LLL Today #3 – Brainstorming at 93

I was 26 years old and expecting my fifth baby in seven years when at a church picnic I learned to my chagrin that some of the formula feeding mothers I met had actually wanted to breastfeed their babies. They gave up because of a lack of support from their doctors. This bothered me. I had been in much the same situation myself with my older children so I was determined to do something about it. Since my friends Mary White and Edwina Froehlich were the only other women I knew who were breastfeeding, I asked them if they would help. We needed to brainstorm about what women had to know to get breastfeeding off to a good start and how we could make it happen. They immediately said yes and then invited four more breastfeeding moms in nearby towns, bringing us to a total of what became known as the seven founders of La Leche League.

Despite the fact that all seven of us were also having babies at the time, we met regularly and I think did a pretty good job of putting together a series of four meetings for mothers. We added a fifth “men only” meeting for dads led by Drs. Ratner and White. Our philosophy of mothering was considered so radical for the times that for a while we used the phrase “Good Mothering thru Breastfeeding.” It was to reassure them that even though they were now parenting differently than the way they were brought up or the way their friends were bringing up their children, they were still being a good mother! To our surprise, attendance at our meetings increased each month. Our carefully laid plans were tossed aside that first year when three women attending from Chicago asked how they could start a similar group in their neighborhood. The LLL-Leader was born and changed the world!

The importance of breastfeeding wasn’t appreciated in the United States in the 1950’s. In fact, breast milk and formula made with cow’s milk were considered to be of equal value. The common advice was to feed all babies on a four-hour schedule and wean them by eight months. Some considered nursing a sign that the husband didn’t earn enough to be able to afford formula.

If you nursed outside of your home, you could be breaking the law for indecent behavior. We all heard stories of mothers with their babies taken to the police station after being caught nursing while sitting in their car.

The only suggestion most doctors had for a breastfeeding problem was to give the baby additional formula in a bottle. Formula was made from scratch in those days. You had to sterilize the bottles first, wear rubber gloves to prevent touching anything with your hands and use tongs to put everything together.

You’ve got the idea of what it was like.  Thanks to thousands of Leaders and the millions of mothers they helped through the years this has changed. The health and happiness in the world was upgraded!

Now I’m 93 and thanks to the Founders Privilege I’m back on the Board of Directors of LLLI. We’ve all been under unprecedented challenges during the last three years and I am grateful that the LLLI Board has kept us going during those difficult times.

Still we have new situations to examine and decisions to be made. It might be time for a reboot and I’m grateful to still be here while we examine LLL’s place in this changed world and brainstorm on the next steps needed so that our mission of providing support for breastfeeding mothers will continue to flourish.

Brainstorming worked 67 years ago with only seven women.

This time we have an entire Board of committed Leaders and last I heard no new babies would be joining us.

It should be a piece of cake!

Marian Tompson