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Baby & Me: A Non-Traditional La Leche League Group

Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC
From LEAVEN, Vol 43 No. 4, October-November-December 2007, p. 86

When is a La Leche League Group not a La Leche League Group? When it is a non-traditional La Leche League Group. My Baby & Me Group, which has met monthly for the last year in a northern suburb of Chicago, was the first in Illinois. Our meeting flyer calls Baby & Me "A Café for Breastfeeding Parents."

Why change a good thing? Simply put, because the usual way wasn't practical for me. After 25 years in breastfeeding -- 13 years as an active Leader and 10 years on Leader Reserve while I worked as a lactation consultant in private practice -- I was hired by a breast-pump company. Part of my new job involved helping breastfeeding mothers by phone. For the first time, I had no face-to-face contact with mothers and babies. That's when I decided it was time to go back to my roots.

But because I had a full-time job with lots of travel, I had some special considerations. I wasn't always available on the same day every month, and I had little free time to manage a Group. Was there a way for me to make this work?

When my Area Coordinator of Leaders discovered my dilemma, she told me that LLLI had recently announced a new option: the non-traditional LLL Group. She encouraged me to take the leap.

Baby & Me has many things in common with a traditional LLL Group. Our monthly meetings last about 90 minutes. We meet at a public place, a free-standing lactation clinic. Our Group is primarily mothers helping mothers.

But in many other ways, Baby & Me is different.

  • La Leche League is not in our Group's name.
  • At first, due to my travel schedule, we met on different nights each month.
  • Dads are welcome at meetings.
  • To help me keep my time commitments manageable, we share a library and treasury with a traditional LLL Group -- La Leche League of Libertyville -- which meets at the same place two weeks after Baby & Me.

But the difference I have found most significant is that we don't follow the traditional Series Meeting format. My role is to lead the discussion, but those at the meetings choose the topics. I open the meeting by going around the circle and asking each mom and dad to introduce themselves and give the names and ages of their children. Then I ask "Did anyone come tonight with a question or concern?" The meeting takes off from there.

Of course they have questions and concerns; otherwise they wouldn't be there! One Baby & Me meeting can easily cover all four of the traditional Series Meeting topics and then some. Yet even without a set topic or structure -- or perhaps because of it -- I find these meetings much easier to lead.

I remember my early years in LLL when my co-Leaders and I carefully planned our meetings based on which mothers we thought would attend. Sometimes we were right, but sometimes we weren't and found ourselves facing a group of mothers with completely different needs and interests than our meeting plan covered. Other times we knew the topic on our meeting notice was less-than-ideal for the mothers we expected. Many of our "Solids and Weaning" meetings, for instance, were populated by pregnant and new mothers who wanted to talk instead about getting breastfeeding off to a good start. But because "Solids and Weaning" was on our meeting notice, we felt compelled to spend precious time on it anyway.

With Baby & Me, no meeting topic is advertised, so there is no pressure to cover anything except what's on the parents' minds. And they love it! The meetings are all about them. Our parents come knowing that we will directly address whatever question or concern they have.

Yet, Baby &Me still offers what I consider the greatest strength of a traditional LLL Group -- mother-to-mother support. While I am sometimes asked technical breastfeeding questions, most of what we talk about relates to new parents' anxieties about breastfeeding and their adjustments to the major life change of having a baby.

Last month, two new mothers who were pumping and bottle-feeding arrived at their first Baby & Me meeting. After they shared their experiences, one of our regulars, who had pumped and bottle-fed her first baby and was now breastfeeding her second, said. "I wish with my first I had asked for help. I know now that if I had, I could have made the transition to direct breastfeeding. I just didn't know how to do it on my own."

When these two mothers came back the next month, they were both breastfeeding. One of them told us, "When we saw how easy breastfeeding was, we knew we wanted that for ourselves and our babies. So we worked on solving our problems." It was wonderful to see them so happy and confident about breastfeeding. Baby & Me has been a great experience for me and I assume also for the parents attending, because our numbers continue to grow.

In the 25 years that I have been working in breastfeeding, many things have changed. When I started, La Leche League was almost the only game in town. Now the mothers in my Group attend other meetings as well -- the mothers' group at the hospital, the local Attachment Parenting group, and other area LLL Groups. One of my regulars goes to a different meeting every week. Also during this time, the Internet has become a major player. Many mothers seek help online rather than calling or going to meetings with their babies.

There was a time when LLL could set its own rules, and mothers and Leaders would have to abide by them. There was simply nowhere else to go for mother-to-mother support. But that is no longer true. If something about LLL's way of doing things is not a good fit for a mother or an LLL Leader, she has many other options available to her.

In my case, this new flexibility meant that Baby & Me could be an LLL Group. If that flexibility had not existed, instead I would have created it as an independent group. But because of this new option, I am now an active "meeting-only LLL Leader." Because I'm out of town so much, my phone number is not available to mothers through LLLI, but a link to my e-mail address is.

To survive -- much less thrive -- LLLI needs to be flexible. The more flexible LLLI can be, the more Groups and Leaders will find LLLI a good fit for them. More Groups and more Leaders means more mothers and babies helped. Hasn't that always been La Leche League's main goal?

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