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Kitchen Table Breastfeeding

Julie Luna
Pleasant Hill CA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 43 No. 3, July-August-September 2007, p. 61

There are La Leche League Groups that are starting and successfully running breastfeeding cafés (see LEAVEN October-November 2005 for more information). I learned more about these cafés by signing up to the baby café discussion on the LLL Community Network, where there is currently a very lively discussion about this topic. (Note: breastfeeding cafés should not be confused with The Baby Café, which is a registered trademark of The Baby Café Charitable Trust.)

I was very intrigued the first time I heard the words "breastfeeding" and "café" uttered so casually, as though they somehow belong together. After all, I love cafés. I spent a lot of time in them when I was single and when I was married, but before we had children. Even though I've always been a tea drinker, I love the smell of fresh coffee. There has always been something intriguing about the aroma of roasting beans that have come from places I can only imagine visiting -- Africa, Guatemala. More than that, I loved the quietness of cafés -- people sipping their drinks while reading newspapers, studying for an exam, or just sitting.

Breastfeeding café...hmmm...I had visions of nursing my babies in a quiet place, sipping tea in a café that I loved being in. But the truth is, I haven't set foot in a café since I've had my children. I do walk by cafés and notice quiet babies sleeping while their mothers drink their tea, but I didn't seem to have the "sleep anywhere" kind of babies. Mine were wide awake when we went out because they were too intrigued by the world around them to sleep (despite how tired they were); they wanted to take it all in. And honestly, I never felt I could just sit while simultaneously holding a hot drink and a baby. I suddenly had visions of hospital visits because of roasted babies instead of roasted coffee beans. I couldn't sit in a café for fear of my visions coming true!

As I thought more about the word "café," I realized that I was stuck on it as a location. When I began thinking "outside the box" about the feelings evoked when I'm in a café or about the philosophy of the café movement -- which began as a way for like-minded people (mostly artists) to gather and share ideas -- I began to see more possibilities and understand the appeal of a breastfeeding café. It would be a place for mothers to go and share ideas about their babies, or in our case, share and learn about breastfeeding.

I believe this is really how we were meant to learn breastfeeding -- by being around other mothers who are breastfeeding. Ideally, as little girls, we would have seen our mothers or sisters or perhaps our aunts or even our grandmothers breastfeeding children. We would have absorbed a culture of breastfeeding simply by being present as it happened. Then as we prepared to breastfeed our own children, our bodies would already have had a memory of being breastfed and watching it happen. And there would have been a support network to guide us through the experience.

This would have been ideal, and I know a few people who have had this experience. Fortunately for me, my husband was breastfed and grew up watching his mother and his siblings nurse their children. (This allowed him to be very supportive of my decision to breastfeed; for him, it was a very normal and healthy choice.) I was not one of those fortunate women to have had this experience. I was not breastfed and had never seen anyone breastfeed until I was in my 30s and my peers were beginning to have children. After meeting many mothers and reading various studies, I know that I'm not unique. Many breastfeeding women share a similar story of trying to learn breastfeeding without the support of a family network.

In retrospect, I was one of the fortunate ones. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, took a class with my husband, did a little reading, and figured it was just something that would come naturally. Right after birth, my babies latched on and breastfed. I was lucky. I later learned, after meeting many mothers and through my work with LLL, that this is not always the case. Some mothers struggle to learn to breastfeed their babies. As LLL believes, it truly is a learned art -- one that we ideally learn in the context of a family and societal culture of breastfeeding. But that doesn't happen in many cultures today.

This may sound absurd, but when thinking about the ideal place to learn to breastfeed, I often think about my kitchen table. In my own family, the kitchen table is an important place. I was once asked to name a sacred object in our home that helped connect our family. I didn't hesitate and replied, "Our kitchen table." We share our meals there, but we also spend time talking about our lives -- it is the place where we are not distracted by the outside world or by worries. We are simply present for one another. I often have an image of women sitting around the kitchen table sipping tea (or cold beverages if they are holding a baby!) while they nurse their children, talk with one another about nursing, or help a new mom perfect her latch-on or give her remedies for healing engorged breasts. There wouldn't be any need for nursing mothers to cover up -- they would all freely check the latch-on or inspect sore breasts and offer stories, wisdom, and advice.

For the first LLL Group I worked with, I hosted the toddler meetings in my home for a year. Although a bit apprehensive at first, I've grown to love having meetings in my home. For these meetings, I took an informal, but structured approach. We always left a large piece of paper next to the sign-in sheet where mothers could write their the issues they'd like to discuss at the meetings. After we introduced LLL and its philosophy and the mothers introduced themselves and their children, we focused on the questions/issues that the mothers brought that day. Invariably, we had a lively, informative discussion and the mothers usually left feeling supported.

While having these toddler meetings, I'm often reminded of my vision of women sitting around the kitchen table talking about nursing and helping a new mother learn to breastfeed. We don't sit at the kitchen table, but usually around a large rug in my living room, often with blocks and puzzles strewn about while toddlers wander around, are breastfed, and watch us breastfeed our children. I am grateful for the community of breastfeeding mothers that we have created. Even though it doesn't take place in a café, I think that we are using a breastfeeding café format. Perhaps the idea of a breastfeeding café can be one of a philosophy of how a meeting is approached and run, rather than the location of the meeting.

I don't want to imply that "café meetings" are loose and we don't follow any protocol. From reading about the breastfeeding cafés, my understanding is that there is a concern they don't follow the philosophy of LLL or that they stray from the structure of the traditional Series Meetings. Contrary to this, I see breastfeeding cafés as a way to get back to the original intent of LLL -- to provide mother-to-mother support. We provide support and information to mothers when they come to my home and it is strictly within the framework provided by LLL. We follow the guidelines set forth in the Leader's Handbook and take our information from approved LLL resources such as THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK. It is true that we may not entirely cover the topic of weaning and nutrition when it is time for Series Meeting 4, but that is only because the mothers have come with other questions or concerns. We believe this is okay because we view our responsibility as Leaders to meet the needs of the mothers who seek information and help.

We also see this approach as a way to keep mothers interested in LLL and to help them become long-term participants. I am reminded of the women sitting around the table learning to breastfeed. If my niece came to sit at my table to soak in the wisdom of breastfeeding and I offered her a lesson in weaning when she showed up to talk about sore nipples, I'm not sure she'd show up at my table again.

I'm a relatively new Leader and after getting my feet wet and learning from some very experienced Leaders, I'm working with another Leader to start a new Group. We gave a lot of thought to the format of the Group we want to start. Although we won't be meeting in a café, we decided upon the breastfeeding café format that we've been using with the toddler meetings. We will be meeting in my home around the living room rug with lots of babies and chaos, and also lots of learning. I'll let you know how it goes.

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