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Keeping the Message Clear

Claire Bloodgood
Georgetown, Texas, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 1, February-March 2001, pp. 7-8.

What is LLL philosophy? What can distort it? How can we keep our message clear? It is important to know the answers to these questions as we carry out our responsibility to take an active role in helping other mothers prepare to become LLL Leaders.

What LLLI Philosophy Is (and Isn't)

LLLI philosophy is fully developed in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. The concept statements summarize our basic beliefs. LLLI philosophy is the heart of LLL. These principles promote mothering through breastfeeding, the healthy growth and development of the child, and a strong, healthy bond within the family. The LLLI LEADER'S HANDBOOK (1998 edition) gives us guidelines for presenting these beliefs.

The first three concepts are related and serve as a foundation for the others.

  • Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.
  • Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.
  • In the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food.

These address why we believe breastfeeding is good for mother and baby, how to establish and maintain breastfeeding and a satisfying relationship between mother and child, and the respect we have for that relationship as it continues to develop.

The next three concepts are also related.

  • Breast milk is the superior infant food.
  • For the healthy, full-term baby breast milk is the only food necessary until baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth.
  • Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.

Understanding the nutritional superiority of breast milk leads us to avoid substituting other foods before the baby is physically ready for them. Understanding the continued benefits of human milk and breastfeeding motivates us to continue the breastfeeding relationship for as long as it is satisfying to baby and mother.

The next two concepts address situations that enhance the breastfeeding relationship.

  • Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • 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.

These two concepts look at breastfeeding in the context of how the mother and baby can be affected by the childbirth experience and the people around them. Being alert and actively involved when the baby is born helps the mother and baby to be physically and emotionally ready to begin breastfeeding. Having the support of her partner in parenting can help the mother overcome difficulties and persevere. The fathering concept also touches on the ongoing social and emotional development of the child which is further addressed in the concept statement on loving guidance.

The last two concepts address the needs of the growing child through and beyond the breastfeeding years.

  • Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
  • From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

Breastfeeding provides many physical, nutritional, emotional, and social benefits. The nutrition concept is a natural extension of choosing the best food for a baby. The loving guidance concept is a logical continuation of the care and concern we have for the child's emotional and social development.

Belief in and representation of LLLI philosophy provides the common bond among Leaders with varying experiences, cultures, and backgrounds. Leaders share a commitment to this philosophy because we understand its importance. We believe that breastfeeding and mothering go hand in hand, that breastfeeding can enhance our mothering, and that responsive mothering can make breastfeeding work better. LLLI philosophy as expressed in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING forms the basis for the suggestions we offer mothers.

Leaders strive to balance strong convictions about parenting choices with respect for other parents' right to make their own choices. The concepts are worded very generally. Our philosophy is broad and flexible enough to encompass a wide range of parenting choices and lifestyles, and it is relevant to many different family situations. As we consider candidates for leadership, we can keep this in mind, remembering that there are many pictures of LLLI philosophy in action.

The concepts are worded as beliefs, not as specific actions to perform. Our philosophy encourages a mother to look to her child for cues to meet his needs. LLL not only offers accurate breastfeeding information, we emphasize breastfeeding as a foundation for the relationship between mother and baby. We affirm the mother's importance to her baby and encourage her to be responsive and loving to him, to follow her heart. She will then base her choices on her beliefs and her knowledge of her unique child.

How the Picture of LLLI Philosophy Can Be Distorted

LLL's image can be distorted when the Leaders and/or members of a Group present only one example of LLLI philosophy or discuss topics which are outside the philosophy. A mother coming to an LLL meeting for the first time can easily mistake these choices as examples of LLLI philosophy. She may feel that LLL has nothing to offer her, that she does not fit in, or that she is not welcome if she disagrees. She may wonder whether the others in the Group could ever understand her problems and concerns.

For example, one childbirth method may become the focus of discussion rather than active and alert participation in birth in order to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Discussion of specialized diets may overshadow more general suggestions about choosing a wide variety of foods with minimal processing. The family bed can be helpful to a nursing mother who is trying to get more sleep, but should be only one of the options offered as ways to meet a child's nighttime needs.

Topics that are outside the philosophy altogether can include herbal remedies, cloth diapers, home schooling, and many others. It often happens that mothers within a Group will share these kinds of interests, however LLL meetings are not the place to talk about them. We avoid mixing causes so mothers won't be confused about what LLL stand for.

At LLL meetings, Leaders present LLLI's philosophy of mothering through breastfeeding. Our focus is helping mothers with the normal course of breastfeeding. Our primary consideration is meeting the needs of the newcomers. Leaders try to present a wide variety of options that fit within LLLI's philosophy. We are respectful and accepting of every mother, whatever her experience.

The picture of LLLI philosophy can also be distorted when a Leader shares too much of her own personal experience. THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK (1998 edition), pages 65-66, explores how and when a Leader might mention a personal experience and explains the drawbacks of sharing too much. The problem comes when mothers perceive the Leader's choices as the only choices LLL promotes. A Leader can inadvertently make herself the model to follow. Leaders often preface suggestions with the tried and true phrases, "Many mother have found..." and "Have you considered...?"

Keeping the Message Clear

LLLI philosophy offers ideas that can work for many different family situations and can be applied in many different ways. We can prevent distorted impressions of LLLI philosophy by carefully monitoring the content of Group discussions and offering clarifications of LLLI philosophy when necessary. We can help Leader Applicants learn how to present the philosophy clearly. When we go back to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING we find LLL's core beliefs. When we return to THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK we draw on the experience of thousand of other Leaders in presenting them.

Suggested Reading:

Whelan, J Helping mothers when you have strong feelings about their choices. LEAVEN, 34:6, Dec 1998-Jan 1999; 130.

Del Gigante, L. Thoughts about LLL's mission, goals, and philosophy. LEAVEN, 29:3, May-June 1993; 39, 45.

Hamilton, J. When a Leader's beliefs become mixing causes. LEAVEN, 35:2, April-May 1999: 30.

Boyle, D. Keeping the discussion on target. LEAVEN, 29:2, March-April 1993; 22.

Del Gigante, L. and Hartt, T. Many pictures of LLLI philosophy. LEAVEN, 34:6, Dec 1998-Jan 1999; 129.

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