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La Leche League’s image as breast-feeding Nazis’ is changing

SHARE La Leche League’s image as breast-feeding Nazis’ is changing

Breast-feeding Nazis. Granola. They nurse their children until they are in kindergarten.

Cathleen Gotsch was aware of all the notions out there about the breast-feeding support group La Leche League. She wasn't sure what to expect when she went to her first meeting while pregnant to learn more about nursing her newborn.

"I knew I would be going to back to work and would be pumping and was a little concerned about what the group would think of me, if they would think ill of me for doing that," said Gotsch, 30, of Bridgeton, Mo.

She was comforted to find a welcoming group made up of a range of women with different breast-feeding goals and challenges. They didn't all use cloth diapers and make their own baby food. They wouldn't kick you out if you used a pacifier.

The women talked about trying different cone sizes for breast pumps, she said, which later helped in the success of feeding her 5-month-old, Benjamin.

"It was kind of refreshing for me. I felt like it was a group of women that I would be comfortable going back and hanging out with," Gotsch said. "I don't feel like the goal of the group was to convert me into a breast-feeding person or do something I don't want to do."

Leaders of La Leche League of Greater St. Louis acknowledge the militant reputation the organization has among women, and while there may have been some validity to the notion in the past, leaders want mothers to know they strive to be accepting. With an itinerary of events the group has planned to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week next week, they invite women to come see for themselves.

"Instead of giving advice, we try to provide information women need to empower them and to make a decision that is best for them," said Holly Robinson, head of the St. Louis area La Leche League. "Every person has different expectations and abilities. Our goal is for everybody to breast-feed, but we need to work with what people want and are able to do."

Robinson, 34, of Manchester, Mo., said she sees women who exclusively breast-feed, those who pump some of their milk and others who supplement with formula.

Membership has become more diverse as old practices have fallen away, said Debbi Heffern, who leads monthly group meetings at St. John's Mercy Medical Center. Meetings formerly had to be held in people's homes and leaders did not have careers, she said. The extensive training for leaders has also changed to include improving communication skills and stresses the importance of leaders not impressing their own ideals on members.

"I think that old reputation is fading," Heffern said. "I think people are recognizing that La Leche League is really there to help moms reach their own goals."

Seven Chicago women started La Leche League more than 50 years ago, and it has grown into an international organization that has helped thousands of women breast-feed through education and support groups. The organization believes the nutrition and bond breast-feeding provides is important in a baby's healthy development.

Despite having some misgivings, Amber Burgdorf, 29, of St. Louis, decided to attend a meeting when her son was almost 7 months old because she was struggling to pump enough milk at work.

"I had heard they want you to breast-feed for a really long time, and if it doesn't work you are a really horrible person," Burgdorf said. "I found that not to be the case at all. ... I was surprised by how laid back it was and that it's really run by the moms more than the leaders."

Leaders say they help facilitate and dispel misinformation but mainly let moms share their own experiences and expertise with each other. "We're not standing at the front lecturing," said University City group leader Barbara Gremaud.

The St. Louis area La Leche League has about 18 groups that meet monthly in St. Louis and surrounding counties. Leaders answer calls, and some do home visits.

Alyssa Schnell, a group leader in Webster Groves, said she often starts her meetings with, "We're here to support you if you want to breast-feed your baby for two days, two months or two years."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.