I wrote this article for Birthing Magazine about my experience with La Leche League as a new and seasoned parent, and how my involvement changed with each baby. It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and the timing seems appropriate to share it here as well. Enjoy.
I had my first baby August 16, 2000. I was 21 and felt so prepared. I had my cloth diapers ready, I had taken natural prenatal classes that I found within the pages of a newsletter style issue of “Birthing,” and I had my nursing pillow and a breast pump. What else could I possibly need? Oh how naive I was back then.
Breastfeeding did not come easy to me, and I can remember the exact moment that I decided to throw in the towel and exclusively pump. I was sitting in my bed alone in the middle of the night, crying so hard while feeding this baby who seemed to be equally as upset. I cried and cried, apparently so loudly that my mother heard me from two flights upstairs. She came downstairs, took my baby and fed him a bottle. Sweet relief. I did everything I could do with the information I had at the time, yet the guilt lingered for years after. My son ended up getting chronic ear infections, being lactose intolerant, having “colic” or gas or whatever makes them cry for hours and hours on end. I felt so guilty for all of that. All of the formula changes, the constipation, and the endless nights of wailing… all were a result of my decision to stop breastfeeding. Or so I thought anyways.
I became pregnant with my second baby a short 14 months after having my first, and I was determined to breastfeed her. I found a nursing pillow that fit me so much better (thanks Baby Buddy!), planned on seeing a lactation consultant in the hospital, and picked up a breastfeeding book that a friend recommended. “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” was my first introduction to La Leche League, and it was a godsend. I honestly couldn’t believe how much wisdom I found in that book. The troubleshooting section gave me a confidence that I didn’t have with my first, and I knew that if there was a issue I couldn’t navigate on my own, the book would have the info I needed. I truly believed that if I came across a problem, I would simply be able to sort it out with that book in my back pocket. For the most part I was able to do just that. That is, until my daughter “self weaned” at 4 months after having a thrush infection. I now know that she wasn’t actually self weaning, but she was on a nursing strike. Whatever the case, I felt good about the breastfeeding relationship we did have for that time. My daughter never had ear infections, although she did have the same lactose intolerance, which led to her consuming a soy based formula.
With each baby I had, I learnt a little more about birthing, parenting, and breastfeeding. During my breastfeeding journey with my third baby, I utilized the La Leche League phone line along with The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book. My son went on a nursing strike after getting thrush, and instead of stopping, I phoned La Leche League and persisted. The woman I spoke with had so many wonderful ideas, including nursing in the bath with the lights low, nursing when he was really sleepy, and catching his hunger cues before he was in the middle of a full on hunger rage. She also gave me some tips on how I could naturally combat thrush, including pro-biotics/acidophilus, cabbage and other various home remedies. I remember asking her, “if my baby won’t take the breast, do I need to give him a bottle?” and she replied, “no, you don’t.” That was all I needed to hear.
I nursed my third baby until he was just over a year and a half, and I was pregnant with my fourth. Breastfeeding while pregnant was really painful for me, and my supply dropped dramatically. I decided that we were not going to be tandem nursing, and he weaned pretty effortlessly. I have no regrets from that breastfeeding relationship, and I am so grateful for that LLL leader who was able to walk me through thrush.
La Leche League had become a bigger part of my parenting/breastfeeding journey with each baby I had, and it didn’t stop with my fourth. With my fourth baby, I started going to meetings! I’m not even sure if I knew there were meetings I could go to previously, but I did with my fourth. I met a local La Leche League leader at a babywearing meeting I was running, and she convinced me to attend. And so I did. That leader ended up being one of my best friends.
The first meeting I went to had about 6 moms in attendance and we met in the basement of someone’s house in Lethbridge. The meetings followed a schedule and ran on a rotating topic every 6 weeks. Even though there was a scheduled topic at the meetings, it was still fairly casual. We laughed, we cried, and vented, and we supported each other. I can tell you for certain that I did not go to LLL meetings for information at this stage in the game, but for community. I found my people there, and I am still good friends with all of those moms who I shared space with all those years ago. I ended up nursing my fourth baby until she was 3 and a half, and I had a team of friends cheering me on all along the way. I also became a voice of support at those meetings, as the peer-to-peer support structure enabled mothers to share and support each other casually.
The support I received through my attendance at the LLL meetings motivated me to go through the LLL leader training. I attended courses, conferences, and various study sessions with the goal of becoming a group leader. I had the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people through that organization, and I cherish my time studying with them. At the end of the day, I didn’t actually pursue leadership to the fullest extent, mainly because I was busy with my business at the time (EcoBaby Canada – no longer in existence), and I had a lot on my plate with family and school. However, I am still happy that I went through the leadership training, as I found it very worthwhile. They still provide training for health care professionals, along with information sheets you can print off of their website to give to friends or clients.
La Leche League has been around since 1956, and we have 7 women to thank for it’s inception (you can find their bios on the LLL International website). The organization grew quickly, with meeting attendance sky rocketing, education opportunities happening in high schools, the publication of “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” and the first group to be created out of the U.S. in 1960. 1960 marks the year that LLL expanded in to Canada, with the first group being organized in Quebec. There is a very detailed section on the LLL International website at http://www.llli.org under “About Us”, which covers nearly everything that happened within that organization, I highly recommend you go take a look. It’s very obvious that the world was starving for this breastfeeding support and information community, as it spread so rapidly and now has groups in nearly every corner of the world.
There are chapters all over Canada, with 7 groups within Calgary city limits. The groups in Calgary cover every quadrant, making meetings and support accessible for all Calgarians. There is also a breastfeeding referral line you can call to locate a meeting or leader in your area: 1-800-665-4324. There is a great website dedicated specifically to La Leche League Canada, at https://www.lllc.ca, where you can find resources, information, meetings, and contact information.
I truly believe in the “it takes a village to raise a child” sentiment, and I think finding your community/village early on is pivotal to your happiness and contentment through the birth and parenting journey. La Leche League offers exactly that. They offer a community to support you through what could be one of the most challenging times in parenting… breastfeeding. When you find yourself looking for some sort of parenting handbook, there they are. Yes, the group is about breastfeeding and not general parenting, but I would argue that by building a community for your breastfeeding journey, you will also build a community for your parenting journey, to be there long after your breastfeeding journey is over. And a community like that is invaluable.