Monday, March 10, 2008

If you're going to slam an organization, at least get your facts straight.

Here's my letter to Misha Davenport, who wrote “To nurse or not? Moms feel pushed to nurse” in the March 7 Chicago Sun-Times. Basically, he used one source to say that La Leche League has a "pushier attitude" toward mothers. Judge the situation for yourself, but he really needed to use facts in his article. You surely know that I'm pushy, but the organization? No. It's right in its mission that it helps mothers who choose to breastfed. Heck, maybe it should be pushy. What if this headline read, "To use carseats or not? Moms feel pushed to safely buckle their children," and went on to say that some La Car Safety League pressured mothers to make the right choice for their children? Is that pushy? Or is it for the good of our babies?

I read your article “To nurse or not? Moms feel pushed to nurse” in the online edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m sorry the mother Jami Brownlee feels as if she had a bad experience with La Leche League. Thank you for reporting that another mother found the organization “a godsend.” In my experience as a mother, I have found the latter to be the case for myself and many, many women and babies whose lives are positively impacted by volunteer La Leche League Leaders around the world.

As a former journalist in the trade press, I was surprised by your article. I was trained to avoid initiating a piece based on a single person with a bone to pick, and if I thought the issue was more rampant, I was to use more than one person as a source. You wrote, “Yet some moms say there's been a shift to a pushier attitude,” then go on to tell readers about one mother who feels that way. The second source mother believes the La Leche League group (not a chapter) was "a godsend."

The second mother seemed have a problem with hearing that one bottle feeding can cause nipple confusion. I’m thankful that she and her baby found that not to be the case. I personally experienced a similar situation with my first child in which that one bottle fed at the hospital did cause nipple confusion for my newborn girl. My baby and I struggled for the next six weeks to correct it. Thanks to a La Leche League Leader, we were able to overcome the bottle-caused nipple confusion. I’d be glad to share scientific data regarding the facts of nipple confusion if you like, including peer-reviewed medical journal articles proving it does happen. Thankfully, there are alternatives to “flushing” jaundice from a baby’s system and even if artificial feeding is used, there are alternatives to bottle feeds such as cups, spoons or syringes.

I appreciate that you attempted to approach this story from an unbiased perspective by interviewing both the mother who chose to bottle-feed and the La Leche League Leader. However, I wonder if you read the La Leche League Philosophy (pasted in full below). If you read it, you’ll find that what you reported is not what the philosophy says.

You wrote, “Some women have taken issue with parts of the organization's 10-point philosophy, including the assertions that mothers need to be alert and active during childbirth (no epidurals or drugs of any kind) … .” If you read the actual philosophy, you’ll find that the statement simply says active and alert participation is a help. It says, “Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.” It mentions nothing about epidurals or drugs. Your interpretation is quite a leap. Even a woman who has a c-section — something most people would probably agree requires drugs — can find ways to have more active and alert participation. She may ask for a partial block when appropriate rather than general anesthesia (uncommon anyway); she may ask to hold the baby as soon as possible after birth; she may choose to nurse her baby in the recovery room rather than waiting. These are all ways to get some help from active and alert participation, drugs or not. Of course there are ways to get even more active and alert participation in birth that I’d be glad to share if you like.

You also claim La Leche League says, “… that they must breast-feed for at least a year and a half (the AAP recommends up to a year; the World Health Organization says two) … .” I’m not even sure where you may have received this information to be misinterpreted this way. I wonder if you partially read or skimmed the La Leche League statement about solid foods as I can’t figure out where else you would have gotten anything like this. That statement says, “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.” That simply tells us babies don’t need extra foods such as baby food or cereal until about 6 months old. I’m curious if that is what was misread, or if it was something else.

Thank you for reporting the AAP and WHO recommendations, however, please note that the way you reported these was inaccurate. It’s evident you didn’t read the actual statements, which can be found by a simple Google search on the organizations’ web sites. You wrote, “… the AAP recommends up to a year … .” The actual policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.” (Source:;100/6/1035.) That is far different from “up to a year.”

The same goes for the World Health Organization statement. Please note the words “or beyond” in their strategy. In their Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, the WHO asserts, “All mothers should have access to skilled support to initiate and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and ensure the timely introduction of adequate and safe complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years or beyond.” (Source:

I appreciate your noting the needs of single mothers and lesbian couples. I agree these are important. However, you again misrepresented La Leche League philosophy. You wrote, “… and that a father's involvement is essential (sorry, single moms and lesbian couples).” As a writer, I’m sure you appreciate the nuances of words. Choosing to use different words than the La Leche League philosophy really says changes the meaning — and not only in a subtle manner. The philosophy actually uses words such as “enhanced” and “important.” Nowhere does it say it is essential. Actual statement: “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.”

Thanks for reading this.

Click to read La Leche League Philosophy.


liz said...

I think I would have been pretty steamed if I had read the article you refer to.

(And I'm glad that you already wrote a response to it so I don't feel compelled to, as I currently only have time to shower on alternate days, let alone express myself!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great response!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,
You might be interested to know that I also wrote to the author of this article and he (yes, it's a man) did respond to me. According to him, the print version ran a sidebar where they listed LLL's philosophy statements verbatim. He felt that this excused him from needing to state them correctly in the text of the article. I pointed out that 1) it didn't (excuse him), and 2) the sidebar did not appear in the web version.

I believe he and his editors have gotten an earful on this one!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very intelligent response to that article.

~Another mom