La Leche League

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La Leche League International (LLLI) (La Leche is Spanish for "the milk") is an international nonprofit organization that distributes information on and promotes breastfeeding. It was founded in 1956 in Franklin Park, Illinois as "La Leche League" and has a presence in 68 countries.[1]


A shrine for "Our Lady of La Leche" at the Nombre de Dios Mission, inspiration for the group's name

The founders of La Leche League were seven mothers from Illinois, USA who had nursed their own children and were motivated to help mothers who, for a variety of different reasons (often related to social expectations and misinformation) had difficulties with and questions about nursing. Marian Tompson and her friend Mary White began with a conversation about the joys and difficulties of nursing while at a local church picnic in August 1956. They each invited other friends to join the discussion; Mary Ann Cahill, Edwina Froehlich, Mary Ann Kerwin, Viola Lennon, and Betty Wagner. These women are considered the founders of La Leche League.[2]

Drs. Herbert Ratner and Gregory White were invited to meet with them and advised the group about medical aspects of nursing, providing access to the small amount of medical literature about nursing then available.[3] Herbert Ratner was influential in expanding the organization's philosophy beyond nursing.

At the end of World War II, most women bottle-fed their babies.[4] By the time of La Leche League's founding, the nursing initiation rate in the USA had dropped to 20% of babies.[5]

The first formal La Leche League meeting was held in October, 1956.[4] The seven Leaders originally held meetings in private homes; more recently, hospitals, parenting centres, and other public venues have provided meeting spaces.

In 1957, Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, considered the father of the natural childbirth movement, also came to speak with them.[6]

The first La Leche League Group outside of the United States formed in 1960 in Jonquiere, Quebec, Canada. The La Leche League became La Leche League International, Inc. (LLLI) in 1964 with groups in Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. In 1964 the first international conference was held in Chicago with 425 adults and 100 babies in attendance.

In 1981 LLLI was granted consultative status with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).[6] In 1985 LLLI served on the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, established to develop and administer a voluntary certification program for lactation consultants. The first IBLCE exam was administered in July 1985.

Early in the organization's history, local newspapers rejected meeting notices that used the words "breastfed" and "breastfeeding", calling them inappropriate for family publications. The name "La Leche" comes from the Spanish word leche [pronounced leh-cheh] meaning milk. It was inspired by a shrine in St. Augustine, Florida, dedicated to “Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto”, meaning “Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk”.[6]

Philosophy and mission[edit]

The misson of LLLI is "to help mothers worldwide to nurse through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of nursing as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother."[7][8]

The following are statements of LLLI's philosophy:[9]

  • Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby.
  • Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply.
  • In the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother, which is as basic as its need for food.
  • Human milk is the natural food for babies, uniquely meeting their changing needs.
  • For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth.
  • Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.
  • Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby's father. A father's unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child's development from early infancy.
  • Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
  • From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.


The primary purpose of LLLI is to encourage, inform, and support mothers primarily via meetings, telephone help, skype, facebook, hepforms, helpforums, and e-mail.Some Leaders also do home and/or hospital visits.

LLLI leaders are accredited volunteers who have breastfed their own babies and have been specially trained to help mothers with breastfeeding. Leaders keep up-to-date through continued training and study of the most current medical research on breastfeeding.

Leaders organize groupmeetings, where mothers are encouraged to share their own experiences with other mothers. A common theme repeated by Leaders at a LLLI meeting is "take what you need and leave the rest," acknowledging that every mother-baby dyad is unique and each mother knows her own baby best.

In most countries with a LLL-presence, Leaders also offer telephonehelp, online meetings, Facebookgroups, emailhelp and several types of personal help.

The last LLLI International Conference took place July 2007 in Chicago, and included a seminar for health care professionals. Currently emphasis is on Area parenting and nursing conferences, held in many parts of the world every year. Some Areas offer continuing education seminars for health care professionals in addition to ongoing training for Leaders.

Today, LLLI has grown to help women in more than 60 countries.[8] Currently LLLI publishes a bimonthly nursing and parenting journal, Breastfeeding Today, available online and by link to members worldwide. LLLI's core publications are The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (now in its 8th edition), "Feed Yourself Feed Your Family" and "Sweet Sleep".


La Leche League is often regarded as the most influential organization advocating breastfeeding.[10][11] La Leche League is considered the leading voice on mother-to-mother breastfeeding support. Many current and former LLL Leaders are prominent in other areas of work improving lives of families, women, and children.


La Leche League International is a core partner starting the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.


La Leche League Österreich was founded in 1979.


La Leche League Vlaanderen was founded in 2011. [12]


Olga Prominski founded La Leche League of Belarus in 2011.[13]


Tanya Ruseva became the first La Leche League Leader in Bulgaria in 2005.[14] This is the official birth year of La Leche League Bulgaria.


First LLL Group outside of USA, the country of LLLI birth, founded in Jonquiere, Quebec.[15]


LLL China has been active since 1995 and is currently in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, Suzhou, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou with meetings offered in both English and Chinese.

Dominican Republic[edit]

Liga de La Leche, Dominican Republic was born in 1990. The founding mothers of LLL in the country were Priscilla Stothers, a nurse and health educator from Florida, USA, and Yanet Olivares, who was accredited as a LLL Leader in Puerto Rico before she returned to her own country, the Dominican Republic. .[16]


The first meetings of LLL of France were held in 1973. LLL of France was officially created in 1979.[17] The founding mother of LLL of France was Suzanne Colson.

  • Suzanne Colson, PhD, a midwife, is widely known for her research of neonatal reflexes in connection to breastfeeding.[18]


The first meetings of La Leche League in Germany were held at American military bases in the 1970s. The first German Leaders were Edda Langmann from Fulda and Hannah Lothrop. April 30, 1977 is the official birthday of La Leche Liga Deutschland.[19]

Great Britain[edit]

La Leche League came to Great Britain in the early 1970s. The first group in GB was started in Leicester in 1973 by an American Leader, Anne Harrison, who was living in Britain. Toward the end of the 1970s, it was suggested that LLLGB become an autonomous organisation. It would remain affiliated to LLLI and would be identical or very similar in structure with the same commitments to the same mothering philosophy. The philosophy would remain intact, along with the structure of meetings, and Leader support. [20]


LLL Greece or Syndesmos Thilasmou Ellados (Σύνδεσμος Θηλασμού Ελλάδος) was officially founded in 1979.


LLL Italy was officially founded in Milan in 1979 by a group of mothers and Leaders Shanda Bertelli and Rosalind Nesticò.


In January 2012, La Leche League of Lebanon was founded by Nadiya Dragan. Tamara Drenttel Brand joined her at the end of 2012. In 2015, 3 more leaders became accredited and joined the ranks of LLL Lebanon: Sara Luis Hannan, Joelle Farkh and Mirna El-Sabbagh.


La Leche League Nederland was started in 1976 by Marijke Wisse. [21]


In 1968 Elisabet Helsing started a mother-to-mother nursing support organization called Ammehjelpen (meaning breastfeeding help).This started revival of nursing in Norway. Today Norway is known for the high initiation rates of breastfeeding.[22]


LLL-Leader Natalia Gerbeda-Wilson of Ukraine and a Leader Applicant Marina Kopylova of Russia started a Yahoo mailing list Kormlenie [Russian for "breastfeeding"]in 2003 to unite mothers who were helping other mothers breastfeed. The organization of natural feeding consultants called AKEV (Association of Natural Feeding Constulants, Russian for Ассоциация консультантов по естественному вскармливанию) was born on the mailing list in 2004. LL-Leaders sent LLLI literature that had strong influence on AKEV principles of work.

Ekaterina Lokshina became the first LLL Leader in Russia. In 2012 the first Russian-language edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was published in Moscow, Russia.


La Leche League of Serbia was founded in April 2011 by Marija Taraba.


In 1973, the Swedish organization Amningshjalpen, was formed following the Norwegian model, which in turn was inspired by LLL signature publication The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.


Nataliya Polizhak became the first La Leche Leader in Ukraine in 2006.[23][24] She was trained exclusively via Internet by Marina Kopylova and Natalie Gerbeda-Wilson.

La Leche League of Ukraine ceased to exit in 2015 as a result of discrimination from Russian Leaders and applicants and subsequent unilateral support LLLI offered to LLL of Russia.

United States[edit]

LLL USA was founded in 2009, after an internal reorganization of La Leche League International. LLL-USA is the largest LLL-Area in the world. [25]

Prominent (former) LLL-Leaders[edit]

  • Kathleen Bruce and Kathleen Auerbach, both LLL Leaders, in 1995 started LACTNET, a network for nursing educators and advocates worldwide to share information, discussion and support focusing on best practices, emerging thoughts and current research.[26]
  • Barbara Heiser, a LLL Leader, co-founded the National Allisance of Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA).[27]
  • Kay Hoover and Barbara Wilson-Clay, LLL Leaders and IBCLCs, wrote The Breastfeeding Atlas, a comprehensive visual guide for lactation specialists.
  • Valerie McClaine, an LLL Leader, has been raising awareness about human milk patenting.[28]
  • Nancy Mohrbaher ~ a LLL Leader, IBCLC, FILCA. A co-author with Julie Stock of Breastfeeding Answer Book, one of the first most definitive references for lactation counselors. The book was first published in 1991, then revised in 1996 and 2003. Mohrbacher later wrote Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple: A Guide for Helping Mothers (with Kathleen Kendall-Tackett) and Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers.
  • Audrey Naylor, MD and a member of the LLLI Professional Advisory Board relied on the organization's resources in training health care workers around the world through Wellstart International, the nonprofit educational organization she founded in 1983.
  • Peggy O'Mara, a LLL Leader, is famous as a publisher, editor and owner of Mothering magazine. She is the author of several books: Having a Baby Naturally: The Mothering Magazine Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth; Natural Family Living: The Mothering Magazine Guide to Parenting; The Way Back Home: Essays on Life and Family; A Quiet Place: Essays on Life and Family
  • Barbara Popper and Elizabeth Hormann, both LLL Leaders, founded Children In Hospitals (CIH), a non-profit, volunteer educational and advocacy organization. CIH conducted a survey of visitation policies at other hospitals, and used the information to advocate for 24-hour family visitation policies at Massachusetts hospitals. Families have Barbara to thank for being able to room in with their hospitalized children.[29]
  • Jan Riordan ~ a LLL Leader, RN, EdD, IBCLC, co-authored Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, one of the main texts on breastfeeding education, with Katherine G. Auerbach, PhD, LLL Leader, in 1993 and 1996, and with Karen Wambach in 2009.
  • Nancy Wainer Cohen, a LLL Leader, coined the term VBAC ( vaginal birth after cesarean) and has written two books on cesarean prevention. "Silent Knife" (with Lois J. Estner) won an award for The Best Book in the Field of Health and Medicine by the American Library Association the year it was written. She co-founded the world's first cesarean prevention organization and her work is being archived at the Schlesinger Women's History Library at Harvard University.
  • Marian Tompson, a co-founder of LLL, founded AnotherLook, an organization advocating research of breastfeeding in the context of HIV.
  • Diana West, LLL Leader, IBCLC wrote Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding after Breast Reduction Surgery and The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk (with Lisa Marasco, LLL Leader, IBCLC, FILCA).
  • In 1979 Chele Marmet and Ellen Shell, both LLL Leaders in California, opened the Lactation Institute, the first program in the US providing education specifically for lactation consultants. The program became a model for the emerging lactation consultant profession.
  • In 1982 LLLI established a Lactation Consultant Department under the leadership of LLL Leader JoAnne Scott, assisted by Linda Smith, Judy Good, Chele Marmet, and other LLL Leaders. [30] JoAnne Scott, Linda Smith, Chele Marmet, Judy Good, Jan Riordan and others jointly designed a certification program that established worldwide lactation consultant competency standard.
  • In 1987 LLLI together with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency, the Chicago Board of Health kicked off the first official Peer Counselor Training Program, reaching out to women of various races and socio-economic groups that LLL did not reach through its help.
  • In 1996 La Leche League became one of the three partners in LINKAGES, a worldwide government project to promote nursing, appropriate complementary feeding, and maternal dietary practices in six developing countries.


The Weston A. Price Foundation has criticized The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published by LLLI, as providing nutritional guidance that may undermine the potential of human milk composition.[31] However, the maternal nutritional guidance given is widely accepted as best practice and is repeated by other nursing advocacy organisations worldwide.[32] The book has also been reviewed as easy to read, comprehensive, and reliable, and unapologetically supportive of the biological norm of the nursing relationship.[33]


  1. ^ Bazelon, Emily. Edwina Froehlich, b. 1915. Founding Mothers. New York Times, December 28, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-02.
  2. ^ "Founders' Bios" (PDF). La Leche League International. February 1, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  3. ^ "Happy mothers, breastfed babies: La Leche League International 2005 Annual Report". La Leche League International. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  4. ^ a b Ember, Carol; Melvin Ember (2003). "Breast-feeding practices in the west". Encyclopedia of medical anthropology: Health and Illness in the World's Cultures. Springer. p. 234. ISBN 9780306477546. 
  5. ^ "A Brief History of La Leche League International". La Leche League International. July 2003. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  6. ^ a b c Stephen Miller (June 12, 2008). "Edwina Froehlich, 93, La Leche League Founder". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  7. ^ "La Leche League Mission". La Leche League International. July 19, 2006. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  8. ^ a b "Child Rights Information Network". Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  9. ^ "La Leche League Philosophy". La Leche League International. July 19, 2006. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
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  31. ^ Fallon, Sally (2002-03-30). "All Thumbs Book Reviews: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding Review". The Weston A. Price Foundation. Archived from the original on 2008-05-17. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  32. ^ Day, J. (ed) (2004) Breastfeeding... naturally (2nd ed) Australian Breastfeeding Association, Victoria
  33. ^ Harkavy, Susan. "Book review: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International". Retrieved 2008-06-02. 

External links[edit]

The extensive LLLI archive is held in DePaul University's Special Collections and Archivesand is freely available to the public.