WBW2017: Being a La Leche League Leader

With World Breastfeeding Week 2017 beginning today, it seems apt to kick off the week with a guest post by one of our two local LLL Leaders. Jaime (and her fellow leader, J’Nel) have been fundamental to both our breastfeeding journeys. Not only through meetings but via the LLLMK Facebook group. We are lucky to have a fantastic support network at our fingertips.

Jaime has six children, ranging in age from 17 to three, and shares with us her journey through nursing her own little ones, to helping other women with theirs.

Over to Jaime…

Breastfeeding has been a huge part of my life for 17 years now. My eldest daughter is 17 this week and aptly her birthday falls during World Breastfeeding Week. I remember being pregnant and knowing I was going to breastfeed. My Mum had breastfed me for as long as she could, my Nan breastfed my Dad and his siblings so I knew it was how babies fed.

I don’t remember preparing to breastfeed and certainly don’t really remember any pearls of wisdom being  shared about breastfeeding during my antenatal classes so when my daughter arrived and things weren’t straight forward I wondered what was going on. My nipples were sore and cracked; she didn’t latch easily; she was an unsettled baby and I got a nasty bout of mastitis.

Fast forward to baby number five and my discovery of La Leche League and I discovered a lot more about baby norms and I realised that the fact that my first-born’s restrictive tongue tie was never cut probably caused all our issues in the early weeks and that the breastfeeding information I had received from professionals at that time were blatant myths! I’m thankful that I’m a stubborn coot and, despite our problems, we still had a successful breastfeeding relationship for our goal of one year.

Whilst pregnant with baby number five I discovered this whole world of mums hiding in Facebook who parented in similar ways to me and it was then that I stumbled across La Leche League North Bucks (which, alas, is now closed). I was keen to get along to meetings so as soon as I was able I made the journey across to Leighton Buzzard and fell in love with LLL and their philosophies of mothering through breastfeeding. As my son neared a year the group Leader put a call out for mums interested in leadership and I knew that this was my chance to help improve breastfeeding support for local mums and so I began my Leader accreditation journey.

My accreditation was fairly slow going; life got in the way; work got in the way and unfortunately my local group closed as the Leader retired. During this time, I continued to support breastfeeding mums as I completed the UNICEF Breastfeeding Relationships course through my work which allowed me to provide peer support alongside health visitors at their breastfeeding support clinics. Then, in late 2013, I chanced upon a meeting with some other local breastfeeding enthusiasts and we plotted to open to Breastfeeding Café MK. This amazing service launched in August 2014, just after the birth of my final baby and continued to run until this May when unfortunately, due to a lack of funding we had to close our doors.

I’m very pleased to say that I finally pushed myself to accredit with LLL in February 2015 and now co-lead LLL Milton Keynes with the wonderful J’Nel. We each run monthly meetings and provide online and one to one support to mothers in MK and beyond. We hope that in the not too distant future we will have some leader applicants join us in the Aylesbury, Buckingham and Leighton Buzzard areas as there is such a big demand for LLL over there. Just a little hint being dropped there! (Editor’s note: hint received, loud and clear!)

I love being an LLL Leader, not only do I get to support mums with the physical challenges that sometimes occur with breastfeeding but also provide a listening, empathetic ear and occasionally a shoulder. I love running our monthly meets where we talk about all things mothering and breastfeeding, normalising behaviours and seeing mums experience that light bulb moment as they realise that what they are experiencing right now is normal and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a great way for mums to find a network and hopefully their tribe to help support them through any tough times and celebrate their successes and milestones. LLL has an amazing global network of Leaders and in the U.K. there are over 200 Leaders all providing voluntary support to mums via meetings, internet forums, face to face visits and of course our fabulous 24 hour helpline! We have an amazing website full of wonderful information  and, as a Leader, I know that if I need a second opinion I can call upon any of my Leader ‘family’ to be there to assist. What you discover as a mum visiting an LLL meet really does continue when you become a Leader with shared learning and experiences. And not only that, but as a charity organisation it’s run entirely as a result of fundraising and memberships.

TFTMS asked me to talk about my frustrations with regards to breastfeeding support and I could talk about this for hours and many, many pages! I’ll simply sum it up by saying the lack of investment frustrates the hell out of me! Those that hold the purse strings are simply too short-sighted to see that by investing in better antenatal education and early intervention with breastfeeding specialists and peer supporters that we can make breastfeeding normal, attainable and less challenging. The impact of successfully breastfeeding has knock-on effects not just for mum, baby and future generations but also for the NHS. My dream would be to have a team of peer supporters running daily groups, providing home visits and being supported by lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors whilst voluntary organisations such as LLL, Breastfeeding Network (BFN) and Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) run alongside them.

However, as the money isn’t there, I shall instead continue to plod along trying to make small differences to as many mums as I can as an LLL Leader and ensuring that breastfeeding is considered a priority by participating in the local Maternity Voices Partnership (previously MSLC) and the Breastfeeding Strategy Group.

Furthermore, this lack of investment in support means that attitudes to breastfeeding in the UK are still rather behind. Mums are still worried about breastfeeding in public despite the fact that they are protected by equality laws; employers are still not clued up about the rights and needs of a working breastfeeding mum; family members do not understand that breastfeeding is not just about the babies need for nutrition but also their need for comfort and security. As a society we are too quick to try and make our babies separate from us and get them to be independent which is massively against our human norms.

As an LLL leader, I encourage mums to listen to their instincts and follow their inner voice that says cuddle their baby, keep them close and nurse them just one more time.

Jaime, writing for The Mother Side x

Find your local LLL group here.
Follow TFTMS on Facebook here.

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