Toddler Meetings, Twins Groups, occasional Employed Breastfeeding Mothers Meetings, or Groups directed to speakers of specific languages.  A Group member with special expertise that she would like to share might be interested in helping lead an Enrichment Meeting on the subject.  She might also donate books on the subject to the LLL Group or public libraries, or take specific LLL books or pamphlets to local health care providers.  (Books must be LLLI-approved for inclusion in Group or Chapter Libraries.)

At the same time, the focus of most La Leche League Groups and Group Leaders is to “specialize” in “the normal course of breastfeeding.”   Regardless of language, employment status, or educational/professional background, mothers still call with those same questions LLL Leaders have been answering for the past forty-eight years.