The Evolution of the Support Concept

Heidy Guzmán, Guatemala City, Guatemala

What are the concepts?

The LLL philosophy is a set of ideas that are based on Leaders’ values when it comes to breastfeeding and parenting. It is summarized in ten concepts. Our philosophy distinguishes us from other organizations that support, promote or protect breastfeeding. This philosophy influences our decision of whether we are compatible with other organizations and individuals.

Leaders are united by their personal experience of breastfeeding as well as by the desire to help more families overcome any barriers to nurturing their children with their own milk. LLL concepts play an important role in determining whether we have a similar enough way of thinking to want to walk in the same direction.

LLLI states that “This personal experience of the breastfeeding and mothering relationship, combined with what the person has learned from others and from LLL resources, provides a strong basis from which to help others.” Policies and Standing Rules (PSR), Applying for Leadership (Section A)

Leader Applicants tell their story in relation to the ten concepts. That leads to a discussion with a Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative about their understanding of LLL philosophy and how it relates to their experiences. The purpose of this is to satisfy the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation that the Applicant “demonstrates understanding and practice of LLL philosophy” PSR, Applying for Leadership (Section B)

Origin of the father concept

When LLL was founded, many cultures were encouraging fathers to bottle-feed to participate in parenting and “feel like fathers.” The Founders added the “Father Concept” to counteract the idea that “anyone” could substitute for the mother and to encourage fathers to find their own way of being a parent. The original father concept was:

The father’s role in the breastfeeding relationship is one of provider, protector, helpmate and companion to the mother; by thus supporting her he enables her to mother the baby more completely.

(Attempts at) evolution of the father concept

Any dynamic organization will respond to the needs of each era. The father concept was conceived to encourage a positive role of the father in a society that, at the time, encouraged him to be present in a way that could be detrimental to the breastfeeding relationship.
For several years there has been concern within LLL that this concept does not respond to the reality of many families today. The LAD Council requested it be revised in 2014 and the LLLI Board asked for feedback from Leaders as part of the review process. Hundreds of comments, stories and impassioned pleas were sent for consideration. Three groups have been working on the father concept since: The Father Concept Task Force, made up of 23 Leaders from around the world; The Father Concept Committee (FCC), a smaller group, chaired by Marian Tompson; and the Concept Review Committee, which reviewed each of the LLL concepts and the accompanying concept explanations.

In 2015-2016 the task force worked very respectfully through many conflicts and came up with three possible draft revisions that were presented to the Board in April 2016. Although their revisions were not adopted, the conversations and options that they presented laid the groundwork for the work of future committees.

In 2017 the Father Concept Committee presented the LLLI Board of Directors with a revised Father Concept for a first reading during the September 26 Board meeting as follows:

Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father or another person filling that role. The unique relationship between the baby and the father or another person filling that role is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy.

It is interesting to recall the rationale for the proposal sent by this special committee; below are some paragraphs:

The Father Concept speaks to the role of the Father in supporting the nursing couple.

The FCC carefully examined both the history of the Father Concept and the reasons Leaders have asked that it be revised. As for the former, the Father Concept had been written to describe the father’s role in a context where fathers like to give a bottle of formula to their babies in order to feel like fathers. This is reported to still happen by Leaders from all over the world. The intent of the Concept is both to encourage fathers to understand that their babies benefit when they provide support to the mother as well as the baby and to make it clear that their role, while of primary importance for the baby’s development, is different than the mother’s.

Family structures have undergone significant changes. Households can have single mothers, re-composed families, adoptive parents, same sex couples etc. To reflect these changes, the FCC worked to reword the Father Concept in order that families of any kind may feel included. In our opinion, this is covered by the insertion of “another person filling this role.”

The Concept does not say that the father is the only possible person to provide support, help, and companionship. The Concept does not say that the father must have all male genes, etc. The Concept does not say that breastfeeding will fail if there is no father around. The Concept does not say that the father must be the genitor (he may have adopted…). And finally, the Concept does not say that the father’s relationship is the only important element in the child’s development, nor that others do not also have unique relationships.

The wording is written from the point of view of the baby and mother-baby dyad and acknowledges different family structures without naming all of them.

In response to this proposal many Leaders wrote to the LLLI Board to declare their strong feelings both for keeping the word “father” in the concept and for removing it. After reading hundreds of letters sent by Leaders regarding the proposed revision for the Father Concept, the proposal was withdrawn prior to the second vote that would take place October 2017.

The proposed version of the Concept Review Committee, approved in October 2019, was also rejected in January 2020 after considering Leaders’ comments. So, the discussion has been a long and careful process.


Before making the latest recommendation to the Board of Directors the Concept Review Committee considered:

1 Family situation

Many babies are not born to married couples.

  • Some babies are born to mothers who will not live with the father.
  • Some are born to people who have never met the father and who have chosen to be a single-parent family.
  • Some are born to single parents not by choice.
  • Some are born to same-sex couples.
  • Some have a father who is not their biological father but a stepfather.

2 The father’s support for breastfeeding and his own relationship with the baby

The original concept refers to the support a mother receives from the baby’s father and her relationship with the baby.
How can we expand the concept to apply to other important people who support the mother and play an important role in the baby’s life?
Should the concept be about the existence of a partner and their influence on the life of the baby?

3 Translations, adaptations…

Some entities had already adapted the father concept using the policy of cultural sensitivity.

4 The nature of LLL

LLL is primarily a “mothering through breastfeeding” organization as opposed to a “family organization,” although of course we recognize the importance of the family. Our main contact is with the mothers and parents who are breastfeeding, although sometimes other family members contact us.

5 More considerations:

  • Whether the sentence concerning the father’s relationship with his baby in the original concept is needed.
  • Whether “father” can be removed from the concept title
  • If the father is excluded from the concept, will this still be inclusive?
  • Avoiding taking only one culture’s perspective.

The support concept

The father concept was conceived with an emphasis on the father’s role in order to celebrate his participation and support in parenting without interfering in the breastfeeding relationship. The new support concept responds to the need to expand the concept of the father’s role when families come in many shapes, sizes and models. It was necessary to acknowledge this and at the same time use language as simple and clear as possible. Some Leaders felt it was unnecessary to name the various people who share the upbringing as this may run the risk of leaving someone out. However, through our continuous and deep discussions in various spheres of LLL it was agreed that there is still a great need for those carrying out primary caring roles to be reflected, that is, named in the concepts and other policies.


We received a lot of feedback from Leaders in response to the latest proposal to replace the father concept with the concept of support. Some Leaders preferred not to see any kind of gendered language in our writing while others preferred maintaining the language that is part of LLL’s identity. Many Leaders felt a good compromise could be made and any differences reconciled. Overall it was clear that for the LLL community it is very important to continue using both the word “father” and the word “mother.” The LLLI Board has recently added “Cultural Sensitivity in Publications” to the Policies and Standing Rules (PSR), which includes the clause: “publications produced for LLLI will use a variety of terms to describe Leaders and the people whom we serve.”

Final version

The English wording of the new concept on the LLLI website is:

Breastfeeding is enhanced by the loving support of the baby’s father, a co-parent, a partner, and/or close family members who value the breastfeeding relationship.

We are leaving it up to the entities, especially Ligue La Leche, the European Area Network (EAN) and International Area Network (IAN), to decide how they will translate this concept into the different languages of their Areas. Certain words eg “co-parent” may not exist in some languages. Similarly there are words in other languages that cannot be translated into English. Native speakers in the entities and Areas will be able to take this concept and translate it into their languages in a harmonious and appropriate way, finding the words that welcome all members of their local society.

Some Leaders also noticed that the second part that spoke about the father’s relationship with his baby was lost. After careful consideration, the Concept Review Committee thought it best to leave this aspect out and focus on breastfeeding, and the LLLI Board concurred. In the concept explanation it is still mentioned, because for us it is evident that a solid breastfeeding relationship does not prevent the intimate and distinct relationship that the baby may have with others who also provide loving care.

There was definitely much to consider.  According to the majority of comments that LLLI received, this new support concept is respectful of the needs and concerns of many Leaders. That was the most important goal.

We thank the members of all committees for their painstaking work in trying to find language that would reflect the values and the reality of La Leche League and families around the world.

Heidy Guzmán lives in Guatemala City and is Guatemalan of the Garífuna ethnic group. An LLL Leader for ten years, Heidy has been a facilitator of the Communication Skills Workshop since 2013, Secretary of LLL Guatemala and Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL) to Guatemala Area, which includes four other Central American countries. Heidy is currently a member of the LLLI Board of Directors, representing the International Area Network (IAN). She lives in a bilingual Spanish-French home with her partner, daughter, brother, a dog, a cat and two hens.