There’s a few themes I’ve had in the back of my mind on breastfeeding for a while now and what better time than the 20th World Breastfeeding Week to flesh them out!
So I wanted to kick off with a special apology to the La Leche League. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before but a few months ago, when Baby S was ten months old, I became a card carrying member of La Leche League of Ireland. Nothing remarkable about that, says you, but it was a long curving road of avoidance on my part before I finally got there.
Even before I was pregnant, never mind breastfeeding, the La Leche League was something that I associated with extremism and militant practices. I thought they were a lobby group who pushed their ideologies on others. Of course this opinion was grounded in no fact whatsoever. I only knew people by two or three degrees who had any dealing or association with them. When I was approaching the end of my pregnancy and in the first couple of weeks after Baby S was born, a number of health professionals listed their services for breastfeeding support but on at least two occasions whispered that they wouldn’t recommend them because they were very extreme and had had clients of theirs in tears. Sure I lapped it up and stayed well away. I was more interested in cuddly, relaxed breastfeeding support, why would I darken their door?
I was very lucky that I never required any breastfeeding support services outside my local health clinic and my booby group of new mums were a great support as we helped each other through the difficult days and nights. Mostly nights though, let’s be honest. Even though the regular LLL coffee morning were mentioned occasionally, I wasn’t a bit interested in attending.
The truth is I was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Standing on the other side of 13 months-plus breastfeeding and surveying the land, I now know that if I was casting bad guys in a breastfeeding movie, it would be the health professionals who urged caution against messing with those LLL folk and then continued to let me down one month after another as I kept breastfeeding and they kept questioning by motivation, my reasoning, my parenting style and they exposed their extremely limited knowledge of breastfeeding beyond the first couple of months.
But the La Leche League, wow, they welcomed me with open arms. When I was going back to work and really struggling with reconciling fulltime working with breastfeeding, I reached out to them and they pulled me straight into their bosom of support. One counsellor in particular managed to not only convince me that everything would be fine and explain how exactly it would be fine – because this was the crucial bit for me – but also succeeded in completely turning around my thinking so that the last few weeks of my maternity leave felt like a holiday rather than a dreaded countdown to something awful, all in one phone call.
She invited me to come to some meetings so I did. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting – and I laugh at myself now because I realise in the eyes of a lot of people I’m an extremist hippie who had her baby at home and I keep going on about it – but I’ve only met other mothers having chats and a laugh who also just happen to be nursing their babies. Everyone is lovely and the structured meetings are so helpful. I’ve also learned that La Leche League Leaders know more about breastfeeding than the vast majority of health professionals. If a new mum I knew was struggling, I’d be sending her straight to them for the correct support and also the correct information. Something I didn’t know is that the La Leche League is not actually a lobby group, their role is to provide information and support mother to mother.
So ladies, can I just make an unreserved apology for thinking ill of you for so long. I think you are AMAZING. I love you guys Do you forgive me?
If I were to add anything constructive, I think the La Leche League suffer from an image problem in this country. It’s not fair that they’re perceived negatively and you know, maybe the top brass (is there a LLL top brass???) should think about turning their minds to it because it would be a crying shame if women were avoiding their services due to a lack of understanding about what LLL do. I think a good way to start would be with the website. We live in a world now where most people research everything online before they even think about approaching a service. Most people I know check a restaurant’s online menu before they make a reservation. If the LLL had a good, regularly updated and interactive website, I think it would make a real difference. A good Facebook page or Twitter account responding to queries would be phenomenal.