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Working with the Mothering Experience Prerequisite

Leslie Del Gigante and Trudy Hartt
Leader Accreditation Department Co-Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 5, October-November 1999, pp. 110

Questions ... Questions ... Where Are the Answers?

"This isn't my first baby. Why do I feel so helpless? I've breastfed before and it went well. Why do I have sore nipples this time? I've missed sleep before and felt fine. Why am I so exhausted? I know how to change a diaper, to get enough rest, to breastfeed--but this time it's different. What's happening?"

Questions ... As a La Leche League Leader, you know that this mother will find her answers by combining the information LLL provides with the experience she already has.

In 1998, the LLLI Board of Directors wrote and adopted new criteria for the accreditation of LLL Leaders. Working with prerequisites is something we've done before and part of the new criteria - the Mothering Experience Prerequisite - brings forth lots of questions. Like the mother in our example, "it feels different" and we're not sure "how to make it work." Like the mother in our example, we will find our answers in the information the LLLI Board of Directors provides and what we already know.

The purpose of this article is to contribute to the discussion - to the gathering and weaving together of all the information. If some of this looks familiar, that may be because you read "Applications with Separation" in the April-May 1997 issue of LEAVEN. We've reprinted a lot of the same material because the main message, the base for this prerequisite, remains the same. We've also modified the article to make it relevant to today's questions.


Has LLLI philosophy changed? Is the purpose of the new prerequisite to accredit mothers with extensive separation? Does recognizing more pictures of LLLI philosophy mean that we'll accredit all mothers who apply? The new Mothering Experience Prerequisite has raised these questions and others similar to them.

The LLL concept statement regarding mother-baby togetherness reads, "Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby." The LLLI Bylaws state that the purpose of our organization is to help mothers learn to breastfeed and to promote an understanding of mothering through breastfeeding. Just as LLL philosophy and purpose do not specify family bed, home birth or attachment parenting, neither do they mandate full-time, at-home mothering as the only way to meet baby's needs. Mothering through breastfeeding, not just breastfeeding as an alternative method of feeding, defines La Leche League.

About LLL Leadership

LLLI accredits women as Leaders who can communicate mothering through breastfeeding by example as well as words. The organization's credibility rests on our individual and collective experiences and commitment to a mothering-through-breastfeeding philosophy.

About Babies' Needs

We understand that babies grow and develop and their needs change over time. The ability to separate from mother is a part of growing up. We have learned from our babies that a baby's need for his mother's presence is most intense in the early months and gradually and often unevenly, changes during the early years. The duration and frequency of separation most three-year-olds can handle is different from what the infant learning to breastfeed can tolerate.

About Separation

Separation is a single word that can take many forms. Separation can be one hour once a week while baby naps, it can be nine hours per day, five days a week or any combination in between. What flexibility does a mother have to come to baby when needed? Is baby brought to mother for feedings and contact? There is no single quantitative or qualitative meaning of "separation."

About Applications with Separation

We consider applications with separation, as we do all applications, individually. What is the mother's understanding of and experience with mothering through breastfeeding? How frequent, how long, and how flexible is her separation? How does it relate to her baby's ability to cope with her absence? LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership-- Guidelines for Leaders are written to help us explore how a mother's experiences and LLLI philosophy come together.

About Baby's Reaction to Separation

Just as we do not judge a woman's need to be separated, we do not second-guess the mother's assessment of her baby's reaction to separation. We do consider the Applicant's sensitivity to, understanding of and responsiveness to her baby's needs. We also keep in mind our understanding of child development. For example, a mother who writes that her four-week-old baby is "happy" with the separation resulting from a full-time job has a different understanding of baby's needs than LLL does.

About the Reason for Separation

Whether a woman wants to or needs to be separated from her baby is her decision. Our focus stays on her experience, understanding and ability to represent LLLI's mothering-through-breastfeeding philosophy.

About Choice of Caregiver

Father or another loving relative who can consistently care for baby is the first choice for caregiver if mother must be absent. Even so, a loving caregiver does not lessen the effect on the baby of lengthy separations from mother nor minimize disruption of breastfeeding.

About Substitutes for Breastfeeding

Sometimes a mother's separations will necessitate substitutes for breastfeeding. Does the mother value breast milk as the superior infant food? Does she minimize substitutes because she understands the importance of meeting baby's need for nourishment and comfort through breastfeeding?

About Temporary Periods of Extensive Separation

Sometimes a mother experiences more separation from a young baby than is consistent with LLLI philosophy. This separation may last for a period of time before she can end or limit the separation. When this is the case, we consider the mother's understanding of her baby's needs and the choices she made to minimize the effects of the separation. We also consider what she learned from her experience. Does her temporary experience with extensive separation and her later experience without it, along with her understanding of LLLI philosophy, present a picture that fits the Mothering Experience Prerequisite?

About a Leader's Responsibility

When a woman interested in leadership is experiencing or has experienced separation from her breastfeeding baby, keep in mind the many variables to be considered. Consult your LLL resources, including the Guidelines for Leaders and your Area's Associate/Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (A/CLA). When you have questions about a particular mother 's unique experience, these resources will help you in your discussion of whether or not LLL leadership is a possibility.

We need to hear from each other and we need to hear from you! To find answers to accreditation questions for La Leche League as a whole, we need to continue to bring together all our thoughts and explore them. As we work with the new criteria for accreditation and with the mothers in our Groups, let's continue this discussion so that we can learn together.

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