by Diane Wiltshire Kanagawa
When I was pregnant with my first child, I heard about an organization called La Leche League that helped mothers who wanted to breast-feed their babies. A friend suggested that I might want to attend one of their monthly meetings in Tokyo. I remember how I scoffed at the idea, naively stating that I had read several books on breast-feeding and would not need a “support group” to successfully nurse my baby.
Well, by the time my baby was two months old, I was a wreck. We had every problem in the book, and conflicting advice from well-meaning friends and relatives left me in a state of confusion about the breastfeeding relationship. I found out that although breastfeeding is a natural process, it does not come naturally for many of us.
In tears one night, I called the telephone number of a La Leche leader. A patient, experienced mother answered my questions with compassion and bolstered my confidence tremendously about breast-feeding.
I must have driven that particular leader crazy with my constant phone calls over the next few weeks. She kept urging me to attend a La Leche League meeting, but I procrastinated, thinking they were all probably a bunch of “earth mothers.”
Then one day I was in a coffee shop and my baby needed to nurse. I was about to sneak into the bathroom to feed him when I looked over in the corner and saw a woman discreetly nursing her baby with a blanket tucked around him. She was elegantly dressed and very beautiful. Her older son sat quietly drawing as she fed the baby.
This woman smiled at me and said something about how easy it was to go out and about with a breast-fed baby, with no worries about packing formula or dashing home in time for a meal. We struck up a conversation and I discovered that this lovely lady was getting her Ph.D. in art history and was also training to be a La Leche League leader.
I showed up at an LLL meeting the next month, fascinated by what my friend in the coffee shop had told me about the organization. La Leche League International is a non-profit group which was founded in the United States more than 35 years ago by seven women to give information and support to mothers who want to breastfeed their babies. Today it is the largest women’s self-help organization in the world.
La Leche League is active in 46 countries, reaching more than 100,000 mothers monthly through a network of more than 9,000 accredited leaders who work on a volunteer basis. La Leche League’s efforts to help babies get off to the right start in life have been recognized by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. They are currently involved in projects in countries such as Guatemala and also in Africa, striving to lower infant mortality rate by reinstating breast-feeding. In In many poor countries, without the antibodies for mother’s milk, babies have a slim chance for survival.
At the time I started attending meetings, six years ago, there were only a handful of LLL leaders in Japan. Since that time, La Leche League has grown to have more than 25 leaders all around the country, with Japanese as well as English-speaking groups. Trained volunteer leaders hold monthly meetings covering topics such as “The Advantages of Breast-feeding” and “Weaning and Nutrition,” in addition to telephone counseling.
La Leche League’s philosophy of mothers helping mothers has been proven effective as a way to pas: down the ancient art of breast-feeding. Emotional support backed by accurate information makes a big difference in whether a woman will be able to breastfeed successfully.
In order to facilitate communication in our expanding network, LLL Japan is in need of faxes and computers. Recently, LINC Japan came to our rescue with the donation of three computers which they obtained for us from a major corporation here in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of LINC President Terrie Lloyd, companies with out-dated computer equipment can donate them to non-profit organizations such as La Leche League.
If your company wants to join in this worthwhile project, call Catherine Hanna at LINC, 3409-6510, or fax 3498-7280. It’s cheaper to donate old computers to LINC than to have the garbage collector pick them up!
If you know of a used fax for La Leche League, please contact Bettina Klein, 3811-9411 (phone or fax). For further information about LLL meetings in your area, please contact Bettina or Beckie Oxley, 33324644.