Thank you, La Leche League

wbw2016-logo-textMary White, Edwina Hearn Froehlich, Mary Anne Cahill, Betty Wagner Spandikow, Viola Brennan Lennon, Mary Ann Kerwin, Marian Leonard Tompson — while these 7 names may not ring a bell, what they did has influenced so many lives all around the world. These 7 ladies founded La Leche League International (LLLI).

It’s because of LLLI that we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week each year!

La Leche League International is an organization that promotes breastfeeding. Its mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

Elaborating on their mission, LLLI’s philosophy is comprised of 10 statements:

  1. Mother Baby Embrace ClayMothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.
  2. Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.
  3. In the early years, the baby has an intense need to be with his mother, which is as basic as his need for food.
  4. Human milk is the natural food for babies, uniquely meeting their changing needs.
  5. For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids — about the middle of the first year after birth.
  6. Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.
  7. Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  8. Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy.
  9. Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
  10. From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

With a vision of what breastfeeding could and should be, a mission was created, principles stated, and an organization that would change the world of breastfeeding became: La Leche League.

With a decline in breastfeeding rates, the first La Leche League meeting took place in Franklin Park, Illinois, USA, at the home of cofounder Mary White in October 1956. As the organization began to grow, the founders set a clear purpose, and the first edition of book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was published.

In 1960, the first Canadian Le Leche League was established. Two years later, “chapters” were created with 5 groups in each. By 1963, the second edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding made an appearance. By 1964, the group changed its name to Le Leche League International as the organization has spread to Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand. This year also marked the first LLLI conference. From 1972-1979, more Le Leche League organizations were established throughout Europe, and breastfeeding rates were improving. In 1981, the 25th Anniversary LLLI Conference was held with a record number of attendees, and the third edition — revised and expanded — of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was published. Throughout the 1980s, LLLI published various books. Then, in 1985, the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners — created through help from LLLI — began its certification program, and the first IBCLC exam took place.

Although breastfeeding rates had increased to 61.9% in the early ’80s, by 1990, the rate had dropped to 50%, and in 1991, LLLI and other organizations and individuals came together to create the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. The first World Breastfeeding Week took place in 1992. In 1994, LLLI moved its central office to Schaumburg, Illinois, USA, and the following year, the LLLI website was created. Breastfeeding rates increased to nearly 60%.

During the first decade of the 21st century, LLLI continued to grow, accrediting new leaders in various countries including Bulgaria and Ukraine. In 2006, the 50th Anniversary of LLLI was celebrated, and in 2009, LLLI created a Facebook page. In 2010, the 8th edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was released not only in English but other languages. Since then, LLLI has continued to accredit leaders in countries, helping the organization grow and spread its important mission.

As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we acknowledge LLLI’s notable contribution to breastfeeding and also recognize the extraordinary women, the founders of LLLI, for their initiative and hard work making LLLI what it is today.

There’s a Pause Button, Just in Case

“It’s green. Really green,” said my midwife just after my water broke. The amniotic fluid was meconium-stained, and my mind went to the worst.

“So he’ll end up with some in his lungs?” I asked. 

She threw out a percentage of babies who aspirate meconium, and I don’t recall the exact figure, but it was in the 20s. And she said of those, not all babies have problems from meconium aspiration.

That was enough to keep me from worrying. After all, I had work to do.

My midwife told me that she would have the neonatal team at the ready, just in case. Of course, I wasn’t focusing on much of anything at that point, except getting the baby earthside.

When my sweet boy was born, there was no cry. Nobody in the room smiled. Instead, there was a mix of hesitation and silent commotion. Everyone faced the warming table, where the neonatal team was hard at work trying to stabilize him.

The nurse came over to tell me that I could hold him briefly, but that he would need to go to the NICU right away. When she handed him to me, I held him for just a moment, gave him a kiss and willingly handed him back. He was struggling, and I didn’t want to waste another second. I wanted him to go wherever he needed to go to get better.

We later found out that my baby had a collapsed lung and had to stay in the isolette under oxygen therapy. I couldn’t hold him for three days and I couldn’t nurse him for four.

I worried that the separation would tamper with our biological bonding mechanisms. I wondered whether he felt secure and comforted. I wondered how this would affect my hormones and my milk supply. I worried that he felt abandoned.

I wondered if it hurt to have a hole in your lung.

For my baby’s first few days, I would sit near his isolette, occasionally reaching in to trace his little fingers with mine.

On the third day, the nurse told me that the doctor thought that kangaroo care (holding the baby skin-to-skin) would help him make some strides toward recovery. I tried hard to keep it cool, but I failed hard – I burst into tears right then and there. I had waited so long to hold my baby boy.

When the nurse handed him to me for the first time, I felt that rush of love you hear about – that same surge of emotion that I felt right after the birth of my first two babies when the nurses handed them to me.

All this time, I thought I had missed my window. But it was there, waiting for our little reunion.

There was no doubt that that feeling was our bonding hormones at work. I knew because it was familiar. I had felt that before with my first two babies and it is an indescribable feeling that cannot be replicated. As for more concrete evidence that the hormones were in working order, I had been pumping 0.2 or 0.3 mL of colostrum at a time (drops!) and after I held my boy I filled a full 3 mL.

The next day, the doctor suggested I try to nurse him. I expected a learning curve, as he had gone days without learning to breastfeed instead of initiating within minutes of birth. But I was wrong. The little champ latched like a pro right away.

My sweet boy is now off of the growth charts, strong as a bull and he’s the happiest and most loving baby I have ever seen. All you have to do is make eye contact with him and he’ll give you a big cheeky toothless smile that just puts you deeper under his spell. And I have every reason to believe that we have established a secure attachment that we will build upon for a lifetime.

I hope I’m not diminishing the importance of bonding immediately after birth. Mother and baby are primed for bonding during this time and should make the most of those short minutes and hours if they can. Just know that if you have to wait a few hours or days to begin getting to know each other, it will be okay.

 

 

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