A Mothers' Online Community
Karen Varney Shaw
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 4, 2009, pp. 26-28
Reaching out to llli.org
It's the middle of the night, too late to call a La Leche League Leader, and the next Series Meeting is weeks away. Upset by the difficulties she is having nursing her baby, a new mother turns on the computer, opens up an Internet browser, and types her question into the search window. She sends a plea for help out across the Internet. The search engine returns a link to a thread on La Leche League International's Mother-to-Mother Forums, where the mother finds an answer to her question and, just as importantly, discovers she's not alone.
The Mother-to-Mother Forums site (http://forums.llli.org) is a message board, a type of interactive Web site, where users can post messages and receive instant responses from other users who are online. To log into the forums, users are first directed to the registration page to create an "LLLID," a unique identifier that can be used across all La Leche League International sites. Once a user has her LLLID (in the format @llli*username), she can sign into the forums and begin posting. She can start new discussion topics, or "threads," and respond to other users' threads.
Support and information
Organized into general categories, the forums offer support and discussion on a wide range of topics -- from general breastfeeding support for mothers nursing newborns, infants, or toddlers, to special situations like nursing premature babies or multiples, along with a variety of other mothering topics such as nutrition, starting solids, gentle discipline, pregnancy and childbirth, and combining work and breastfeeding.
Most members find the forums through LLLI's Web site or by doing a Web search for a specific breastfeeding or newborn issue. Jenn, a forum member known by the username sch.mommy, joined the forums after doing a Google search for "green poop" and finding a thread about overactive let-down. She says, "I then used the search feature here on the forums and found a ton of information on how to correct overactive let-down/oversupply. After a couple of days of lurking and reading (and getting a yellow poop) I joined to say 'thank you.'"
Another member, Shannon Schmitt, also found the forums through a Web search:
"I first came because I was concerned about pumping and my daughter's weight. She was soooo tiny for so long. I was being told that she was not getting enough and started supplementing, and could already see it having an effect on her nursing. After two failed breastfeeding relationships before, I really wanted this to work. So I started googling and I found these forums. The moms were wonderful, and I got a lot of great advice. I was able to turn it around, and although we had a few rough spots here and there, we were able to nurse almost exclusively up until she started solids. And then continued to comfort nurse until she was over a year old!"
La Leche League always there for you
While Web searches account for 68 percent of the roughly 25,000 hits the forums site receives every two weeks, some mothers are referred to the forums by friends or LLL Leaders. Shannon Zabaldo says, "I had contacted an LLL Leader after I had gotten home from a gastrointestinal appointment, where I was told I had to wean my son due to allergies. She sent me the link for the "Allergies and the Breastfeeding Family" forum, and I didn't leave that part of the forum for a year."
The forums are especially helpful to mothers who live too far away from an LLL Group to go to meetings, but even mothers who do attend or have attended Series Meetings find that the forums have something to offer. Susan, known on the forums as aprilsmagic, found that as her family grew it became too difficult to tend to her children and participate in meetings.
"It would truly take a miracle for me to attend meetings now, with three wild boys, and I'm rather isolated as a stay-at-home mom in a neighborhood of working families, so being able to log on and visit with other moms is a connection to the outside world. We've become probably the largest LLL Group (albeit an unofficial group) here, complete with disagreements, but those are typically short lived and balanced by the love and assistance we offer to each other."
Other members, like Autumn Hatcher, find the forums a helpful supplement to meetings. Autumn says "I had already joined my local LLL and attended a few meetings but once a month really isn't enough in my opinion, not for a new mom with questions." Fellow forum member Andrea Banks also found that she wanted more interaction than a monthly meeting could provide.
"I found the forums after I attended my first IRL (in real life) LLL meeting when my daughter was 12 weeks old. I loved the meeting so much and felt so inspired and encouraged by the fact that there were other people out there who had the same parenting ideals as me that I thirsted for more interaction with these like-minded mamas. I got home and searched for more information on LLL, joined the forums, then I realized what a wonderful source of information this place is. I stuck around because I had a few questions of my own, then as my daughter and I started to hit our stride with breastfeeding I wanted to give back by helping other mamas who were struggling or needed support."
LLL Leaders also participate on the forums, backing up the breastfeeding information provided by knowledgeable members and representing LLL philosophy. An important part of the forum community, they are easily identified by their blue LLL logo avatars and the inclusion of "LLL" in their usernames. One mother, on a recent anonymous survey about the forums, commented on the reassurance an LLL Leader can provide -- "When I was a new mom, the support that came from a Leader really comforted me."
If you are an LLL Leader and want to join in to support moms who visit the forums please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org We are always looking for more volunteers to participate.
Usually a new member has come to the forums site to look for breastfeeding information. She starts at the top of the board in the section, or forum, called "Newborn Challenges," or perhaps in the one called "Breastfeeding Your Infant." She might be nursing her baby's sibling at the same time, and find help in "Tandem Breastfeeding" and the "Breastfeeding Beyond One" forum. As she grows as a mother, she may find answers to other questions in the "Babywearing," "Sleep or Lack of It," or "Potty Learning" forums. Should she need to go back to work while breastfeeding her baby, she will find support and information in "Working and Breastfeeding," and in "Pumping" and "Milk Storage" if she is expressing for her baby. For the mother whose first language is Spanish, help can be found in the "Amamantando a tu bebé" and "Más allá del primer año" forums.
Shannon Schmitt came to the forum looking for information about how to boost her milk supply. "I was about two seconds away from giving up. I wound up being directed here, and found an amazing group of moms, who not only helped me find the information I needed, but gave me a ton of support and plenty of pep talks to help me keep going."
Some of the information that mothers are seeking is quite specific. Lynn, after discovering that her baby wouldn't accept her expressed milk, found answers in a thread called "Scalding breastmilk due to excess lipase," one of the forums' most frequently viewed threads.
"I first came to the LLLI forums when I was desperate and in tears because I was about to return to work and my little one wouldn't take any of the frozen expressed breastmilk stash I'd worked so hard to create. It turned out that I had excess lipase and the LLLI forums were the only place that had real practical advice and instructions from other moms who were brave enough to experiment and then share their experiences about how to successfully scald expressed breastmilk to counteract the excess lipase. *
A listening ear
Sometimes a mother needs reassurance and encouragement even more than she needs technical information. Member jjgj.28 says, "I joined when I was pregnant with my son in 2007 after an unsuccessful attempt to breastfeed my daughter. I had so much guilt over it, and wanted so badly for it to work that time. So I was looking to soak up as much information as possible. It must have worked. He's still nursing, right along with his baby sister."
Many mothers have come to the forums seeking answers to breastfeeding questions and found much more. They have built friendships, enjoyed a sense of community, learned about parenting techniques they hadn't considered before, and reshaped their mothering styles through new ideas. Paige Silcox shares that
"I found the forum when I was having problems and it was a source of immediate solutions. I stayed because as I was learning how to be a mom I was running into all kinds of advice that went counter to my instincts. I thought I was crazy, or weak, or a bad mother. But when I started asking questions here about feeding on demand, sleep training, cosleeping, and many other problems I realized that I was perfectly normal and a good mother!"
Give and take
Forum member mommal found herself drawn to helping other mothers once she had found the support she needed on the forums. "I was going to post once and then be done with the whole weird anonymous Internet thing. I ended up really liking the feeling of being able to pay forward some of my debt to the people who had helped me when I was struggling so hard. Three years later, I'm still here!"
The forums are much like an ongoing LLL meeting, or online breastfeeding café, where in one corner a few mothers are talking about overactive let-down, in another a discussion is taking place about nursing babies with allergies, while other mothers are gathered around the refreshment table chatting about anything and everything. Mothers can stop in any time they want and there is always someone there to talk to. And members agree that, along with immediate access to breastfeeding help from anywhere in the world, the best thing about the forums is the community. Says member Lyn,
"But truly, the one thing that really changed my entire mindset was when a mom here sent me a private message that said 'Do you know that I would never have continued nursing my child if it weren't for your response to my post?' I realized at that moment the power we have as mothers helping mothers. I never really understood the saying 'It takes a village to raise a child' until I became a member of this online village. In my weakest moments I have been held up by the strength of these women. And when my strength was restored I was able to help other mothers in the same way."
*A few mothers find that their refrigerated or frozen breastmilk begins to smell or taste soapy, sour, or even rancid soon after it's stored, even though all storage guidelines have been followed closely. The speculation is that these mothers have an excess of the enzyme lipase in their milk, which begins to break down the fat soon after the milk is expressed. Lipase is an enzyme that is normally present in human milk and has several known beneficial functions. By scalding the milk as soon after expression as possible it is possible to inactivate the lipase and stop the process of fat digestion.