Tools and Exercises

Listed below are several optional tools and exercises for use in covering the checklist on pages 150-152 in the Leader's Handbook.

Consider choosing one or more in combination to best suit your situation and learning style.

Accepting Ourselves and Others

An Exercise for Leader Applicants

One aspect of preparing to be a La Leche League Leader is developing communication skills.  To do our jobs well, Leaders have to hear what a mother is saying.  “Biases” -- the things we think of as “right” -- can interfere with communication in many ways.  When we hear ideas which are different from our own, we may feel threatened, challenged or disapproving.  We may unwittingly send out conversation-stopping messages, or we may close our minds to new information. For instance, it can be difficult for us to help mothers who choose to be away from their babies.  We may distinguish between mothers who “want” to be employed and those who have a financial “need.”  We may not be able to communicate the same caring and unqualified acceptance as we offer to mothers whose choices, for whatever reasons, are more like our own.  Some people are impatient with women who resist suggestions, especially if it is over a long period and there has been an investment of time and energy.  Because body language and tone of voice communicate most of our message, the mother may sense our discomfort and feel turned away. LEADER’S HANDBOOK, pages 40-46, and BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, pages 7-10, offer helpful reading on this topic. The following exercise can help us identify and feel comfortable with our biases.  When we recognize that we have valid reasons for believing as we do, we are more likely to respect other people’s different ideas, too.  Then the feelings that strengthen us cannot weaken or interfere with our communication with others.

  1. Pick a topic you feel strongly about. Some examples: home birth, vegetarianism, family bed, homeschooling, methods of discipline, staying at home.
  2. Look at an opinion you hold strongly regarding this topic.
  3. Identify the reasons for your belief.
  4. Understand that you have a right to your opinions.
  5. Think about why someone might hold a different opinion on this topic.
  6. Recognize that others have a right to their beliefs, too.
  7. Think about how you might help a mother with a belief different from yours.

By thinking through our own personal beliefs now, we can prevent less-than-helpful reactions when leading meetings or helping mothers over the phone. We need to remember that the Leader’s goal is to empower the mother by giving her the facts she needs to make informed choices.  We need to support each mother as the expert on caring for her own baby.

An Exercise in Affirmation

Letter to a Mother-in-Law

A long-time Leader recently received the following letter (shared with permission) from her expectant daughter-in-law who had just attended her first Series Meeting:

I wanted to let you know how the meeting went today.  There were about 15 or so women there with lots of kids and babies, of course.  It was an interesting experience.  I'm not sure how else to describe it.  I'm sure in time I'll become more comfortable with it, but it was interesting.  I think the part that made me a little uncomfortable was when the four-year-olds were walking up to their moms and said, "I want this one mommy" and pulled up their shirt, unclasped their bras and starting nursing.  I've never been around a child that age who did that, so it was kind of a shock.  As was the girl who was feeding her four-year-old and 16-month-old and they were fussing over which breast they wanted.

Every woman there was firm in her belief that a child should breastfed until he/she weans him/herself.  I don't feel that way.  I plan on doing it for about six months and that will probably be it.  If I do it longer, great, and if not, then so be it.  When I mentioned this, they all kind of looked at me strangely and a few said, "Well, do what's best for you."  And they moved on to someone else.  I know it's all about doing what works best for me and my family, regardless of how anyone feels.

Don't get me wrong, they all seem very nice and I'm sure they will be very helpful if I have any issues while I'm breastfeeding.  And my feelings may change after she's born.  Who knows.  All in all, I left there feeling a little strange and crossing my fingers it's not so weird the next time around because I'll have my baby with me.  I was actually a little emotional when I left because I felt guilty for not feeling comfortable.

Even before becoming an LLL Leader, you likely were attracted to LLL meetings because you felt comfortable there as a nursing mother in a way that you may not have elsewhere.  If other people reacted to your decision to breastfeed (or to continue to breastfeed an older baby or toddler) with dismay or with dismissive comments, did that response help you feel accepted?  Or did you feel just “tolerated”—even ostracized?  Likewise, was the writer of the letter above, attending her first Series Meeting in full faith on recommendation of her mother-in-law the LLL Leader, greeted with true acceptance?

In “What is Acceptance, Anyway?” Maggie Heeger writes:

Often [. . .] we speak of "accepting" mothers only when they're doing something we view as wrong, such as supplementing or spanking. Rarely do we speak of "accepting" a mother who agrees with LLL philosophy. We hope to be able to change a mother’s behavior so that she will no longer need to be accepted; she'll be "one of us." Doesn't all this imply that we are judging what is or isn't acceptable mothering? That’s not acceptance at all, but rather, tolerance. We tolerate a mother who does things "wrong" and hope that she'll soon see the error of her ways.

However, page one of the Leader’s Handbook reminds us that, “One of the most important things a Leader can do is to build a mother’s self-confidence and trust in her mothering instincts.  This helps create a strong bond between mother and baby.”  Rather than “hoping she’ll soon see the error of her ways,” we must believe that she is already making the best choice available to her at the time—and let her know that we believe it.  Reinforcing a mother’s sense of confidence in her mothering role and choices is not just a nice thing to do; it is fundamental to LLL’s mission “to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother to mother support, information and education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and the mother” (Leader’s Handbook 227).

Longtime Leader (and Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation) Pat Andrews explains that when helping mothers she likes to keep LLL’s traditional mission statement at the forefront of her mind: “To provide information and support to mothers who choose to breastfeed.”  She says, “for me it has always been the acid test of whether I am doing the right thing as a Leader.  Am I fulfilling my mission?  Am I helping mothers; not just some specific subset of mother, but all mothers?”

Clearly we need to move beyond polite tolerance to something that demonstrates a more meaningful level of acceptance to such mothers, and that models a more effective approach for our Groups’ Leaders Applicants.  That approach is called affirmation.

One experienced Leader I know is a pro at this approach.  If a mother at a Series Meeting explains that her goal is to nurse for six months, this Leader replies with heartfelt “that’s wonderful!”  Then she follows up with a concrete reason that it is indeed wonderful: “It can be helpful to have a goal like that to help you get through any rough days.”

How might a mother feel when she hears such a response?  She feels listened to, because the Leader responded to her remark with specifics, not vague generalities.  She may feel happy to know that someone who knows about breastfeeding thinks that her goal is a good idea.  Because she was accepted without judgment, she may be more open to listening to others with a spirit of acceptance as well.  And she may be more interested in attending the next month’s Series Meeting or more willing to call a Leader if she needs help or support after her baby is born.  After all, as Maya Angelou has said, “you may not remember what people do for you, but you will remember how they make you feel.”

Here are some further examples of how Leaders can demonstrate acceptance through the use of affirmations:

Expectant Mother: “I plan to keep the baby on a four-hour feeding schedule; that’s what my pediatrician told me to do.”

Leader: “It’s good that you’re already thinking about how often to nurse your baby. We’re so glad you’ve come to our meeting today to learn more about breastfeeding before your baby arrives!  What other preparations are you making for breastfeeding?”

Following up the affirmation and welcome with an open question about her preparations may allow the Leader to determine what kind of information sources would be a good fit.  It also provides a space between the mother’s comment and information about a more realistic feeding schedule that helps reduce the risk of that follow-up being perceived as criticism.

New Mother: “I need my sleep, so my husband gets up at night and feeds the baby a bottle.”

Leader: “It’s important for new mothers to get enough rest.  That’s hard, because young babies also need to eat during the night.  How are things working out for you all?”

It’s useful to reinforce this mother’s recognition of the baby’s need for nighttime feeding and parenting.  Asking her a question about her perspective on her choices insures that the mother will get a chance to share her experience with the Group and she will be the one to say whether “it works for [her] family,” rather having that judgment pronounced on her by another person.

Leader Applicants often find it helpful to practice communicating in challenging situations before they’re actually confronted with them as Leaders.  During the application time, a Leader Applicant moves from responding to other mothers’ comments and choices as a peer, speaking only for herself, to responding as a public representative of LLL, speaking from a broader perspective.  As one part of making that shift, a Leader Applicant learns about how Leaders create an atmosphere of acceptance at Series Meetings.

The section titled “Accepting and Respecting Each Mother” on pages 40-46 of the Leader’s Handbook (2003) discusses techniques Leaders can use to promote acceptance at meetings and to handle strong feelings (their own or those of others present) with sensitivity and respect.  The Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative may send an Applicant Leaven articles like “The Importance of Being Accepted” or suggest completing a Bias Exercise. Completing Preview scenarios—particularly the Group Dynamics situations—provide another opportunity for Leader Applicants to hone the vital skill of fostering acceptance.

This article and the following associated exercise are further tools that you can share with Leader Applicants in your Group.  You might discuss this subject and approach during an Evaluation Meeting or practice it in conjunction with the Listening Exercise, Checklist discussions, or Preview work.   Please let us know whether or not you find this tool helpful!

An Exercise in Affirmation for Leader Applicants

During your application time it can be important to practice responding to statements and situations that may make you feel personally uncomfortable or that seem to conflict with your understanding of LLL philosophy.  Helping mothers to feel genuinely accepted can be challenging but is crucial to a successful LLL Group.  Affirmations, or specific positive statements about a mother’s choices, are one tool to demonstrate an accepting attitude toward mothers while avoiding responses that may seem to devalue mother’s choices.

Here are some tips for responding with affirmation:

  • Identify the positive aspects of the mother’s choice/statement
  • Describe specific things the mother is doing that are beneficial to her or to her baby
  • Remember that affirming parts of what she says doesn’t mean that you’re agreeing with all of it
  • Don’t feel that you must teach her something or change her mind
  • Avoid the word “but”  (try “and” instead)
  • If you’re not sure how to continue, asking questions allows her to frame the situation in her terms and gives you more information on which to base a follow-up comment
  • If appropriate, respond by adding to her understanding (e.g., sharing information from The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding or referring her to a Group Library book)

After reading the article “Letter to a Mother-in-Law,” for ideas, you might practice developing responses to the following situations, or others that you’ve seen come up in your local Group:

  • An expectant mother says that she plans to have an epidural as soon as she arrives at the hospital in labor.
  • A mother volunteers that she plans to wean her baby when she returns to employment three months postpartum.
  • A mother mentions that she feeds her baby expressed mother’s milk, but does not feed at the breast.
  • A mother describes her plans to leave her baby for several days while she travels.
  • A mother who had volunteered to bring snacks to the meeting shows up with bottle of soda and a box of graham crackers.
  • You notice that an expectant mother seems uncomfortable with a Group member who is nursing a three-year-old.

Community and Group Awareness

An Exercise for Leader Applicants

If there is no LLL Group near you, and no Leader for you to work with, then you are an “isolated Applicant.”  Even though you live too far away to attend Group meetings, you might be able to connect with a Leader via email, email chats, or tapes.  You may already know a Leader interested in supporting you, or we may be able to help you find one.  If this is not possible, your Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative can cover all aspects of leadership preparation with you, including this exercise.

Part A: Community Awareness.

Purpose of exercise:  to help isolated Applicants learn about the needs of breastfeeding mothers in their community and the services available to them.

1. Identify the needs of your community

  • How would you describe your community in terms of its geographical boundaries and the people within them?
  • How might pregnant women and new mothers learn about LLL?
  • Are there any obstacles to providing breastfeeding support that you think your community has in common with other areas?
  • Are there any obstacles to breastfeeding that you think might be fairly specific to your area?

2. Services to mothers and babies

  • What services are there for mothers and babies in your area (e.g., health clinics, postnatal support groups, mother and toddler groups)?
  • What breastfeeding support exists in your community?
  • How might LLL reach pregnant women and new mothers?
  • What opportunities are there for links between LLL and other services in your community (e.g., hospitals, health professionals, lactation consultants)?

3. Existing community groups

Is there a group in your community that you attend or could visit, such as a playgroup, religious group, or parenting or other support group?  Sit back and watch what happens.  Observe the facilitators:

  • How do they engage participants and meet their needs?
  • What works well for this group?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the group and its facilitators?

Part B:  Group Awareness.

Purpose of exercise:  to help isolated Applicants experience Series Meetings and learn about Group dynamics and listening and communication skills.

1. Participate in an online LLL meeting together with a mentor Leader and/or LAD representative

  • To find out more about online meetings, go to:
  • Just listen and observe what is happening.  Take notes of your observations.  Share your impressions with your mentor Leader and/or LAD representative.

2.   Prepare for your next online meeting in advance

  • Which Series Meeting will it be?
  • Read the Leader’s Handbook to get an idea of the topics that could come up.
  • Consider ways to encourage discussion about subjects related to the topic of the meeting.

3.   During the actual online meeting, look for key points as you observe what happens

  • Notice how the Leader structures the meeting.  Is there a clear beginning/middle/end?
  • As you listen and make observations about the meeting, pay special attention to the questions the Leader uses to draw out mothers’ experiences.  Does everyone have the chance to participate?

4.    Evaluate

Following an online meeting, you can discuss the following points with the mentor Leader and/or LAD representative in the same way you would if using the Listening Exercise at a conventional Series Meeting:

  • What did you “hear”?  What did the Leader “hear”?
  • What were the underlying concerns of mothers?
  • How did others react and what were your reactions?
  • How did what was expressed relate to LLL philosophy?

Gina Gerboth, CLA Colorado/Wyoming; Lesley Robinson, ALA LLL Canada; Amy Shaw, ADRALA Eastern US; Patty Varelas, ACLA Future Areas in Europe; Tammy Veatch, CLA Florida; Sophie Yang, ACLA Future Areas in Asia; Developed from a session at LAD IMS 2005

Finding Leader Resources

Nancy Fredette

Hillsdale NJ USA

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 5, October-November 2001, pp. 116.

The Breastfeeding Resource Guide explores many of the technical resources Applicants need to become familiar with as they prepare for LLL leadership. The following Leader Resources Exercise was created to help Leaders assist Applicants to examine some of the sources a Leader can turn to when procedural or Group management questions arise. Many of the answers to the questions listed can be found in the Leader's Handbook. Others are available through LLLI's Web site. Some answers differ by Area, so an Area Procedures Manual or Handbook may be the place to look, or check with your District Advisor (DA) or Area Coordinator of Leaders (ACL).

Leader Resources Exercise

Use this exercise to generate discussion and learn together about the vast array of LLL resources, both written and human, that are available to Leaders. Where might you look for information in each of these situations? Sometimes what you need will be found in more than one place. Don't forget your people resources.

1. Help! My co-Leader just called and told me that her child has a fever. She was going to lead the Group Meeting tomorrow morning, and now I'll have to lead it! I don't have any ideas! Where can I look to find some meeting ideas?

2. My co-Leaders and I just discussed a mother in the Group and we all think she would make a great Leader. What do we do next? How do we go about getting an application for her?

3. I just got a phone call from a mother wants to know whether it's safe to keep breastfeeding her baby while she takes an antibiotic that her doctor has prescribed. Where can I find information for her?

4. There seems to be a problem getting newcomers to join the Group. We need some good ideas for promoting membership. Where can I get some?

5. I just found out I'll be moving soon. How do I let La Leche League know about my new address and phone number?

6. Our Group is considering publishing a newsletter for members. Are there guidelines on this, and if so, where can I find them?

7. One of the mothers in the Group makes and sells slings. Can she display and sell them at Group meetings? How do I find out about this?

8. I'll be having a baby in a couple of months, and I want to make sure I'm not on the Area phone lines for a while after the baby is born. How can I arrange this?

9. My co-Leader and I are really not getting along at all. It's gotten to the point where one or the other of us will most likely quit being a Leader. Is there anyone we can call to help us through this?

10. I'm a new Leader and I'm trying to fill out the Group's Financial Report. I haven't any idea how to do it, and none of my co-Leaders have ever filled one out either. Who can help us?

11. Some Applicants in our Group are interested in taking Communications Skills (CS) sessions. How do I arrange for this?

12. A mother called me about adoptive nursing. I have a pamphlet to send her and I gave her information from the Breastfeeding Answer Book, but she also asked me about putting her in touch with another mother who has done this. How do I get her a name?

13. I heard that LLL has a Web site just for Leaders. How do I get on it?

14. I'm really interested in taking on an Area Council job. Who do I talk to about this?

15. Some mothers in the Group have asked us to start holding Toddler Meetings. What are they, and can they be held in place of regular Series Meetings? I need to know more about Toddler Meetings before I get back to them. Where can I find out about Toddler Meetings?

16. I know someone who would be a great speaker for the next Area Conference! Who do I talk to about this?

17. A mother in our Group called me about a problem her friend in another Area was having. She wanted to know if I had a number of a Leader in that Area that she could give her friend. How do I go about getting this kind of information for mothers?

18. I lost my Area Directory. How do I get another one?

19. There are only two Leaders in my Group. What if both of us are sick (or our children are sick) on the day of a Series Meeting?

20. Can I recommend books to Group mothers that are not on the LLLI Group Bibliography?

21. We're running low on pamphlets. Can we make copies of them ourselves or type information from them into our computers for distribution, or do we have to order more through LLLI?

22. I've been asked to speak about La Leche League and breastfeeding at the birth preparation classes given at our local hospital. Can I do this? Do I have to get permission from someone? Can I be paid?

23. Can my co-Leaders and I use Group funds to pay our Leader dues? How about to pay our Area Conference expenses?

24. I heard there are new prerequisites for LLL leadership. Where can I get a copy of them?

25. A mother called me wanting human milk storage guidelines. Where would I find them, and how could I send them to her?

26. I'd like to volunteer my time to answer the 1-877-4LALECHE phone line. How can I go about doing this?

27. The Group is getting really big. We are thinking about splitting into two Groups. How do we go about doing this?

28. What kind of information do I need to write down in my telephone log? How long do I need to keep this as a record?

29. I'm thinking about becoming a lactation consultant. Will I be able to refer Group members who need lactation consultant services to myself? Where can I find information about this?

30. Someone donated a big box of books to the Group. How can I check which ones are okay to put into our Group Library?

31. There's a mother in the Group who is interested in donating money to La Leche League. She wants to know how to go about doing this. What do I tell her?

32. A mother called and asked me about breast pumps. As Leaders, do we recommend any one brand of pump over another?

NOTE: This is an example of an exercise Leaders and Leader Applicants can use to meet a need for additional familiarity with Leader resources; it is not meant to be a new requirement for all Leader Applicants.

Helping Mothers in Meeting Situations

This exercise works best with two or three Leaders and several Applicants.

The Leader’s role is very different from the non-Leader’s role in the Group.  The Leader who is leading a Series Meeting moderates the discussion, keeping it on topic and seeing to it that each mother can be heard.  She may fill in gaps when further information is needed or gently provide correct information when misleading or contrary information is shared.  If there are other Leaders at a Series Meeting, they help keep the conversation on track and, when appropriate, share their own experiences, perhaps in a different way than they did before they became Leaders.  Applicants make the transition from Group members to Group Leaders during their preparation for leadership.  The purpose of the following exercise is to practice keeping "self" in the background while focusing on the concerns of the mothers in the Group.

Before starting this exercise, take some time to review relevant sections in the LEADER’S HANDBOOK, chapter I, on helping mothers one-on-one, and chapter II, on leading meeting discussions.

First, using the situations below, role-play how a Leader might respond empathetically by referring to her own *feelings* in a similar situation without mentioning her own actions or choices.  The Leaders each do one to model how it's done.  Another participant reads a situation aloud and the Leader responds empathetically, as she would in a meeting.  Discuss how the Leader's response might help the mother on an emotional level (for example, rapport, reassurance, relief).  Then the Applicants can each try out one (they might choose one they can relate to personally), receive feedback and try another.  It's okay to choose the same situation someone else chose.  Applicants are welcome to ask for coaching if they want help.  If any Applicant would rather only observe at this time, she should be free to do so.

Next, using the same situations, role-play how a Leader might draw suggestions from the Group, and how a Leader might offer additional suggestions without referring to her personal experiences.  Each Leader takes a turn being "the Leader," with everyone else being members of the Group.  Discuss the role of a Leader who is not leading the meeting.  After the Leaders have modeled, each Applicant can take a turn.  Afterwards, you might want to talk about how it felt to facilitate rather than participate.  If any Applicant feels she would rather only observe at this time, that's fine.

Use these sample situations, or make up your own:

  • Johnny is up and down all night.  I never feel rested.  I just want a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, that's all.
  • John and I are thinking about bringing our baby to bed with us.  It sounds like a great idea.
  • Johnny bit me the other day!  It was terrible; I slapped him before I knew what I was doing.  We both cried.
  • Johnny wants to be held a lot, which is fine.  I like it.  I just get discouraged when I see all the dishes in the sink and John is due home any minute.
  • My mother thinks Johnny should be weaned by now.  She says she never heard of a kid who can walk and talk still needing to nurse.  I don't like to argue with her.
  • Now that Johnny is nearly six months old, his doctor says we should start solid foods.  How do I do that?   What should I start with?
  • Johnny is getting so big.  I'm having problems with my back aching after nursing.
  • I wish I could lose some weight.  I feel like a hippopotamus.
  • I'm interested in learning more about home birth.  It sounds like the only way to go.

Listening Exercise

At a Series Meeting, the Applicant and the Leader observe, preferably when another Leader is responsible for the meeting.  It is probably best to take only mental notes during the meeting, then jot down your thoughts as soon after the meeting as you can.  If there is only one Leader in your Group, you may prefer to attend another Group’s meeting.  The Leader and Applicant meet the next day or soon thereafter for discussion.

1. Before the meeting, review Chapter Two in LEADER’S HANDBOOK on planning and leading Series Meetings.

2. During the meeting, pick a few mothers (non-Leaders) and try to really listen to them.  Make your own contributions to this meeting as minimal as possible so that you can concentrate on listening and watching.  What are these mothers’ concerns today?  What are they saying?  What are they feeling about themselves and their babies, and about others at the meeting?  Are what they say and what they feel always the same?

3. Notice how the Leader of the meeting responds to these mothers when they ask questions or contribute to the discussion.  Notice how other Leaders at the meeting respond, and how other mothers respond.  What are your own inner reactions to what these mothers say?  How might you have responded to them?   Why do you think the Leader reacts the way she does?  During a meeting, what are the different responsibilities of the Leader of the meeting, other Leaders, Leader Applicants, long-time Group members and relative newcomers?

4. The Applicant and Leader meet for discussion.  Talk about what you both saw and heard during the meeting.  Discuss the questions above.  Were the responses to the mothers helpful or not, and why?  Can you think of responses that might have been more helpful?  Talk about how Leaders set the tone for others in the Group by what they say, how they say it, and by their body language.

Mixing Causes

The purpose of this exercise is to help you see how mixing causes might impact different mothers we help and how a Leader can avoid mixing causes.  Each of the following situations has potential for mixing causes.  You might think of others common to your location or specific to your own experience.  Please use this exercise as a “jumping off point” to stimulate your own thoughts and/or your discussions with Leader(s).

For each situation, ask yourself:

  • What mistaken impression might a mother make about what LLL believes or supports?
  • How might mixing causes in this situation discourage a mother from returning to LLL?
  • How would you ensure that what you say stays within LLL’s guidelines for how/what Leaders say and do?
  • How might you respond if a mother’s question is uncomfortable for you due to your own strong personal beliefs?

Some possible situations:

  • You are a midwife and a Leader.  The hospital where you work has offered you a room for LLL Series Meetings.
  • You are a nutritionist (or you have strong feelings about a particular diet), and you are planning Series Meeting 4.
  • You are the Leader of a Group meeting in the evening.  In the daytime, you operate a day-care business out of your home.  At your Series Meeting, a mother asks you about care for her child.
  • Your personal beliefs forbid using birth control, and a mother calls you with a question about contraception.
  • You have sacrificed a second income to stay home with your children.  A mother asks you for information about pumping after she returns to work.
  • You live in a small town and everyone knows . . . (the church you attend, the political causes you support, etc.).
  • A member of your Group wants to sell . . . (slings, toys, etc.) at your meetings.
  • Another nonprofit group with similar goals asks your Group to participate in its upcoming presentation/affair.
Here are some resources you might find useful:

“Mixing Causes,” Leaven, Feb-Mar 03 Political and religious beliefs
“Mixing Causes or Not?” Leaven, Jun-Jul 99 Involvement with other non-profits; personal businesses

“When a Leader’s Beliefs Become Mixing Causes,” Leaven, Apr-May 99

Letters to LLLI, Leaven, Dec 98-Jan 99 The difference between mixing causes and cooperative action

"How Leaders Can Avoid Mixing Causes,” Leaven, Oct-Nov 97, At Series Meetings and when helping mothers on the telephone

"Guidelines for Active Leaders Who Also Work as Paid Lactation Consultants," Leaven, May-June 1990

Telephone Helping

Applicants learn many skills from observing Leaders in their Groups. They attend Series Meetings and learn skills in leading discussions and offering information. They meet with Leaders at Evaluation/Enrichment Meetings, where they can ask questions and explore topics in greater depth. What Applicants do not “learn by observing” is how a Leader helps a mother over the telephone; yet that is a large part of what the future Leader will do, once she is accredited.  To help the future Leader gain experience and confidence in helping mothers by phone, the Applicant and Group Leader(s) may choose to do an exercise like the following:

To prepare, everyone can read Chapter One of LEADER’S HANDBOOK.  Preferably two Leaders and the Applicant can get together in person.  The Leaders can use a real situation in an anonymous context to demonstrate how Leaders help by phone. With the Applicant watching, one Leader pretends to be the mother seeking help, and the other takes the role of the Leader.  She uses a phone log to guide her, so the Applicant can see first hand how that form helps the Leader get the information she needs.  After the “phone call,” the Leaders and Applicant can discuss aspects of what went on. The Applicant herself might want to pretend to be a Leader with a different helping situation.  This exercise gives Leaders an opportunity to demonstrate active listening skills and how we use basic Leader references.  The discussion might move into the support systems Leaders utilize, such as the Professional Liaison Dept.

When an Applicant has participated in a phone call exercise, she can approach her first helping call thinking more about the mother’s situation and questions, and less about the mechanics of helping a mother by phone.

[Editor's note: This exercise would work in an Applicant or Leader Workshop, too.]

Mary Margaret Coffield, RALA
LAD Lifeline 1993 # 4

Weaving LLL Philosophy

Here is a list of statements that mothers might make to you when you are a La Leche League Leader, either in one-to-one situations or at Series Meetings.  You will then have the opportunity and privilege of offering those mothers information and support that reflects La Leche League philosophy.  You can work through the statements one at a time, identifying which concept you think is most relevant to each mother’s concern and thinking how you would respond as a La Leche League Leader. This exercise provides you with the opportunity to find words of your own to convey specific concepts when they are relevant to a particular mother’s situation.  Only a few sentences are needed in each and there is no need to detail the technical breastfeeding information that you would offer to the mother.  The first one is done for you to give you an idea.

Mother:  “My health visitor says a big baby like mine needs to start solids promptly at 16 weeks. What do you think?”

Leader: “How wonderful that you are still exclusively breastfeeding at this stage and have grown such a big baby all on your own milk!  LLL’s health advisors are united that there is no nutritional advantage to starting solid foods before around six months and that it can have some disadvantages such as triggering allergies later in life or displacing breast milk in the diet with foods which are less nutritionally dense.  Would you like me to share some of our ideas on how to go about introducing solids?”  (Resource: leaflet Baby’s First Solid Foods [Solid Foods, LLLI])

“What makes LLL different from other breastfeeding organizations or advisers?”

Mother:  “My mother has offered to stay with us for the first couple of weeks after my baby is born.  She says she’ll keep the baby with her so I get lots of much needed rest and she’ll bring the baby to me for feeding.”

Mother: “I’m concerned that all this breastfeeding and bed sharing has created a very clingy two year old.  My family is urging me to send him to playgroup each morning to help him to separate from me, as I just can’t leave him with anybody without him crying.

Mother: “I’m planning to switch to formula at one month, as the baby will have had all the goodness from the colostrum by then.”

Mother: “I want some help ending breastfeeding.  I’m ashamed to say that my two-year-old is still breastfeeding. I know feeding on demand was right for her as a baby but still doing it at this stage is wearing me out.”

Mother: “I’m going to have a cesarean delivery for medical reasons and I’m really disappointed because I’ve heard most mothers who’ve had a cesarean can’t breastfeed.  It’s a great pity as I had really wanted to breastfeed.”

Mother:  “My husband is so concerned about my chronic tiredness he’s suggested I call you to learn how to express my milk.  Then he could offer a bottle of my milk in the night, and I could get more rest.  He says it will also help him to bond with our baby.”

Mother:  “Before I had a baby I used to cook really lovely meals with fresh ingredients, but now I have no time at all to shop or cook.  My mum says my milk is bound to be too thin for my baby when I keep skipping meals or grabbing a jam sandwich or chocolate bar.  Maybe she’s right and I should switch to formula now that I can’t eat a really good diet any more.”

Mother (to the Leader whose child has just behaved badly): “I’d smack him for that!”


  • Leaders in your Group
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 7th Edition. Schaumburg, IL:  LLLI, 2004.
  • Leader’s Handbook, 4th Edition. Schaumburg, IL:  LLLI, 2003.
  • Del Gigante, L.  LLLI philosophy.  New Beginnings March-April 1997; 36-40
  • Deborah Robertson, CLA, Great Britain.  Revised 2004