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The Challenge of Third Party Inquiries

Ana Rita Guzman
Emerald Hills CA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 5, October-November 2002 p. 107.

Leaders are familiar with the helping relationship that develops when a nursing mother initiates contact with LLL. Occasionally, however, a Leader will receive a third party inquiry, a call initiated by someone who is concerned about a nursing mother.

Sometimes, the third party is calling at the mother’s request. If the mother speaks limited English, she may rely on a third party to translate. If the mother is trying to soothe a crying infant, she may ask a relative to call LLL for help. While direct communication with a nursing mother is desirable, it is not always feasible, and a Leader may occasionally counsel a mother through an intermediary.

Rarely, the third party is the nursing mother herself, calling about a "friend" in an embarrassing or illegal situation. "My friend contracted genital herpes and needs medication. Must she wean?" "My friend smoked a joint (marijuana) last night. When can she nurse her baby?" These third party calls require tact and sensitivity. A caller who feels that her "friend" is being judged is unlikely to provide accurate contact information, may end the call abruptly, and is unlikely to reinitiate contact when other breastfeeding issues arise.

Most commonly, a third party caller is not the nursing mother and is not calling at her request. Here are four typical scenarios:

  • A visiting nurse asks a Leader to initiate contact with a teen-aged mother with sore nipples.
  • A concerned friend calls because a new mother is following advice that may sabotage her attempts to breastfeed.
  • An acquaintance calls because a member of her playgroup is getting a divorce, and the father of the breastfed infant wants overnight visitation.
  • A grandmother calls because her nursing daughter-in-law is drinking diet soda.

Leaders should be aware of the challenges inherent in these third party calls. First, if the caller asks the Leader to contact the mother and the Leader complies, the Leader may discover that her attentions are unwanted. The nursing mother may not desire help and may resent the unsolicited intrusion into her private life. Despite the third party’s concern, the mother may not even perceive her situation as a problem.

Second, if the Leader decides to discuss the mother’s situation with the third party, she cannot be sure that the mother’s difficulties are being described accurately. The third party may not have all of the facts or may be interpreting the mother’s situation according to her personal biases.

Third, the Leader also has no control over the information that reaches the mother. If the Leader gives the caller information that seems pertinent to the situation described, the third party may edit the data to reflect deeply held beliefs. In the worst scenario, the third party may attempt to manipulate the nursing mother by misrepresenting LLL. Imagine a third party caller telling a new mother, "LLL says you must do the following..."

Finally, if the Leader takes any of the preceding steps, she may not be addressing the caller’s concerns. The stated problem may not reflect the caller’s true feelings and worries, and the resolution sought may be unsatisfying if gained.

Leaders may therefore want to consider a different approach toward third party inquiries.
First, identify the caller’s feelings and concerns. Here are some things a Leader might say to the third party callers described above. To the visiting nurse, "You’re worried because your time with this teenager is limited and you’re afraid that she’ll become frustrated with her sore nipples and quit breastfeeding once you stop visiting." To the concerned friend, "You’ve enjoyed breastfeeding so much and you fear your friend will be deprived of an experience you’ve found meaningful." To the playgroup member, "You’re concerned about the legal vulnerability of your friend and her baby." To the grandmother, "You’re worried that your grandchild will not get the best possible start in life if your daughter-in-law’s diet is less than ideal."

Second, gently but firmly state our limits as Leaders. "I’ll be happy to give you general information on this topic, but I’d prefer to discuss this mother’s specific situation directly with her. Each mother knows her life best. She may have information you lack, she may perceive the situation differently than you do, and her goals may differ from yours." Tell the caller that the experiences of other Leaders over our history have shown that calling a third party is rarely helpful.

Third, educate and support the caller. Provide general information on the topic in question, and allow the caller to share his or her frustrations and fears.

Finally, give the third party permission to share your phone number with the nursing mother. Sometimes, the caller will state, "Oh, I’d prefer you to contact her. If I give her your number, she’ll never call you!" At that point, it may be helpful to tell the caller that "LLL is an international nonprofit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to providing information, support, encouragement, and education to women who want to breastfeed." Tell the caller that one way LLL ensures that its Leaders’ services are needed is to have nursing mothers voluntarily initiate contact. Even when a Leader suspects that a nursing mother will benefit from talking to a Leader, the decision whether to initiate contact rests with that mother.

By following these guidelines, Leaders can educate and support third party callers while following the LLLI mission statement and allowing each mother to decide what is best for her and her family.

Ana Rita Guzman has been a Leader since March of 1994. She is also a registered nurse and lawyer, and currently holds a full-time position as a homeschooling mother and family chauffeur. Rita and her husband, Jon Mirsalis, are the proud parents of Dana, 11; and Daniel, 8. They are expecting their third child in October of 2002. Send ideas for "Keeping Up-to-Date" to Contributing Editor Norma Ritter at: 58 Antler Road, Big Flats, New York, 14814 USA or norma at (email).

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