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The Value of the LLL Group

Eileen Harrison
Rennes France
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 4, August-September 2002 p. 84.

Since its foundation 45 years ago, the LLL Group has been a major cornerstone of the organization. Group work is directly related to two basic responsibilities of leadership (leading meetings and managing the Group), as well as being a major factor in a third (helping mothers one-to-one). As a place where Applicants and potential Applicants can observe leadership skills in real situations, it also relates closely to yet another: helping mothers find out about leadership and prepare to become LLL Leaders.

The local LLL Group plays a primary role in supporting mothering through breastfeeding and sharing the joys. Research from the last two decades shows that there is a strong correlation between ongoing support and the duration and quality of the breastfeeding experience. Leaders’ experience in LLL confirms this. The support a mother gets in the Group is strongest because it is multifaceted. Groups provide different expectations and real life examples of needs being met in different ways that are compatible with breastfeeding. In the Group, a mother has the opportunity to observe many styles of mothering and breastfeeding. She sees that breastfeeding is something that works in the lives of real people in many settings.

All of these things are crucial elements of a mother’s path to self-empowerment, of learning to trust herself and her baby rather than relying on others. By gathering information that she can see works for others, she arms herself with the tools she needs to develop confidence in her abilities as a mother. At the same time, she knows there are other people she can consult should the need arise; that while breastfeeding sometimes poses problems, there are almost always solutions. Mothers can tailor the solutions to fit their individual goals and circumstances.

The LLL Group provides a safe place where breastfeeding is the norm—where other aspects of parenting and child development can be explored from the basis of an assumption of breastfeeding. Such a place is rare in some cultures around the world and is a precious resource to the breastfeeding mother.

Most of us have experience of this normalizing of breastfeeding. The mother comes to her first meeting believing that her baby nurses “all the time,” only to discover that many other babies nurse even more often and that their mothers are there to offer the breast without interrupting what they are doing. A mother attends a meeting believing babies only breastfeed for a few weeks and then need to be weaned or topped off with a bottle or solids, only to discover a roomful of healthy, happy babies of all ages exclusively or primarily nourished at the breast.

A mother who attends a meeting for information on weaning so that she can return to work meets women who have been able to combine working with breastfeeding, and women who have made the choice to stay at home with their babies and feel good about it.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles USA (UCLA), concluded that women deal with stress by getting together with other women. ( This study showed what most of us probably already know—that women problem-solve together. Early motherhood is a stressful time for most women. Breastfeeding in a culture that is still primarily a bottle-feeding culture adds more stress. Raising children by being responsive to their needs in a society that believes in teaching children their place and training them to early independence can also be stressful. The Group provides a forum for women with shared values to support each other and help keep that stress at a manageable level.

Breastfeeding mothers benefit from being able to call a Leader when they have questions or a particular problem is important for a mother. Leaders offer important problem-solving skills and suggestions. Some of this help is one-on-one, but the Group, in normalizing and helping women understand the reality of breastfeeding, plays a complementary role by helping mothers to avoid or minimize many problems in the first place.

You are an important force in making breastfeeding the cultural norm in your community. Support, encouragement, information, education—you provide them all in a setting that inspires mothers to join in spreading LLL’s information and philosophy.

Eileen Harrison is English but lives in Brittany, France where she recently formed LLL France’s first separate Toddler Group (LLL Bambins 35). She also regularly attends Series Meetings led by other local Leaders. She says "Mothers and babies in Groups are what LLL is all about and I need to keep that connection and bring it to my administrative work." Eileen is Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for Europe One and Europe Two as well as Grievance Commission Coordinator. She and her husband, Richard, have four sons and two granddaughters.

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