by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish
Women have been breastfeeding since the beginning of time. However, sometimes what should be a natural process is anything but easy, typical, or a smooth experience. Sometimes, new mothers don’t have enough milk to breastfeed their babies, even when they want to do so. With an increased emphasis on healthy processes and natural ways of living, breastfeeding is once again at the forefront of women’s health issues.
According to the most recent CDC data, three out of four new mothers in the United States now start out breastfeeding. This information shows that most mothers in the United States are, at the very least, trying to breastfeed their babies. La Leche League (LLL) is an international group dedicated to promoting breastfeeding, the bond it produces between mother and child, and mother-to-mother support. The Eau Claire chapter of this group has been vitally important to several local women, including Jennifer Hafele. In fact, Hafele is now a LLL leader accredited by La Leche League International.
“While on an extended maternity leave from work, I began attending LLL meetings in Eau Claire when my son was four months old,” Hafele explained. “I was interested in meeting other women successfully breastfeeding their babies who could encourage me, support me, and help teach me more about mothering,” Hafele continued.
Hafele sees a very positive, noticeable shift back toward nourishing babies as nature designed. “Women are courageously trusting their instincts; science has proven over and over how breastfeeding is the best source of sustenance for babies,” Hafele said. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately the first six months and supports breastfeeding for the first year and beyond as long as mutually desired by mother and child.
Beth Schwartz is a local mother who has experienced the helpfulness of LLL. In 2005, while she lived in Indiana, Shwartz spent the first days of motherhood experiencing the challenges of establishing a successful breastfeeding technique. “A friend looked up local LLL leaders in my area and gave me the phone numbers. My first contacts were with moms over the phone from the hospital encouraging and offering other ideas on how to get her to latch on,” Schwartz said. When Schwartz relocated to Eau Claire in 2008, she purposely sought out the local chapter of LLL. As she became acquainted with the Eau Claire chapter, it became clear the current leaders were looking to retire or semi-retire from leadership. Schwartz was able to step in as a leader and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I took that step and worked with these amazing women and finished my training in December 2009,” Schwartz explained.
Even with the recommendations by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, it is these small groups of women in local places that help women most. “LLL exists to help women achieve their breastfeeding and mothering goals, offering non-judgmental support in a community of other women,” Hafele said. “These moms bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with one another, offering valuable suggestions on technical questions such as latching and positioning, while also offering empathetic support on all aspects of motherhood,” she continued.
LLL has experienced mothers who have breastfed their own babies assisting those who are just learning the process. For the Eau Claire chapter, this helpfulness includes fielding e-mails and telephone calls from new mothers around western Wisconsin. “It is often not only informative, but reassuring for new moms to connect with a leader on-on-one, and we personalize every contact, knowing that there is a sweet mother and her unique baby behind every call or message,” Hafele said.
Another local woman that strives to explain the importance of breast milk for babies is Jeannine Fisk, administrator for the Facebook page Human Milk for Human Babies. The site is a tool for mothers who are having a difficult time producing enough breast milk; it connects those mothers who have an oversupply of breast milk to mothers seeking additional milk for their babies. Details are worked out between the mothers, and the donating mother is able to help a mother that does not have enough breast milk for her baby.
Fisk started the group because she had gone through a breast milk supply problem of her own. “When my son was born, I felt that I was not given much advice on breastfeeding and didn’t receive the help I needed,” Fisk stated. The midwife Fisk used knew that she had a low supply because her son was thin for his age. She was told to get a supplemental nursing system and even had to use some formula because that is all that was available to her.
“It was absolutely awful,” Fisk explained. The supplemental system was difficult to use and she decided to try a natural path to increase her production. Fisk started taking herbs, some medication, and began pumping in October 2010. Eventually, her supply increased and she is now able to pump, offering 10 extra ounces that she can donate each day. “Confidence is really a key when breastfeeding,” Fisk said. “One of my personal goals is to help women increase their breast milk supply,” she continued.
The ultimate goal for Human Milk for Human Babies is to connect women, donate milk, and transport it to the mothers and babies that need it. All connections via the Facebook page are absolutely free, which Fisk emphasized. “We do not endorse the sale of breast milk; we believe food should be a human right, not a human privilege,” Fisk explained. Fisk is finding that more and more mothers are utilizing the Facebook page as a method for connecting mothers to mothers. “People absolutely want to feed their children normally and our site is becoming increasingly popular,” Fisk said.
Fisk is quick to emphasize that the site is not a milk bank. “There are women all over that need breast milk,” Fisk said. The women who contact each other via the website must have a level of trust with one another. The women screen each other and both the giver and receiver of the milk need to be willing to both ask and answer questions for the process to run smoothly. “The idea behind it is that the women can make their own questions and use their own judgment,” Fisk explained.
In addition to being an administrator for the Wisconsin chapter, Fisk is still active in milk donation. “I currently still donate to a woman on the other side of the state,” she said. She encourages women to check out the Facebook and Twitter sites for Human Milk for Human Babies. The organization relies heavily on these social sites, as well as word-of-mouth from mothers who have experienced the organization’s helpful resources. Fisk maintains active involvement in women’s health issues, and, in the future, is seeking to become a doula for post-partum women.
Whether you are seeking additional breast milk for your baby or would like to learn more about your own breastfeeding experience, local women are ready, willing, and able to assist you with your goals. And, that is one thing that both LLL and Human Milk for Human Babies encourage: women helping women. “I want to provide encouragement to mothers that they seek out and find communities of positive, knowledgeable, supportive people who will help them succeed at the goals they have set for themselves,” Hafele emphasized. Mothers-to-be are also encouraged to attend LLL meetings as a way to provide encouragement before the birth of their babies.
Fisk also looks forward to growing the Human Milk for Human Babies base and hopes that more mothers realize the benefits of human milk donation to mothers in need. “There are women all over that need their breast milk,” she said. This natural process can be challenging and unique to each mother, but both organizations are supportive for women and look forward to continuing the mantra of mothers helping other mothers.