Why I proudly call myself a Lactivist

Two weeks ago, my co-worker and I were at my La Leche League meeting in Pearland. It was her first time, and she was loving it. She even had a chance to share some of her knowledge and support with a new mom in the group that was having some struggles with her baby and was trying to wean from supplements. It’s been a joy to attend these meetings for the last several months, having called La Leche League for some support when I was struggling to advocate for Abbey’s well-being through breastfeeding during her struggle for weight gain, and consequently decided to finally drive the 40 miles and attend the closest LLL meeting to me…a suggestion I had made several times to WIC clients, but never attempted myself :)


At the close of the meeting, as one of our leaders started gathering the pop up play tunnels and buildings and all of us mommies started in with other baby related chatter, another of our leaders announced that next week was our monthly enrichment meeting.

“Our subject this month is Lactivism, and we hope to see you there! We’ll be discussing the history of breastfeeding advocacy and how we can continue to do so in our communities” to which I chirped “Yay…boobies!” in my regular playful attitude.

A few minutes later, the same leader lovingly joked that she’d have to bring a roll of duct tape for my mouth so that other people could testify to the benefits of breastmilk and stories about advocacy, too. And even my husband just moments ago declared me a “breastfeeding freak” (to which, of course, I responded with much disdain, at which point he changed his wording to “fanatic” and then with guidance, to “advocate”) …
… anyone who knows me knows that I don’t work as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor at WIC for the money. I do my job to educate moms about the best way to protect, nourish, and love their babies with mommy’s milk. But why? Yes, it started with my own breastfeeding experience. Breastfeeding Abbey has been and still is both a blessing and a struggle that has led me to where I stand today, but there’s more to it than that. After our Lactivism meeting last Friday, I feel like I’m finally ready to blog strictly about breastfeeding, in my own words. In the past, I have posted links to other blogs or to articles I think are great, but now I’m ready to speak my mind on why I consider myself a Lactivist, why I want to be one, and why it’s really not a bad thing at all!

I guess my commentary will start with my feeling that in this world, at this time, breastfeeding advocates, aka Lactivists, – and more specifically the La Leche League ladies – really get a bad wrap. Truly, there is no one in the world aside from yourself more willing to do anything they can to advocate for your baby’s health and well-being than a La Leche League member, but everywhere we go, we are judged…
… people hear “La Leche League” and see old, stubborn, pushy broads with hippy clothing and hairy armpits, preaching at you about the warm and fuzzies of breastfeeding and sneering if you choose otherwise. Even more common is the view of LLL as a group full of the same hairy arm-pitted model, but with an elitist view…a group that “won’t let you quit” breastfeeding or that look down on weaning of any kind. My clients at WIC tell me they are afraid to call the La Leche League for fear that they will be judged for their feeding choices or sold a romanticized view of a “nazi breastfeeding” ideology with an uncomfortable persistence. Aka “Militant Breastfeeding”.

At any rate, the La Leche League gets a bad wrap. Doulas, Lactation Consultants, Pediatricians like Dr. Sears and Dr. Jack Newman are in this boat, too. We all get a bad wrap for “pushing” breastfeeding on a generation of Americans who truly need breastmilk and the culture that comes with it now more than ever. I said there’s no one who will advocate for your baby’s health and well-being aside from your own person than a La Leche League member, and I absolutely mean that. Lactivist Doctors, Doulas, midwives, and Lactation Counselors and Consultants will advocate that you breastfeed, and some will help you try, but no one will support you the way a fellow breastfeeding mama will. The La Leche League is not a cult, or a group meant to exclude. Its a support system of women just like you and me, ready to teach and ready to learn, and ready with support and friendship in a – lets face it – a very vulnerable time leading up to and following the birth of your baby….
… But regardless of this truth, even my own mother, a child development expert – who’s dedicated her life to providing quality care for children at a developmentally appropriate pace and who follows Montessori teachings and doesn’t believe in CIO…who rocked me every night I needed it as a child, who would agree with everything that the La Leche League advocates – gave me a slight warning when I mentioned that I had called the La Leche League for advice months ago.

“Some of those ladies can be a bit radical” was the gist of what she calmly informed me. I don’t remember her exact words as it’s now been quite a few months, but it was definitely something to that tune. A calm warning, but still, a warning…and from a mother who would absolutely agree with what the La Leche League supports. If I got that kind of a statement from my mom, think of the kind of statements moms who did not breastfeed their children, or do believe in “sleep training” would say about LLL and Lactivism. I’m telling you….LLL gets a bad wrap.

And yet the hairy armpits and stubborn “radical” views – the hippy clothes and the “cult” ideology that many people attribute to the group couldn’t be farther from the truth. The ladies in my La Leche League group could have been cut and pasted from any parenting magazine, coffee shop, or Babies R Us catalog. Wearing normal, stylish tops and jeans and toting our diaper bags, snack cups, and sippies, we gather in the parish hall at the church that hosts our meetings, and parent our little munchkins while talking about the latest news and sharing advice from mom to mom. There isn’t any trash talk about moms who are not in our group, there’s not a ritual or a creed, and I’m pretty confident that we all keep our armpits clean and hairless…when we have time to remember to shave in the shower (can I get an Amen, mamas?). In other words, we really could be any other moms group meeting at any other place in America. The only difference is that at the sign of need from our little ones, we lift or shift our shirts up or down and offer a breast for nourishment – instead of shaking up a bottle of formula.

And so I proudly call myself a Lactivist. And I always will. Because I KNOW that breastmilk is the supreme feeding choice for babies. Babies are born to breastfeed, and with all the benefits of breastmilk: emotional, nutritional, developmental, protective…and the corresponding risks of formula feeding (to be discussed later)….I want to see every baby get their mommies’ milk – whether it is only colostrum right after birth…or if a mama nurses her little one till they self-wean. Every ounce counts! I want to be there to proclaim the good news about the God-given, natural, and wonderful feeding system that is the breast! How awesome it is for moms to give that gift of protection and nurturing to their children, and receive back the emotional, hormonal, and practical benefits that come from a nursing relationship. I wouldn’t go back on my breastfeeding experience for anything…and my vision is that more women worldwide will get the chance to say that about their experience feeding and raising their children. That’s why I call myself a Lactivist and proudly so!

Mamas….I want to hear from you! Tell me how YOU view Lactivism in today’s world:

Are you familiar with the term “lactivist”?

Is it a new idea to you?

Or are YOU a lactivist, too?

Tell me about your breastfeeding experience- or lack thereof.

What influenced the feeding choice that you made for your child, and how do you feel about your decision in regard to the way that we Lactivists are expressing the importance of breastfeeding?





Comments

  1. I found your blog through Babycenter (on the extended nursing board). Wow. You feel as strongly about BFing as I do! However, you are much more articulate than am I. I enjoyed reading this article. I do have a quick question for you…how do you “get” to be a Peer Counselor for WIC? I would love to get into BFing support in some capacity, and just really don’t even know what options are available.

    Feel free to look me up on BBC if you want (ran_jlg). Thanks!
    Jessica

  2. Jessica: I’m flattered that you used the adjective “articulate” … after I posted, I made a mental note to go back and edit this last post to be a series of smaller posts, because it just ended up being so long and drawn out! “articulate” was the farthest word from my mind when I re-red. HAHA Haven’t gotten to the re-arranging yet, but I will.

    Anyway, I am so glad you, too, feel strongly about breastfeeding. Moms need as much support as they can get! In order to become a Peer Counselor for WIC (and this is WIC Texas…your state may have different rules in place), you must have been a client at WIC, current or previous. New Peer Counselors are recruited by “veteran” Peer Counselors, and then they go to a training given by the IBCLC Breastfeeding Coordinator for the county. After the training, the coordinator decides who to hire and how much they can pay out of the breastfeeding fund. At my training last year, all of us were hired, though only some of us are still working.

    If you have not been on WIC, I would recommend that you get involved with the La Leche League in your area, if you haven’t already. You may be interested in becoming a Leader at some point! I am getting ready to do Leader Applicant training soon.

    Rock on, mama! Breastfeeding is what boobies are made for! :)

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