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Online La Leche League Meetings

Anne Patrick
Conover, North Carolina, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 3, June-July 2000, pp. 47-48

Online chatting is a powerful tool we can use in our efforts to reach mothers all over the world. These chats offer mothers an opportunity to ask questions, get information, share tips and experiences, and simply express their views about issues.

La Leche League has terrific online chats on AOL (America On Line) and on the World Wide Web. Our AOL chats are held in the Parent Soup forum (AOL Keyword: ParentSoup). Web-based chats are held at the Web site called [ed note: changed to in November 2001] Between these two platforms, mothers have the opportunity to experience mother-to-mother support from Leaders and other mothers while chatting in cyberspace.

An online LLL chat is somewhat different from a regular LLL meeting. LLL Series Meetings are focused and frame the discussion around the topic being discussed at that particular Series Meeting; non-topic related questions are usually covered before or after the main part of the meeting. An online chat environment works best as an interactive question and answer session without being restricted to one particular topic. One unique aspect of online chatting is that a mother can come into a chat at any point in time seeking a quick answer to an issue that is bothering her or her baby.

Mothers who attend online chats may be mothers who do not have a local LLL Group nearby or those who want to access LLL at a variety of times. They may be seeking personal support for their breastfeeding and lifestyle decisions or answers to pressing questions. For the mother looking for validation, online chats are a great place because chatters often develop rapport and enjoy mutual empathy.

A well-run online chat can make the experience positive for a mother; she should feel assured that her question is important and will be addressed as soon as possible. One of the best methods used in chat situations to ensure that all questions get answered is called "modifiedprotocol." The questions are lined up in the order received, and then the online Leaders respond to each question in turn with the other chatters adding their ideas and insights. Much like a regular LLL meeting, LLLI philosophy is presented by the Leaders; mothers in the chat room are encouraged to share their experiences, too. The identity of an LLL Leader in a chat room is clearly understood because of the special chat names used by them. Chatters are also reminded that only official "Leaders" speak for La Leche League.

When the chat room gets crowded, the Leaders might enforce the chat protocol more strictly to facilitate more questions being heard. It is very important that no question is missed. If a mother made the decision to come to an online chat, we want her to get as much information and support as possible.

Sometimes online Leaders encounter a mother who is monopolizing a chat. It is best not to dwell on any question or person for too long; while this one mother is being heard, the others are waiting for their turn. One Leader can take the mother into a private area and address her needs while the chat continues with the other Leaders. Sometimes a mother is given a Leader's email address for further communication.

LLL has verified that all women leading online chats are accredited Leaders. These Leaders have had training from AOL or Momsonline to help them facilitate the chats. We welcome Leaders to check out online LLL chats, but ask that Leaders who are visiting the chat not identify themselves as LLL Leaders. This cuts down on confusion for the visiting mothers. They can, however, send a private message to the chat Leaders letting them know they are present. Input from Leaders who are chatting incognito is appreciated.

Sometimes there are issues that cannot be addressed in a simple manner during a chat. Some concerns are too extensive or the problems and their resolution might be too time consuming for the chat environment. Online chats have limits. Online Leaders are unable to view the nursing dyad in action and issues like proper positioning are complex to describe in words without visuals. Leaders frequently recommend that a mother contact her local LLL Group for more help. Additionally, online Leaders advise mothers with medical issues to check with their health care provider.

Typical chat questions are similar to what you might hear in a phone call or during a local LLL meeting. Online Leaders have dealt with everything from sore nipples to lack of family support. Leaders do have to be wary of the possibility that a questioner may not be legitimate. Handling tricky questions without becoming flustered takes some finesse and one of the best ways is to treat every question as if it were "real." (Often this will subdue someone who is just looking for a reaction.) Additionally, Leaders and chat hosts have access to special chat tools which enable them to deal with those who are there for the purpose of disrupting a chat.

A really fun and helpful feature of online chats is that Leaders have the ability to chat privately with each other while the chat continues. They can consult each other about possible responses to questions. They can decide if a mother's concern has been adequately addressed, and they can decide which qualifying statements to include.

Online LLL chats are not necessarily a substitute for regular LLL meetings, but they are a terrific alternative for women who do not have access to a local Group. Because they are held at various times of the day and night, mothers with very busy schedules may be able to find time for a chat whereas they might not have had the time to attend a meeting. Chats are a wonderful way for mothers to connect with and be introduced to LLL.

Check out online LLL chats soon, and be sure to add this to the list of support options that you offer to the mothers who contact you.

Links to Internet related guidelines for Leaders

Electronic communication. . .

has allowed La Leche League to bring breastfeeding information to mothers who would otherwise not have access to it. It has increased the ease with which Leaders can communicate with each other. It has allowed those interested in lactation to benefit from worldwide networks of information and support. As we enjoy all that the new technologies have to offer, remember the words found in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK (p. 283): "Common sense and LLL guidelines on how to help mothers are the best guides as a Leader enters the world of LLL in cyberspace."

Susan Buckley and Sandee Luttkus, Online Professional Liaison Resource Leaders, "Representing LLL Online"

How to Volunteer to Host LLL Chats

To volunteer to participate in any of our chats, contact the Web site team.

The current schedule of LLL chats can be found at: -- please visit this page for up-to-date information, as chat hosts and sponsors are subject to change.

Further References

Bantz-Gyustafson, S. Help forms and LLL chat. LEAVEN Aug/ Sept 1997. p. 83

Bykowski, N. and Kendall, S. Information superhighway road map: A glossary of terms. LEAVEN Oct/Nov 1996. p.71

Grapentine, L. "Netiquette:" Email etiquette for Leaders. LEAVEN Aug/Sep 1997. p.84

Hoskin, M. and Lewis, D. LLL and interactive computer services. LEAVEN July/Aug 1993; 57-8.

Kendall, S. and Oswalt, L. Where do you go when you need to know more? LEAVEN Dec 1998-Jan 1999.119-20. (appropriate use of LLL resources in answering helping questions)

Kendall, S. The LLLI web site: a new tool for helping mothers and managing your Group. LEAVEN Aug-Sept 1997. p.81

Sachetti, D. LEADER'S HANDBOOK. Schaumburg, Illinois: LLLI, 1998. p. 4, 283

Vickers, M., LLL and the Internet. LEAVEN Oct -Nov 1996. pp 69-73.

Voccola, H. Online Help Forms and the New Leader. LEAVEN Dec 1998-Jan 1999. p. 120

Wirtel, D. Managing the Group online. LEAVEN Dec 1999-Jan 2000. p.129

[This document was updated on December 4, 2001 and again on October 3, 2006]

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