Rachel Brown Kirkland, Dalton, Georgia, USA
Ask experienced Leaders how they encouraged meeting attendance over the decades, and you’re likely to hear stories about reaching out to the community through a variety of different avenues, some of them old-fashioned by today’s standards.
Today, volunteers are no longer mailing out handwritten letters or letters drafted on an old typewriter as an outreach effort. However, there are some strategies from years gone by that, with a few updates, can continue to be effective. Here is a look at five growth strategies La Leche League Leaders have used through the years and how those strategies can be adapted to meet the needs of breastfeeding families in 2020.
1970s –– Word of Mouth
Longtime Leader Debbie Maynard first learned of LLL through an article in a baby magazine when she was pregnant with her first child. She mailed off for a directory that was supposed to list information about each LLL Group in the United States. Unfortunately, the directory she received was not up-to-date, and it appeared there were no Groups near her.
A month later, she learned differently. In those days, many hospitals placed birthing women in rooms with multiple beds. One of Maynard’s roommates happened to mention that she was going to an LLL meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. Four weeks later, in November 1974, Maynard went to her first meeting.
“I joined (and) it was $8 a year back then,” she recalled. “Then I started bringing my friends.”
Even in the age of social media, a personal recommendation from a friend or trusted acquaintance can have an impact when it comes to growing your Group.
1980s –– Public Spaces
By the 1980s, the practice of Group meetings being held in mothers’ houses was going out of vogue. Many Groups had grown to such a size that meeting in homes was difficult, and there was a growing desire for a neutral meeting location. Maynard’s Chattanooga Group began meeting in a newly opened birth center. And Groups everywhere began gravitating toward nonresidential meeting sites. In Maynard’s case, meeting at the birth center gave the Group exposure they would not otherwise have had. At another point, the Group met at a local hospital where they could be easily found by new mothers.
Be strategic with your meeting location. Simply having a presence in a place well-known in your community can be enough to attract new attendees.
1990s –– Professional Connections
Maynard worked along with other Leaders and volunteers to reach out to local professionals who would come in contact with pregnant women and mothers of babies. Back then, they would write letters and send them to the offices of prenatal and birth care providers.
Regularly reach out to care providers who work with mothers and babies. Make sure they know LLL exists in their community. Inform them of the types of support your Group is able to offer.
2000s –– Community and Online Resources
Ashlee Johnson, a Leader in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, first learned of LLL through a birth class she signed up for when she was pregnant. After some research, she learned her nearest Group was 30 minutes away. With no family nearby, Johnson decided the drive was not only worth the effort but worth giving her time to help others. Not long after, she was accredited as a Leader and began her own Group. Ashlee recalled:
“I was really connected, and I just loved the support that I received and I wanted to provide that”
Facebook was then and continues to be a vital part of her Group’s networking strategy. The Group also works to connect with local government, nonprofit and private organizations geared toward mothers and babies.
Amanda Shaw, who has been a Leader with the Chattanooga Group for 16 years, said they once held meetings and classes at a popular toy store in the city. She added:
“We also have students from college nursing programs that come in and watch the class. We have had retention this way; where moms would come back from that connection”
The Group has also partnered with an alliance of local breastfeeding professionals and advocates and has formed a partnership with one of the top hospitals in the region.
Find out who in your community wants to know more about breastfeeding and reach out to those people and organizations. Be mindful to avoid collaboration with any organisations or premises who are not are not in compliance with The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes from the World Health Organization (the Code).
2010s –– Leader Alliances
Two heads are better than one, and many hands are sure to get the job done.
Johnson has been a Leader since 2015 and is a mother to five-year-old and one-year-old boys. When she first launched an LLL Group, she struggled to keep up with the demands of solo leadership. She closed the Group but reopened it a year and a half later when other Leaders were able to join in the effort. Together, Johnson, new co-Leaders, Leaders from neighboring Groups, and Leaders who had recently moved to her area, all worked together to reach out to those in their city about the newly relaunched Group. Now, the Group’s evening and daytime meetings are well attended. Johnson explained:
“It took four to five months for participation to increase, especially for the evening meeting.”
Don’t go it alone! Reach out to other Leaders for ideas and assistance. We’re all in this together. For isolated Leaders some countries have discussion groups online exclusively for Leader support.
Today, there are countless lactation services available to help breastfeeding succeed, but LLL is unique in its holistic approach. LLL is about so much more than the milk. Depending on group dynamics and Leader approaches, LLL can be at once a lactation resource, a mother-to-mother support group and a toddler playgroup. It can be your community’s resource for information on birth and postpartum practices as well as gentle discipline strategies and family nutrition.
As lactation support proliferates, we as Leaders have an opportunity to fill a need in unique ways. We can offer information and support that takes into account the needs of the whole family at some of the most crucial times. Done well, showing some LLLLove can be enough to keep participants coming again and again.
Rachel Brown Kirkland is a La Leche League Leader in Dalton, Georgia, USA, where she lives with her husband and their two sons, aged five years and two months.