Le Leche League

In the early part of the 20th Century women were discouraged from breast feeding their infants. La Leche League works to promote awareness and information about the health and practical benefits of nursing.

Around the turn of the 20th century sterilization and refrigeration made formula feeding of infants a possibility for mothers of infants. This had never been an option before except in cases where the mother could not feed her infant for some reason, and even in those cases, often a wet nurse was employed to do the feeding.

In the nineteen forties and fifties doctors, whose training emphasized technology over nature, recommended bottle feeding infants. A great many advances had been made in various scientific fields and there seemed to be a consensus among some that babies could get better nutrition through the new formulas rather than through old fashioned breast feeding.

Even the poor were encouraged to use formulas as health care workers moved among them and taught them sterilization techniques. This unfortunately often lead to malnourished babies, because when there wasn't enough money, the formula could always be thinned with water.

There was probably some prudishness at play, too, because women were made to feel embarrassed to let anyone be aware that she was nursing her baby, as if it was a sexual, rather than a nurturing act. And it was a time in history when sentiments in the United States often expected a woman to be a housewife and to belong to her husband.

Breastfeeding didn't present a progressive picture to the world. Throughout time, it was aristocrats who could afford to hire someone to be tied down with a suckling infant while she went about her business. So, there was a sense that bottle feeding would give even lower and middle class women the sort of freedom their upper class forebears had always had. Unfortunately, bottle-feeding was, in some ways, more restricting than breastfeeding. In addition to the cost, there was the extensive process of sterilizing bottles, preparing and storing formula. Doctors actively discouraged breastfeeding, as did friends and family. It was frowned upon in all public places, and simply not allowed in some of them. In addition, the emergence of the bottle brought with it the strange philosophy of getting babies on a schedule. Babies were fed by the clock rather than by their hunger. And mothers were bound by that clock as well.

Finally some women said that was ridiculous. Breast milk, after all, was nature's chosen food. It required no advance preparation or refrigerated storage. And it was free! So, in 1956 a few moms started getting together to encourage and support each other in this while the rest of the so-called modern world tried to make breastfeeding obsolete. Their new organization was the La Leche League.

When the influence to return to breast feeding took hold, the formula companies began to lose money. Their response was to market their products in underdeveloped and developing countries to poverty stricken peoples. The La Leche League followed them and encouraged mothers to continue feeding their babies the old fashioned, safe way.

Today the organization is international, with a membership of over 40,000 and has a budget of two million dollars.

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