Sunday, June 29, 2008

Le Leche League

Breast-feeding pioneer Edwina Froelich founder of Le Leche League died recently at the age of 93. It seems odd to have a breast-feeding pioneer, since women have been doing it for the entire history of human existence, and it is one of the definitions of being a mammal.*

But admitting humans are mammals was apparently out of fashion in the 1950s. According to Froelich's NYTimes obituary:
At a time when most pediatricians encouraged formula and bottle-feeding and when there were few scientific studies demonstrating the health benefits of breast milk, Mrs. Froehlich chose to breast-feed all of her babies, said another La Leche founder, Mary White.

"We used to tell the mothers the three main obstacles to successful breast-feeding were doctors, hospitals and social pressure," Mrs. White said.

In 1956, when Mrs. White and a friend, Marian Tompson, decided to start a community organization to support and educate local breast-feeding mothers, Mrs. Froehlich was one of the first women they approached. Soon, monthly meetings were being held in Mrs. Froehlich’s home, and a new phone line was installed so she could answer questions coming in from mothers across the country, Mrs. White said.

"We didn't have any information," said Mrs. Tompson, another of the original group of seven La Leche League founders. "There weren’t any books out there, and women just didn’t talk about these things. Only 18 percent of women in the U.S. left the hospital breast-feeding at that time."
Things had improved by the time I was breast feeding, but even as late as 1997, the state of New Jersey enacted a law that sets forth the importance of breast-feeding, and clarifies that women have a right to breast-feed her baby in public.

And still, to this day women are harrassed for breastfeeding in public. In 2006 some women staged a breast-feeding protest
in front of the Delta Airlines ticket counter. The mothers were protesting as a result of a prior incident in which Emily Gillette was breast-feeding her child on a Delta Airlines flight prior to take off when the flight attendant told her to cover her breast feeding child with a blanket. The flight attendant had Gillette and her family removed from the plane when the mother declined to cover her baby.

Luckily I was never harassed, but then I didn't breast-feed in public very much, since the stares were enough to mortify you into stopping. Which means I was much less likely to go out in public, since if you are lactating, there are all kinds of annoyances if your breasts aren't milked every couple of hours or so. It is very uncomfortable walking around in public while your breasts are heavy and swollen with milk, or you are visibly leaking through your blouse.

I definitely envy new mothers with access to the Internet - wish I had when my daughter was a baby. There's even a video on how to breast feed online.

*Characteristics of all mammals
1. They are endothermic vertebrates.

2. They have hair, which varies greatly among species.

3. Most have sudoriferus (sweat) glands.

4. They have mammary (milk-secreting) glands.

5. They have sebaceous (fat-secreting) glands.

6. They have heterodont dentition (different types of teeth).