LLL Today #5 – Why Attend LLL Gatherings? 

Why attend LLL gatherings?  What do you find that you can’t find elsewhere?

In a society where almost all babies were breastfed, there would be little or no need for support groups. After all, in such a case, society as a whole would be the support group. Those who give birth to their first child would have always seen someone breastfeeding. Since they were a child, they would have seen family members, neighbours, friends and work colleagues breastfeeding. Because they had seen others breastfeeding, they would have readily found the right positions and rhythms. They wouldn’t wonder about the quality or quantity of their milk.

On the contrary, a woman who has practically never seen a baby breastfed before giving birth – which is the case for the majority of new mothers in Western societies – runs the risk of adopting breastfeeding habits that will lead straight to failure.
Hence the usefulness of breastfeeding peer support groups, recognized for many years by international bodies such as UNICEF and WHO.

What you’ll find at an LLL gathering

First and foremost, you will find information. Up-to-date, research-based breastfeeding information is important whether you’re a first-time mother or parent, or have experienced breastfeeding difficulties with your older children that you don’t want to repeat with a new child. This information isn’t always available elsewhere, or is of a different nature. 

Secondly, you will hear the experiences of other mothers and parents with similar stories: premature babies, Caesarean births, twins, and other less common situations.  

Above all, you’ll be listened to without being judged, by peers who don’t represent a power, but a kind of fraternal community.

The basis of breastfeeding support groups is mother-to-mother support.
This peer-to-peer support means a sympathetic ear, a smile of understanding, reassurance that one’s experience is normal.
We live in a society where it’s considered normal to let your baby cry several nights in a row to teach the baby to sleep through the night,  where parents are advised to leave their baby as soon as possible to “get back to married life”, and so on. They may wonder if there is a problem when their baby is still waking up at night at three months. If their baby needs to be held or at breast a lot, they may think this is not normal. Very often the people around the family say this isn’t normal. They may say, for example: “your milk isn’t enough” or “this baby is too dependent on you”. Meeting other mothers and babies at meetings who have had the same experience will reassure a new mother and support her in what she’s doing. Hearing another mother say: “My baby used to do this, too, at the same age” will help her see that this is not a problem, but normal baby behavior, provided that the baby’s  needs have been respected.
It often happens that mothers or parents arrive at the beginning of the meeting with a series of questions about what they think are problems. By the end of the meeting, without even asking their questions, but simply by listening to the exchanges between the attendees, their questions have vanished. They realize that what they thought were problems are not!

Peer-to-peer support, through the listening it offers, encourages a mother to decide for herself what’s best for her and her baby. And even if the mother or parent can’t find an immediate solution to the problem, the group is a source of comfort and empathy. In such a situation, the simple fact of being able to talk about difficulties with the certainty of being listened to may be what enables the mother to live through them with a certain serenity.

Breastfeeding and mothering are often learned by example. A mother or parent who has no role model, no one with whom to compare their experiences and feelings about breastfeeding, may find it much more difficult to breastfeed. If they know one or two people who have breastfed, they will already have better information. But this information will inevitably be limited to the personal experience of the women in question. Whereas a group, especially if it’s part of an international organization that’s been in existence for decades, can offer information and support based on the experience of thousands and thousands of people. This offers parents different models from which they are free to choose what seems most appropriate to them and their baby.

Attending experience-sharing meetings enables us to address a wide range of issues that mothers or parents may not dare discuss with a healthcare professional for fear of wasting his or her time. If they know their concerns are likely to be shared by others, attendees will broach subjects as varied as how to get enough rest after the baby’s arrival, how to express milk by hand or with a breast pump, how to integrate breastfeeding into daily life, and how to eat and drink when breastfeeding.
What’s more, the variety of attendees present, and the different ages of their babies, mean that each of them will have to ask questions about behaviors they’d never thought about before. For example, a woman pregnant with her first child attending her first meeting might see one or two toddlers still breastfeeding, or a mother who continues to breastfeed after she’s gone back to work.

Empowerment

Another benefit of breastfeeding support groups is the increased self-confidence they instil in new mothers and parents. A new mother is often vulnerable to the opinions of others. And everyone feels entitled to give their opinion! Do this, don’t do that… and often contradictory advice. The support group, on the other hand, doesn’t give advice or prescribe. Those present suggest possible approaches and ways of doing things that have worked for some mothers. It’s up to individual mothers to observe their babies and see what works for them. The group and its Leaders consider mothers and parents as experts on their own babies. They know best what works for them and their family. What’s more, a mother who keeps coming back to the meetings month after month, ends up supporting new attendees. This, also, is very rewarding. 

How does it work?

The meetings are neither conferences nor courses. They’re about sharing experiences. LLL Leaders are volunteers who have also breastfed their children. They initiate the discussion, making sure that all who want to talk can do so. They also provide information, and encourage mothers to make their own choices. Leaders don’t give ready-made answers, but help mothers and parents find their own solutions. In the same way, other attendees respond by sharing their own experience.

Leader Applicants prepare for LLL leadership by learning about breastfeeding, listening and group dynamics with experienced Leaders.
It’s the Leader’s experience as a breastfeeding mother or parent that counts, more than theoretical knowledge, even if the Leader draws on the wealth of knowledge accumulated by the organization.

Leaders provide information, not only theoretical but also practical. They don’t give advice, they don’t prescribe. When a mother asks a question, Leaders give information on the subject. For example, the Leader may say that for many mothers such and such a thing has worked, or that others have found themselves doing things in such and such a way. Leaders never say: do this, do not do that.

The support one breastfeeding parent can give another breastfeeding parent is of a totally different nature from the support given by healthcare professionals. The latter are repositories of medical power, and their discourse is one of prescription. But when it comes to breastfeeding, most of the information a mother or parent needs is practical, not medical.


Claude Didierjean-Jouveau, LLL France