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2003 LLL Award Recipients Helping Mothers

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 1, February-March 2003, p. 16.

2003 La Leche League Award RecipientsThe La Leche League International Board of Directors honors individuals who have made significant contributions in the field of breastfeeding through Awards that are traditionally presented at the biennial LLLI Conference. For the 2003 Awards, nominations were received from Leaders around the world, and the recipients come from many places. While the Awards of Appreciation, Excellence, Achievement, and Recognition may be presented to individuals, the Award for Leaders is specifically for groups of LLL Leaders who have worked collaboratively.

The interesting and outstanding work of Dr. Carlos González, recipient of the Award of Appreciation, and Dr. Nils Bergman, Award of Excellence, are presented here. Look for information on other Award recipients in future issues of Leaven.

Award of Appreciation: Dr. Carlos González

I was born the youngest of three in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1960. My father worked for an insurance company and my mother stayed at home with us. When I was six years old, we moved to Barcelona, where I later studied medicine.

Soon after entering university, I was fortunate enough to meet Joana, the most wonderful woman in the world. We married four years later and had a baby before starting our internships—her in family medicine and me in pediatrics. We were told, as doctors-to-be, that breastfeeding was best for mother and baby. Without even understanding the concept of "feeding on demand" that well, Joana managed to breastfed our first baby, Daniel, for more than a year.

It wasn’t until years later during my residency that I became familiar with La Leche League. I was talking with a social worker about a patient of mine when, from the next room, I heard a woman say, "I have just written to La Leche League…." The name of the organization caught my attention because I had come across it once in a pediatrics textbook. At the time, I remember thinking how odd it was that only half the name was translated into Spanish.

Intrigued, I couldn’t resist asking the woman, Rosa Florensa, "What do you know about La Leche League? Is not ‘The Milk League’ the right way to say it?" Rosa, a social worker, explained the organization to me and how an LLL Leader had helped her when she gave birth in the USA years before. She was writing to LLL to find out how she could incorporate breastfeeding information into her work.

When Rosa received her requested information, she shared it with me. I’d just started to learn English a year before and had to work hard to absorb the wonderful information and research. I was inspired, so I became a Breastfeeding Resource Center.

My new idols were Lawrence Gartner, Audrey Naylor, Marianne Neifert, and Chele Marmet. I remember crying when I read the 1987 LLLI Conference program and saw that all of these important people would be assembled there. Attending the Conference seemed like an impossible dream for me until I received a letter from LLLI inviting me to be a speaker. I was ecstatic!

My Conference experience was wonderful. I returned home knowing that breastfeeding would be the work of my life, and knowing also that co-sleeping was okay. Our next children, Sara and Marina, were breastfed for more than three years.

In 1990, Rosa Florensa, Lua Català, a pediatrician, Elisa Sagués, a nurse auxiliar, and myself founded the Associació Catalana Pro Alletament Matern, also known as ACPAM (Catalan Breastfeeding Association). ACPAM makes and distributes educational materials, such as books, videos, leaflets, and posters, and teaches breastfeeding courses for health professionals (more than 100 20-hour courses all over Spain).

I stopped working as a pediatrician seven years ago. I currently work part time in several areas. I write articles and answer letters for a parents’ magazine, translate books on breastfeeding, and give courses and Conferences. I have published a book, Mi niño no me come, which explains why children don’t eat and why a child should never be force-fed. My second book, which I am still working on, will explain why children need to be held and why they don’t like to sleep alone. Most of this work is done from my home, so I’m also a stay-at-home dad.

My job as a father is the work I’m most proud of. In life, I think that being mothers and fathers is the only transcendent thing we do—the only job that has lasting effects. If there were no children, all our pains and efforts would be utterly useless.

La Leche League Leaders raise their children and help other mothers to do the same. While doctors frequently see breastfeeding only as the best nutrition or as a protection against disease, mother-to-mother support groups promote much more than just a feeding method. At LLL meetings, Leaders speak about loving children and giving them attention and respect. In time, these children will be able to give the love, attention, and respect they received to others and their own children. LLL Leaders are a part of a revolution, one that truly changes the world.

Keep up the great work.

Best wishes,
Carlos González

Award of Excellence: Dr. Nils Bergman

Kendall Cox
Greenville MS USA

Dr. Nils Bergman is the recipient of this year’s La Leche League Award of Excellence, given to an individual for outstanding work or accomplishment in the breastfeeding world. He is perhaps best known for his work with kangaroo mother care. Dr. Bergman first began studying and implementing kangaroo mother care at a small hospital in Zimbabwe as a means to improve the survival rate of very low birth weight infants. His tireless promotion of kangaroo mother care has brought this life-saving intervention to the attention of an international audience.
Dr. Bergman was born in Sweden and grew up in Zimbabwe, where his parents were missionaries. His father was a doctor and for many years ran the hospital where Dr. Bergman later worked. His mother was, among many other things, a teacher. The majority of his schooling took place in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) and his medical training was done in South Africa, where he currently lives with his wife, Jill, and their children, Rebecka, Simon, and Emma, all of whom were breastfed and carried on Jill’s back until they got too big.
When asked about his work, Dr. Bergman replied, "I take pride in all my work and I try to do even the little things properly." Some of his accomplishments include finding a treatment for life-threatening scorpion stings, supervising district health care, and establishing home-based care programs for AIDS patients. In addition to his job of managing a perinatal service that delivers 16,000 babies a year, Dr. Bergman also spends a lot of his time and energy promoting kangaroo mother care and is happy to see its use continue to grow as well and the impact it is having on mothers and babies.
When asked if he could pinpoint something that altered the course of his life and placed him on the road to where he is now, Dr. Bergman stated:
It is mostly "somebodies" rather than somethings that have altered any course my life has taken. My parents, my wife, my God. Careerwise, my years on the mission changed me from being a regular doctor focused on caring for patients one by one to being a "public health physician," caring for the community at large. And in community care, nothing has higher value than mothers and babies! If life starts right it goes right.
Dr. Bergman worked for many years in a remote hospital and wrote a doctoral thesis on the effects of potentially deadly scorpion stings. This poison hyperstimulates the nervous system, especially pain fibers and the adrenergic system (sympathetic nervous system). In his current work on kangaroo mother care, he draws an analogy between the pain of scorpion stings and the pain a newborn baby experiences when separated from his mother. Babies are born without any filters to sensation and have acute sensibility to pain. Separating newborn babies from their mothers activates the very same nervous system as the scorpion poison does. Dr. Bergman concludes that for a newborn baby, separation from mother is the worst possible pain imaginable. Dr. Bergman says:
If I could say something to La Leche League Leaders of the world, it would be this: a newborn should never be separated from its mother. Ever. The smaller and the sicker the newborn is, the more important is the mother’s presence, with whatever available technology added. A mother has one responsibility only: To hold and to care for her newborn baby. When she does so, the baby will take responsibility for its own well-being—which it does by breastfeeding….For newborns, this is the best possible care imaginable.
There are many people, all over the world, doing the important work of protecting and promoting breastfeeding. The world is a better place because of them. Dr. Bergman is an outstanding example of one of these people.

Nan Jolly, a member of the LLLI Board of Directors, contacted Dr. González and asked him to write about his experiences. His response is included here. Kendall Cox, a member of the Awards Task Force, wrote the article about Dr. Nils Bergman.

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