Strengthening Our Support

Kelly Durbin, Austin, Texas, USA

Kelly talks about the advantages of offering online meetings and invites Leaders to write in with their experiences of what works and what doesn’t.

As Leaders, much of the support we provide to parents is about adapting. We regularly discuss strategies that help parents adapt to life with a newborn, adapt to infant feeding around the clock, and adapt expectations to the new rhythm of life with children. A key part of adapting and adjusting is developing new skills. We encourage people to develop new skills as they become parents, a major life transition, so they are better able to meet their needs and those of their growing families. This year, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, La Leche League Leaders around the world have also been challenged to embrace change. Over the past few months, we as Leaders have been adapting, adjusting and developing new skills in order to continue to provide support for breastfeeding families.

As LLL meetings were suspended in many countries around the world, Leaders made swift adjustments to provide online meetings, along with phone, email and text support in lieu of face-to-face meetings. While the changes created some challenges, especially with learning new technologies to host online meetings, many Leaders were surprised to find extraordinary value in doing things differently and in ways that truly strengthen our support for breastfeeding.

Firstly, online meetings have removed some of the barriers associated with meeting locally. Face-to-face meetings have always posed some intrinsic challenges. For some people, attending a local meeting is a major hurdle because of the meeting location, the transportation involved in getting there, conflicts with meeting times, and proximity. A number of Leaders have expressed their joy in recent weeks to have online meetings help remove some of these obstacles. Many Groups have hosted online meetings and had some attendees from outside the local area, including some from very long distances. Mothers in distant cities were able to join because the online meeting event was advertised widely in LLL Facebook Groups.

But this extended reach is more than geography; online meetings are expanding our capacity to reach a more diverse group of parents, including people with disabilities. One Leader commented on the LLL USA Leader page that their online meeting included a new parent in a wheelchair. Although their usual face-to-face meeting location was wheelchair accessible, the Leaders now wonder if there are other barriers for disabled people beyond accessibility that they had not considered. This is not only limited to people with disabilities. Imagine that a new mother is only a few days postpartum and is not ready to leave the house, but she needs lactation support. Imagine that a new parent has a fragile premature baby and does not want to expose the baby to too many people by going to a meeting. Or perhaps a mother is struggling to get her baby to latch but she has a cold and does not want to potentially expose others. Meeting virtually or by phone, email or text allows Leaders to connect with parents in any of these scenarios.

A third advantage is that hosting meetings online allows us to offer a wider and more superior array of options when it comes to connecting with parents. When the pandemic began and we realized that face-to-face meetings were not possible, some of us had a sense of dread about making the shift to hosting meetings online. Learning the skills necessary to host virtual discussions felt a bit overwhelming for some. But several weeks into our efforts to provide online support, many Leaders have recognized that hosting an online meeting does not have to be an inferior temporary backup plan. Virtual meetings could become a mainstay of the way we offer support. Instead of thinking of online meetings as second choice, many are recognizing that going virtual allows us to widen our range of support, improving on and strengthening the model we used pre-pandemic. While some Groups have offered virtual meetings even before the pandemic, this year we have all been pushed to adapt, adjust and develop new ways of connecting with families.

Change is not always easy, but it is the only way forward. Things that fail to change, adapt and adjust will cease to be. Our breastfeeding support for new mothers and new families is in the midst of a major change at the moment. Will we ever return to our pre-pandemic ways of operating and connecting with parents? It is likely that some of our past structures and routines will return but it is also very probable that going forward we will take the lessons from the pandemic to expand and strengthen the breastfeeding support we provide. Strategies that we take away from the pandemic will not be the same for every Leader or every Group but hopefully Leaders around the globe will share their experiences so we can learn from one another.

Please reach out to Leader communities and share your positive stories and lessons from this time of change. Post about your experiences on LLL Leader forums and Facebook groups, or in Area meetings or newsletters. If you have a compelling story that illustrates creative adaptation to change that improves our support for breastfeeding, please consider sharing it with Leader Today for publication in this column. Your story or insight could be the impetus for others to embrace new ways to support breastfeeding mothers.

Kelly Durbin has been a Leader for about 10 years in the United States with experience leading meetings in five different states across the country. She, her husband and their two daughters now live in Austin, Texas.