This article is part of a series discussing the LLL philosophy concepts. You may be aware that there are ten concepts underlying what LLL does. As Leaders we sign up to these, and they help to shape our responses, the way we run meetings, and the type of information that we provide.
Breastfeeding is enhanced by the loving support of the baby’s father, a co-parent, a partner, and/or close family members who value the breastfeeding relationship.
LLLGB recognises the role of support as an important factor in the success of the breastfeeding relationship and understands every mother needs a system of support around her. Therefore, this concept can be read as being about a father, partner, grandma, sister, friend or any other person who gives that support.
What does this concept mean?
Some mothers and babies have a father of the baby present in their lives and some do not. In any case, many studies over many years have indicated the difference a father’s or co-parent’s attitude to mothering and breastfeeding can make to both.
The support a father or co-parent gives a mother might take a practical form (like making cups of tea for her); it might be in the form of encouragement (telling her she is doing a great job); it might be in the form of nurturing (spending time cuddling the baby while she has a shower); it might be in the form of companionship (chatting to her while she sits and breastfeeds).
When there is no father present (whatever the reason), or he is present but unsupportive, a mother still needs support, practical help and companionship. If she is in a relationship with another partner, she may find it there. If not, she might need to be active in seeking out these important things. LLL is the only organisation which understands, and explicitly states, the importance of mothers’ need for companionship and support. She may be able to improve her situation with good communication, information and support for the father and/or her partner: LLL meetings are great places to explore how each mother gets the best she can from those close to her.
Children also have relationships with other people, beginning with those they see most often. In many cases this is the biological father but it may be another father-figure or anyone else who lives with the mother and baby, or is a constant presence in their lives. As babies grow they begin to show an interest in the world beyond the intense oneness in the early weeks of the mother-baby dyad: the baby begins to turn to other members of the household, who provide different kinds of interaction and response. LLL believes that the baby’s relationship with the mother is unique to the pair, and each new relationship will also be unique.
This concept was developed in the 1980’s and it is still the case that most mothers and young babies live with the baby’s father. However, the focus has never been on the second adult, but on the importance of the mother-child relationship and the uniqueness and value of the other relationships, not as a mother substitute, but in their own right.
What does this concept NOT mean?
LLL is a diverse, international organisation: there are 6,000 LLL Leaders across the world, including mothers with a variety of family patterns, marital status and sexual orientation, lovingly supported by friends, family members and others who are not their baby’s father.
It was never intended that the concept would exclude these mothers and recognise only traditional mother-father-baby relationships. LLL does not discriminate, either in whom it supports nor in whom it accredits as its representatives.
I am in a same-sex relationship; can I still be part of LLL?
All women interested in learning more about the art of mothering through breastfeeding have always been welcome at LLL meetings. If you are interested in Leadership, and your experience fulfils the prerequisites to becoming an LLL Leader, you will be asked if you can recognise that the majority of mothers of young babies live with the father of their child. You will be invited to explore your feelings around this and you will be asked if you are ready to help those mothers celebrate the loving support, help and companionship they find in that relationship and others, to improve it where it is lacking and to seek out alternatives when necessary.
A Leader who has no support in her own life from her child’s father can still recognise and value the rich contribution fathers can make in other mother and children’s lives. This does not stop you from placing an equal value on the loving support, help and companionship mothers find in relationships with those who are not fathers. Your own family structure and sexual orientation are not relevant except where they would prevent you from readiness to recognise the contribution fathers make.
The importance of loving support for the nursing couple is something LLL is passionate about – whatever shape that support comes in.
Written by Ellen Mateer.
This article was originally published in Breastfeeding Matters, issue 207, May/ June 2015.
Supporting a breastfeeding mother