Zooming into the Future

Anna Burbidge, Market Harborough, Great Britain

In common with many LLL Leaders, I always liked to start my meetings with a little bit of history about La Leche League. I loved to share how the organisation grew from a group of women who just wanted to support others to breastfeed. I especially liked to mention that, at any one time, numerous LLL Groups would be meeting just as we were, throughout the world. The meeting places and locations would vary greatly, and some women would travel miles to get there, but the warm welcome and mother-to-mother support offered has always been surprisingly consistent wherever meetings take place.

I have had the pleasure of attending not only different Groups within Great Britain (GB), but also two Groups when visiting the USA, where I was delighted to discover that I immediately felt completely at home. Although thousands of miles away from my own town, I could have been at one of my own meetings. The warmth and the interaction between women transcends borders; it is truly international.

Starting again

Over the years, I have held meetings in halls, hospitals, clinics and private homes. I’ve had morning and evening meetings, afternoon picnics, weekend walks and fundraisers. I’ve had meetings when far more mothers than expected turned up, and those when no-one came at all. I’ve had co-Leaders and been a lone Leader. But in recent years, for various reasons, I had stopped holding meetings. Although I continued with local phone support and occasional home visits, my main efforts were focussed on national roles with LLLGB and helping with Helpline calls.

Then one of the mothers I had been supporting became interested in becoming an LLL Leader. She wanted to attend meetings to get that true LLL feel and she offered her home for us to restart the local Group. And so I decided to restart my meetings and, after some initial reservations, I began to look forward to it, knowing that it is at meetings when I am truly reminded of why I remain part of LLL and how important it continues to be to each new generation.

Changing the plan

Our first meeting was scheduled for April 2020 but on March 23, we went into lockdown due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. All face-to-face meetings were, of course, cancelled and suddenly I learnt a new word–Zoom! Being an older Leader who loves trying to use technology but has very little knowledge of it, I had never heard of Zoom up until that point. (One of my daughters sent me a message “Ha ha pensioner discovers Zoom”). Suddenly my calendar was full of Zoom meetings and Leaders were discussing how to run LLL meetings online.

Zoom is an online video conferencing service that allows multiple people to talk and see each other from any location that has a good internet connection. The basic version of Zoom is free for 40 minutes which some Groups find perfectly adequate; others prefer to subscribe to the pro version. The pro version costs £11.99 ($14.99 US) a month (plus VAT) and can be a cost-effective use of Group funds when compared against the cost of venue hire and refreshments. Some Areas have a subscription that individual Groups can use.


Within GB we were lucky to have a few experienced Leaders who took the time to share information and tips about using Zoom. I practiced joining meetings but then came the moment of setting one up on my own. I had a trial run with some of my adult children and made my first mistake. I had sent them the link to the meeting, but when I went to Zoom and clicked on “Start Meeting” I realised this was not a link to the scheduled one. My family were soon messaging me saying “you are in another meeting!” Valuable lesson learned!

As free Zoom only runs for 40 minutes, Groups in GB got together to share a paid version and it is certainly more relaxing knowing I am not clock watching all the time.

One Leader adapted a Google sign-in sheet for me to use, along with a spreadsheet so I could have an easily referred to record of mothers attending. I send the google sign-in sheet out to interested mothers and the information given is invaluable in helping to plan the meeting. I can see who is coming, the name and age of their baby and, most importantly, the mother can share something she would like to discuss. It often seems to happen that several mothers want to discuss a similar thing which is really helpful in planning a rough guide beforehand, and looking up information!

Learning to Zoom

My original plan had been that I would run Zoom meetings the same way as face-to-face meetings with a theme each month. In fact, although I do always have a theme which I try to weave into the chat, Zoom meetings have tended to be more about “burning issues” for the mothers attending. I still start off with a little bit about LLL, and how our meeting is a discussion group for everyone to share their thoughts and ideas. As with real-life meetings I mention that some things discussed will not seem right for one mother but may be just what another finds helpful. Each attendee introduces themselves and then we turn to the issues the parents have indicated they wanted to discuss.

I am always nervous when the time comes to start the meeting in case something goes wrong. One month I was in quite a panic when Zoom refused to let me sign in to start the meetings. I was getting messages from mothers asking if the meeting was happening. I am lucky to have the support of the mother interested in leadership, and I asked her if she could open a new meeting for me, and then sent out the new link. For someone with limited technology skills this was quite a challenge, but we got there in the end. Now I make sure I give myself plenty of time to open the meeting in case something goes wrong, but I don’t think I relax until I know everyone is there. I keep a close eye on the “waiting room”[1], having left a poor mother in there one time without realising, until she messaged me!

Growing a Zoom Group

As I didn’t start with an established set of Group participants, I have been growing the Group from local calls and national helpline contacts. However, what has been lovely is the number of parents referred to me by word of mouth. I keep in contact with most Group attendees via WhatsApp now (a way for groups of people to stay in touch by phone messaging), and frequently get asked if they can refer a friend to me.

At my first meeting there were only four of us, but it was just what I needed to ease into this new way of doing things. Since then the Group has continually grown, and at my last meeting there were nine of us. The meetings are starting to get “regulars” and some of the mothers already know each other. Some months around 16 mothers express an interest and I started to wonder how it might work with so many by Zoom. Some Groups with more than one Leader use “break-out rooms” but I am not ready for that yet! However, just as with face-to-face meetings, things inevitably crop up which mean they can’t all attend. Two mothers recently said sorry they had not attended—they had taken a much-needed nap instead, which I felt was a very good reason for not making the meeting!

The challenges and the advantages

While the meetings always seem to go well, I do find it harder to create the LLL atmosphere online. It’s hard work to be constantly scanning the faces, looking to see who is waiting to speak, who looks a bit left out, who has a question we haven’t yet addressed. And if someone sends me a message in the chat box, then I am hard pressed to reply; all the time listening to what the mothers are saying and trying to make sure they get the information they need.

However, there are also great advantages to online meetings. Mothers don’t have to travel miles to get there or even get organised enough to get out the door (nor do I – I finish my online Pilates class, make a cup of coffee and am ready to start). Many of the mothers who join in would not have been able to get to an actual meeting place and really appreciate being in their own home.  They can dip in and out if needed, and those with toddlers find it easier to keep them amused or take time out if needed—I love it when the toddlers decide they want to join in!

Several mothers have attended meetings in pyjamas. At my last meeting one mother was lying in bed with her baby the whole time and obligingly demonstrated side nursing for a couple of mothers who asked about it! Another mother joined the meeting from a park where she was walking, sitting down on a bench to nurse. To my delight friendships are starting to grow between parents in just the same way they might have before.

Building on from the meetings

I hope it’s a sign that the meetings are being enjoyed that they often run on longer than I expected and that several participants have become members of LLLGB. After the meetings I always email or message each mother to check if there was anything else she had wanted to discuss, or to send links. If a particular mother has seemed to be finding something especially challenging I will offer to privately video call her.

I know that some Leaders have been supporting parents via Skype and other ways of video calling for some time but I have always felt nervous about it.  Thanks to my experience with Zoom and WhatsApp I now find it a really useful way of giving further support.

That my return to running the local Group coincided with me discovering a whole new way of supporting parents has been an exciting and rewarding experience. Both local and national calls have increased during these difficult months of isolation, and mothers who would previously have perhaps called once or twice only are staying in touch, joining the meetings or coming back to me regularly to chat about new situations. Like many Leaders I often wondered how the mother I chatted to got on, and how their breastfeeding experience developed. Now I don’t have to wonder so often as they keep me informed.

At the end of any LLL meeting I think many Leaders mull it over in their minds, wondering if they met everyone’s needs, or if they could have managed something better. It’s been heartwarming to have mothers message me right after the meeting to say how much they enjoyed it. As one mother put it “I did enjoy that. I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed talking to other breastfeeding mothers until I joined the meeting. I feel so much better for having been part of a group of women who share similar views on mothering as me. It’s made all the difference.”

And from its start 64 years ago, that is what LLL has been all about.


[1] When a participant clicks the Zoom invitation (a link sent from the organiser), they are taken to a “waiting room” and have to be admitted to the meeting. This can be a useful aid to ensure only known contacts join the meeting, but means being constantly on alert to check no-one is waiting!

Anna Burbidge went to her first LLL meeting in 1975 as a young mother expecting her second baby, not realising that one evening would change her life. She went on to have six children and now has four wonderful grandchildren. She has remained active in LLL for 45 years, both locally and nationally and has learnt so much over the years. She remains passionate about supporting parents who want to breastfeed.