Written by Brenda Bandy for New Beginnings La Leche League magazine in 2013.
We walked into the conference room with a sack of peanut butter and jellies and bags of quiet toys and tried to find a space where the boys could play quietly. This was a tricky undertaking for three boys under the age of five. As I looked across the room at the nicely dressed women, unpacking their drive-through lunches, many wearing name badges and white coats, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. What did a breastfeeding coalition do? What would they think of me? I am just a mom.
I had attended La Leche League meetings as a mother and later as a Leader. I thought La Leche League was the only group that fully understood the importance of breastfeeding. What a pleasant surprise to find others who also supported breastfeeding, either through their job or personally, outside of La Leche League (LLL). A feeling of relief washed over me as I fully grasped the idea that LLL was not alone. There were others who felt similarly and together we could make a difference in our community.
It wasn’t easy being “just a mom” in a group of professionals, talking about “impact,” “evidence-based best practices,” and “needs assessments.” What was a deliverable and an FTE? I made it a point early on at coalition meetings to always dress nicely and behave professionally, which meant coming prepared to take notes and to listen respectfully. My LLL communication skills helped me navigate the uncharted waters of coalition conversations. My children were used to meetings, but there were times we had to leave early when their patience wore thin. Yet I persevered, knowing that mothers’ voices may not be heard if I didn’t come. I shared stories and experiences of breastfeeding mothers in the community. I told of the power of mother-to-mother support. They listened to my suggestions of what would make breastfeeding easier for mothers in our community and over time I became a valued member.
Breastfeeding coalitions around the country want breastfeeding mothers at the table. You can find your state breastfeeding coalition at the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Coalition Directory. Your state breastfeeding coalition’s website may have a listing of local coalitions. Sadly, those with the most to contribute and who are impacted the most are often missing from the conversation. Mothers may not attend breastfeeding coalitions for a variety of reasons. Some may not know they are welcome and view coalitions as meetings of paid professionals only. Other mothers may not feel comfortable, like I once did, at meetings where people sit around a table rather than on the floor without children darting in and out of the conversation. To those women, I say “Be brave and step into the room. What you have to say matters.”
I stepped into the room 15 years ago and I had no idea how pivotal that moment would be in my life. I am now an admitted “coalition groupie” and will go anywhere where breastfeeding advocates are gathering, be it local, state, or national level. I have witnessed the power of a group of people with a common goal to impact their community and improve the lives of breastfeeding families. I encourage you to seek out your breastfeeding coalition and find your place at the table. They are waiting for you.