Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Photo: LLL Shanghai meeting by Sarah Painter
When I became a La Leche League Leader I had a toddler and so did my co-Leader. Leading meetings was usually a challenge as the boys would frequently distract us from the group discussion and at times their behavior was noisy and disruptive. By the end of the morning we were exhausted.
Somehow, though, we managed to struggle through and support the moms who came. At the time, we felt we were not accomplishing enough. With hindsight I can see that we were giving a lot. The mothers who came, came back and made friendships, many of which have lasted down the years. We provided a safe space for tired moms to meet away from their homes. Seeing us struggle but manage, no matter how ragged our ‘performance’ seemed to us, provided a model of sorts, however imperfect, a picture of how we can work together and muddle through. What must have been clear was that we thought breastfeeding and children mattered.
There was companionship, sometimes tears and hugs, always cups of tea (this is England) and usually flapjacks. I got as much as I gave. At the time I did want everyone to find a solution to their individual problems, but I realize now that what those mothers found was freedom to work it out for themselves, a place where they could see other mothers working it out for themselves, different ways of coping and reliable information offered in a friendly, accepting way, where children and their mothers really mattered.
Theresa Weigel, Brookville, Kansas, USA:
Seeing a nursing toddler at my first LLL meeting was an introduction to the idea that this was a normal human behavior. Continued exposure to watching the dynamics between a mother and her older nursling provided me with social behaviors that I would never have otherwise seen.
Along with the subtle message that nursing beyond six months was normal and enjoyable, I observed mothering through breastfeeding at its best. It never crossed my mind that this bond created by the nursing relationship would be so integral to fostering gentle guidance and a heightened awareness of empathy to see me through the challenges of toddlerhood.
Thank you to the mothers modeling these behaviors for helping shape my formative years as a mother.
Megan Bailly, Great Falls, MT, USA:
At meetings I notice mothers relax when they see my two-and-a-half year old and the way in which I handle noise and interruption. We meet in a big room so that the kids have room to run and play. It’s nice for the moms of toddlers to have a break while their child runs around being noisy. When we stop looking at that as a problem, how fun it is to watch the wonder in their eyes as they play!
In Breastfeeding Older Children Ann Sinnott describes what she found at LLL meetings.
“A La Leche League Meeting
Attendance at a La Leche League (LLL) meeting would be revelatory for those who believe older breastfed children are overly dependent. My daughter was three months old when I first went to a meeting. I was intrigued by how the children behaved, especially the toddlers. While the mothers, some holding babies, sat chatting in a rough circle, the toddlers, some chewing on carrot sticks and other tasty snacks, or swigging from cups, played singly or together in constantly changing formations, with much to-ing and fro-ing between rooms. There was endless movement, chatter and chuckles, but no tears, and in the three or so hours before the meeting broke up there were only very occasional minor disputes, and no tantrums. Every now and again a toddler would approach its mother and be taken up and breastfed, or else would climb onto its mother’s lap and find its own way to her breast. Either way, the child—looking noticeably rosy-cheeked, calm and content—would soon slither back down to recommence their obvious primary interest: playing.
Sometimes, a child fell asleep at the breast. Sometimes a mother stopped speaking to connect with her child and the chat would lull, or temporarily shift—to be taken up again when the mother was ready to re-engage. Sometimes a child would be breastfed and a mother wouldn’t even break sentence! It all happened so easily, so organically, and so happily for all concerned. The mothers were contentedly in the background, a mostly-ignored backdrop to which the children would, from time to time, return … These children were patently secure… this—as I came to understand—was a typical LLL meeting.” Pages 36–37.
Sometimes, a child fell asleep at the breast. Sometimes a mother stopped speaking to connect with her child and the chat would lull, or temporarily shift—to be taken up again when the mother was ready to re-engage. Sometimes a child would be breastfed and a mother wouldn’t even break sentence!
Drawing on child development theories, neuroscience research, archeological and anthropological findings, Breastfeeding Older Children explores the myths and reality of what to many is a taboo practice.
What do La Leche League meetings mean to you? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and share a photo of the mothers in your local group.