La Leche League International

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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 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 nursing 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 its mother, which is as basic as its need for food.
  • Breast milk is the superior infant food.
  • 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 nursing relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need.
  • Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting nursing off to a good start.
  • Nursing 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 that reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.


The primary purpose of LLLI is to encourage, inform, and support mothers primarily via monthly Series Meetings, telephone help, and online via mail and the LLLI website. Some Leaders also do home and/or hospital visits.

LLLI leaders are accredited volunteers who have nursed their own babies and have been specially trained to help mothers with nursing. They facilitate meetings in the morning, afternoon, or evening once a month. Some Leaders develop expertise with particular nursing situations such as nursing an adopted child, special medical or physical situations of the mother or baby, family challenges such as divorce, and many others. In order to be most effective, Leaders keep up-to-date through continued training and study of the most current medical research on nursing.

Most meetings are designed for pregnant and nursing women to provide nursing information, support, and encouragement. In some areas there are specialized meetings for couples, working mothers, teen mothers, or mothers of multiples (twins, triplets or more). Online meetings are available through the LLLI website.[10] While the Leader represents LLLI at Series Meetings, 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. All meetings are free of charge. Voluntary memberships support the organization at local, regional, and international levels.

In some locales, there is a centralized phone number (for an entire country or a US state, for example) where mothers can either receive help directly or be referred to a Leader in her area. In other areas, these Leaders directly publicize their telephone numbers, and sometimes e-mail addresses, via the LLLI website, telephone directories, and posters in parenting centres, libraries, physicians' and midwives' offices, health centres and other places where pregnant women and new parents might seek information. Mothers may also submit questions or concerns through online Help Forms available on the LLLI website.[11]

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, Nursing Today, available online and by link to members worldwide. New Beginnings, formerly published in print by LLLI for members, is now produced by LLLUSA and available online through shared links for members. LLLI also publishes and sells a variety of books and media for mothers, families, and medical professionals. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is now in its 8th edition.


La Leche League is often regarded as the most influential organization advocating nursing.[12][13] The leading voices in the nursing and lactation fields come from La Leche League. Many current and former LLL Leaders are prominent in other areas of work improving lives of families, women, and children.


In 1991 La Leche League International was a core partner starting the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.

In 1994 Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, both La Leche League Leaders in the United States, founded Attachment Parenting International.[14]


La Leche League Österreich was founded in 1979.


Olga Prominski founded La Leche League of Belarus in 2011.[15]


Tanya Ruseva became the first La Leche League Leader in Bulgaria in 2005.[16] This is the official birth year of La Leche League Bulgaria. Many of the first meetings were held online, but in 2006 the first "live" meeting took place. As of 2011, La Leche League of Bulgaria established the first website in the country dedicated solely to breastfeeding. They publish the first and only breastfeeding magazine for both parents and healthcare workers. They are the sole providers of breastfeeding webinars and organized the first international breastfeeding conference in Bulgaria.[17]


First LLL Group outside of USA, the country of LLL birth, founded in Jonquiere, Quebec.


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. The PR group Leader, Gretchen Rivera de Cummings, invited her to become a LLL Leader. Gretchen was often contacted by the mothers from the DR because her group was geographically the closest group and the LLLI office always provided her contact information. .[18]


The first meetings of LLL of France were held in 1973. LLL of France was officially created in 1979.[19] 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 nursing.[20]


The first meetings of La Leche League in Germany were held at American military bases in the 1970s. The first German Leaders were Edda Longman and Hannah Lothrop. April 30, 1977 is the official birthday of La Leche Liga Deutschland.[21]

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. Feedback was established as our Leader Letter in the mid-1970s, but still had to be sent to the USA for approval.

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.

In 1979 one of the original La Leche League Leaders in Britain founded the Association of Breastfeeding mothers.[22]

During 1980 discussions continued and a meeting in April decided that La Leche League could best meet the needs of mothers and babies in Britain as a fully autonomous organisation with a democratically elected Board of Directors, ideally affiliated with LLLI. There were approximately 70 Leaders at this time and this was the majority view with a minority feeling few changes were necessary.

Mary Ann Kerwin, one of the Founding Mothers of LLL, visited Britain to talk about it and another Founding Mother, Betty Wagner, set up a committee to discuss it further and in August Mary Ann wrote with a proposed pilot programme.

Some Leaders had gone ahead with a decision to set up a separate organisation and on 2 July the inaugural meeting was held of the Association of Nursing Mothers which then formed a break-away group.

GB maintains links with LLL Europe, including Future Areas in Europe, LLL International Division (ID) and the other Affiliates as well as LLL International. In the UK there are around 260 Leaders and 65 groups.


LLL Greece or Syndesmos Thilasmou Ellados (Σύνδεσμος Θηλασμού Ελλάδος) was officially founded in 1979 and now has 36 LLL Leaders and LLL Groups in Athens, Thessaloniki, Mytilene, Corfu, Xanthi, Volos, Serres, Crete, and Korinthos, which hold monthly meetings for mothers interested in nursing their children. LLL Greece publishes the e-magazine "galoucho" (Γαλουχώ) and informative material in Greek.


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. In 1978 an organization De Vereniging Borstvoeding Natuurlijk sprung from LLL Nederland.


Eli Heiberg Endresen and Elisabet Helsing compiled the first edition of How to breast-feed your child which was published in 1967 based on material from La Leche League and personal experience.[23] In 1968 Helsing started a mother-to-mother nursing support organization called Ammehjelpen (meaning breast-feeding help).[24] This started revival of nursing in Norway. Today the country boasts 98-99% initiation rates of nursing and 80% nursing rates at 6 months.[25]


La Leche League Leader Natalia Gerbeda-Wilson of Ukraine and a Leader Applicant Marina Kopylova of Russia started a Yahoo mailing list Kormlenie [Russian for "nursing"]in 2003 to unite mothers who were helping other mothers nurse in an attempt to stop high turnover of nursing consultants in the countries of the former USSR. 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. La Leche League Leaders sent LLLI literature that had strong influence on AKEV principles of work.

In March 2003 Marina Kopylova and Natalia Gerbeda-Wilson founded Lyalechka, the first online nursing support community for Russian mothers. While not affiliated with LLLI, the founding principles of community were based on LLLI philosophy and guiding principles of LLL work. As of 2014 Lyalechka was in the top 50 communities in LiveJournal with close to 11,000 members. In turn, Lyalechka spawned several other communities dedicated to either parenting or nursing.

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. The book was adapted for the Russian speaking audience with intense participation from Lyalechka LiveJournal community members.


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.[23]


Nataliya Polizhak became the first La Leche Leader in Ukraine in 2006.[26][27] She was trained exclusively via Internet by Marina Kopylova.

United States[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.[28]
  • Barbara Heiser, a LLL Leader, co-founded the National Allisance of Breastfeeding Advocacy (NABA).[29]
  • 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.[30]
  • Nancy Mohrbaher ~ a La Leche League 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.[31]
  • Jan Riordan ~ a La Leche League 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 nursing 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. In 1985 LLLI loaned $40,000 to found an independent International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.[32] 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.[33] However, the maternal nutritional guidance given is widely accepted as best practice and is repeated by other nursing advocacy organisations worldwide.[34] The book has also been reviewed as easy to read, comprehensive, and reliable, and unapologetically supportive of the biological norm of the nursing relationship.[35]

See also[edit]


  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. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Pryor, Gale; Kathleen Huggins (2007). Nursing Mother, Working Mother: The Essential Guide to Nursing Your Baby Before and After You Return to Work. Harvard Common Press. pp. 40, 41. ISBN 9781558323315. 
  12. ^
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  22. ^ Faircloth, Charlotte.(2013). Militant Lactivism.
  23. ^ a b
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  25. ^;article=BJM_9_5_294_300
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  32. ^
  33. ^ 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. 
  34. ^ Day, J. (ed) (2004) Breastfeeding... naturally (2nd ed) Australian Breastfeeding Association, Victoria
  35. ^ Harkavy, Susan. "Book review: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International". Retrieved 2008-06-02. 

External links[edit]