Between my two girls, I am in my 33rd month of breastfeeding of the writing of this article, so it might be surprising that I've only in the last few months become familiar with La Leche League, International (LLLI or LLL).
When I my first daughter, I was in an area of Los Angeles rich in support for breastfeeding, and when I had difficulties, was referred by my doctor to a local lactation consultant. They had a store where there ran a weekly breastfeeding mothers group, so I really had all the support I needed at the time I really didn't look for more. I knew there was such a thing a LLL, but I didn't know anyone associated with it.
When my daughter was 2, we moved, and I had planned to get involved in LLL to be able to offer support to other women, but right about the time I was ready to do so, the close groups all seemed to simultaneously disintegrate! (Note, this isn't typical of LLL, but seems to be a fluke occurrence which can occasionally happen in volunteer-led groups!) Luckily when I had my second daughter, a homebirth, I was able to the few issues that arose on my own, armed with all my various experiences from my first.
So it was only after my baby's first birthday, that I finally tracked down a local LLL group that was still meeting (since, another has started, as well), and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. If you are breastfeeding, whether with a newborn or well into a successful experience, or especially if you are pregnant, I would strongly encourage you to find a LLL group in your area and attend a few meetings.
La Leche League leaders are highly trained through a leadership structure in the organization. They are not medical doctors or, generally, board certified lactation consultants (although some may be, or may be working towards that goal). However, what they are is incredibly knowledgeable breastfeeding moms. By the time they become leaders they go through a rigorous training, have a breadth of experience with many issues through attending LLL meetings and supporting other nursing moms. I have found them to be incredibly fantastic resources. In order to be accredited as leaders, LLLI must have enough confidence in them to extend them coverage under their organizational liability policy, which in this litigious society, is a significant factor.
Leaders are committed both to running their groups, as well as helping individual women in the area. You can find a local group through the LLL website (link listed below). If the leader gives a telephone number, *do not* be shy about calling and asking for help – that is why they list the number! You do not need to wait for a meeting to contact the leader for support. Leader, I imagine, differ in the amount of one-on-one assistance they can offer, but if they can not offer that personally, they keep a list of resources in their areas, and can help you find someone who can.
As a side note, I've been told by an LLL veteran that the time of meeting can impact the nature of the group. For example, if you attend a meeting during the day, the issues will revolve more around the needs of stay-at-home moms, extended breastfeeders or newborns with moms on maternity leave. Evening meetings might be a better fit for those with questions about pumping, working while breastfeeding and childcare.
If you do not have a local leader, La Leche League also offers a 24-hour helpline in the United States where you can call and leave a message and a leader will return your call. I tested this out for this article and did receive a call back within 24 hours. The number is 1-877-4LALECHE (452-5324).
Finally, LLLI offers a fantastic selection of web resources on their resources and FAQ pages. There are also forums and chats in which you can participate (links are below). There are also many articles that I refer to frequently for background information, well-researched and scholarly in addition to practical and inspiring.
La Leche League membership is not required to attend meetings and use resources; however, I would encourage you to strongly consider joining to support the organization if you become an active member or use their resources frequently.
If you are a LLLI leader or volunteer, my hats off to you for supporting women in your local community. To breasteeding moms – these amazing women are there for you – please take advantage of their wisdom and open-heartedness.
LLLI Website Resources:
• Find a local LLL group
• Directory of Online Resources
• LLLI Membership Information
Some great books published by La Leche League: