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Thoughts About LLL's Mission, Goals, and Philosophy

Leslie Del Gigante
Associate Director, LAD
Westerville, Ohio USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 29 No. 3, May-June 1993, pp. 39, 45

Recent preparations for Area Conference sessions prompted me to do some thinking about LLL's mission, goals, and philosophy and how Leader accreditation fits in. Is our focus as an organization the provision of breast milk to as many babies around the world as possible, or is our focus something more? We're about breastfeeding--mothers nursing babies, you may answer in reply. Are we about making it possible for women to nurse by providing accurate information about breastfeeding techniques? Yes. Are we about more than information and techniques?

More than thirty-six years ago a similar discussion about La Leche League's purpose took place. (It's recorded on page 22 of THE LLLOVE STORY.) The Founders gathered with supporter Dr. Herbert Ratner to discuss the nature of this organization which was forming before their eyes. The general opinion that evening was that LLL was about helping mothers breastfeed, about providing the necessary information to help mothers avoid or overcome problems and the statistics and health claims to motivate mothers to keep on breastfeeding. Mary Ann Cahill describes how Dr. Ratner would not let the discussion end here, but kept questioning and probing. His persistence led the Founders to the realization that the heart of their organization was not breastfeeding information alone. As Mary Ann Cahill later wrote, "For between and around and after the words on know-how and statistics at the meetings, is the talk of the mothers about their nursing experiences....Talk that has a constantly recurring theme--the quick, strong love-ties so natural between a nursing mother and her baby; the mother's sure understanding of her baby's needs and her joy and confidence in herself to satisfy them; the happy dividends from this good relationship as the baby grows up. A theme first sensed, gradually understood and absorbed, and finally realized by a mother as she nurses her own baby."

A Goal for La Leche League

The Board members unanimously concluded that La Leche League's goal would be to help mothers successfully breastfeed their babies, thus successfully mother them.

I invite each of you reading these words to think for a moment about your own association with LLL. What keeps you as an active and committed volunteer year after year? What's in it for you? Is it, as Mary Ann Cahill commented back in 1958, the "talk that has a constantly recurring theme"--the talk which supports you as a woman and mother? Isn't this what keeps mothers returning to meetings month after month? Isn't it the value of this "talk" which keeps many women active in La Leche League long after their youngest child weans? Isn't this the key to the success of the mother-to-mother support group and LLL over the past 36 years?

Mother support groups have proven themselves to be effective in promoting success at breastfeeding as well as prolonging its duration. Today, UNICEF and the World Health Organization are two of the international organizations that recognize LLL's expertise in developing and managing mother support groups. And to think that over 36 years ago, Dr. Ratner led the Founders to the heart of LLL's (and breastfeeding's) success, mother-to-mother support!

Consider the nature of the mother support group. It's appealing and effective because it's a gathering, a community of mothers who share similar experiences and concerns. LLL offers mother-to-mother support. In a world with many people qualified to offer breastfeeding information, our credibility comes from our having done it ourselves. How many health professionals can make that claim? LLL offers something special and mothers recognize and benefit from the difference.

The mother support group provides a ready-made peer group for women who attend. How many of us have moved and found a La Leche League Group to be a familiar oasis in a new and strange community? The peer group also provides important role models for its members and can significantly influence their behavior and attitudes. The example that the peer group provides its members is determined by its values--its philosophy.

La Leche League Groups have a specific philosophy derived from the "mothering through breastfeeding" emphasis which the Founders set for the organization in 1958. Consider for a moment the power of this philosophy in action at LLL meetings. What first attracted you to LLL and what impressed you so that you went back for a second and third time? I asked this question at Leader gatherings in Ohio and Oregon recently and received similar replies: the attitude of the Leader, the caring manner of the Leader, her air of confidence, her loving interaction with her child. No one answered the breastfeeding expertise of the Leader. No one remembered technical charts or specific words of the Leader but very many described her behavior, her manner, her attitude, and the atmosphere of the Group. The message that there was more to all this than breastfeeding advice came through loud and clear and provided the motivation to come back and find out more.

I also asked whether anyone had come to LLL because they were influenced by what they read in THE WOMANLY ART. My local library provided me my first contact with La Leche League, although I had to go into the locked "adult room" accompanied by the librarian to obtain the old, blue WOMANLY ART. For all its fine information, it did not get me to attend meetings, and in fact made me suspect LLL because of its outrageous recommendation to begin solids around the middle of the first year. Some months later, I accompanied a neighbor to an LLL meeting where THE WOMANLY ART came to life and began to take on meaning and relevance for me. People living the suggestions (yes, even late solids) and the philosophy made all the difference.

As we know from our experience raising our own children, what we do sends a much stronger and long-lasting message than what we say. For this reason, LLLI accredits, as its representatives, women whose personal philosophies on breastfeeding and mothering match LLL's. Accepting or believing in this philosophy is not enough--a Leader must act on it in order to influence others. Our philosophy comes across in our actions, and the world learns of La Leche League through the actions of its Leaders.

One of the biggest responsibilities of a Leader is to take an active interest in helping mothers learn about leadership and to help Applicants prepare to become Leaders. When you fulfill this responsibility, you work directly with the heart of LLL--its philosophy, and you work with the future--its new Leaders. You share the continued success of LLL when you encourage and assist the leadership applications of women whose "mothering through breastfeeding" philosophies come through loud and clear in both words and actions. When your "active interest" leads to the accreditation of a new co-Leader, La Leche League's message comes to life for a new generation of families.

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