LLLC is a national organization of volunteers who provide information and encouragement to parents who want to breastfeed their babies. LLLC is a charitable organization supported primarily by donations and memberships.
La Leche League International (LLLI) was founded in 1956 by a group of seven mothers in Illinois at a time when breastfeeding was rare. They felt that experienced breastfeeding mothers could provide the kind of practical, evidence-based help that newer mothers needed. From the beginning, they had a group of medical experts working with them to ensure the accuracy of the information they shared.
View a short video about the history of La Leche League International here.
La Leche League’s beginnings in Canada have not been well documented; however, we are fairly certain that it first came to Canada in 1961 with the opening of a Group in Jonquiere, Quebec. There may also have been a Group at about that time in Toronto.
The first Group which we can positively date opened in January of 1964 in Edmonton, Alberta. The Leader of that Group, Lois McLatchie, had read about LLL in Reader's Digest and had received breastfeeding support from Mrs. Larouche, President of the Quebec Branch, and Barbara Petre in Quebec.
Lois described her introduction to La Leche League and leadership in this way: “At the time I contacted Mrs. Larouche and Mrs. Petre, I was attempting to nurse our fourth baby, Betty. I nursed our previous babies with a great deal of difficulty and little outside encouragement (my husband, however, was always supportive). With the third baby I had somewhat more success in nursing than the first two, but far from what I felt it should be. The information from the League and the support I received from Mrs. Larouche and Mrs. Petre made all the difference in the world, making it possible to have an extended and enjoyable nursing relationship with our fourth child, Betty."
In October, 1963, Lois wrote to LLLI applying for leadership. Apparently she was already phoning encouragement to other nursing mothers. She led her first meeting January 23 or 24th, 1964 after hearing from Edwina Froehlich that Mrs. Brizzolara (Director of New Groups) had "approved her questionnaire." Thirteen mothers attended her first meeting and paid $2.00 per Series, $1.00 of which paid for a year's subscription to LLL News. Lois retired from active leadership within a year due to poor health but continued doing phone helping and working with Leader Applicants for several more years.
The Edmonton Group continued until 1968 when its second Leader, Pauline Leblanc, moved across the country to New Brunswick. Pauline started two more Groups as her family moved around, and continued to be active as a Leader in Moncton, New Brunswick for an impressive 40 years of supporting breastfeeding mothers!
La Leche League grew rapidly though the late 1960’s and a number of LLLC Groups can trace their beginnings back to 1964 and 1965. By 1970, LLL in Canada had its own "Coordinator," Margaret Bennet-Alder, and a "New Group Chairperson" (now Coordinator of Leader Accreditation) for the 20 Groups and 50 Leaders. Times had changed as the newly appointed NGC, Anna McDade, was encouraging Leaders to let Leader Applicants know that, now that their applications did not have to be "processed" in the USA, applications should take from "one to four months." Canadian Leaders also received their first copy of “Canadian Communiqué", a single-page addition to LLLI's publication for Leaders, "Leaven."
1972 saw the first Canadian La Leche League Conference, held at McMaster University in Hamilton. By 1976, LLL in Canada had grown to 140 Groups and 325 Leaders and it became necessary to divide into three administrative Areas which included both the French and English Groups in Canada. The Leaders were also gearing up for Toronto 1977, the only LLLI conference ever to be held outside the USA.
One of the Groups that opened in 1976 was in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. Karen Pearce, who was its first Leader, remembers its beginnings: “There was already a nursing mothers' group running, with Sue Comstock and Blanche Cooper and quite a few other nursing mothers attending monthly. Someone whose husband was in the military called a meeting at Shearwater Air Base, and told us all about La Leche League, and how we really should start a group. I decided right then and there that I would become a Leader. I had already been in contact with LLL, and had some information. I remember calling Pauline LeBlanc long-distance and talking for about half an hour!! Susan Oke was part of that nursing mothers' group, and she and I were in process together, and I got finished first. The day she got her leadership card was the day they got posted to Ottawa!”
Karen got her leadership card in January and they held a planning meeting in March for an April meeting. “The first meeting was at Susan's with 41 mothers and 9 babies there. The next meeting, also at Susan's, had 52 mothers and 20 babies, most of them in car beds. Susan had her good china out, and a lace tablecloth, and I remember going past and just picking up the ends of the cloth and putting it over the dishes on the table. I could just see little fingers in the holes and pulling the good china onto the floor.” Karen also remembers the Group’s early publicity challenges: “I had taken a notice to the newspaper--who sent me to the women's page editor. She looked at the notice, and said, “Now dear, do you really think there's a need for this?”
LLL in Canada continued to grow and by 1978 had its own logo (a nursing mother superimposed on a maple leaf), and supply depots for Leaders to order both English and French LLL materials and supplies without having to deal in USA dollars or get shipments from the USA. The volunteer-run "Canadian Supply Depot" evolved into the Canadian National Office which at one time had a salaried staff of 6.
In 1985 La Leche League Canada elected its first Board of Directors and in 1987 became an affiliate of LLLI, taking on responsibility for all LLL services and programs in English in Canada. At the same time the Canadian French-speaking Leaders became their own affiliate, Ligue La Leche. Rapid growth continued until the early 1990s when in English-speaking Canada there were nearly 300 Groups and about 640 Leaders.
With current breastfeeding initiation rates for Canada at about 87% (2005) but with a continuing rapid drop off in the early months I think we can safely answer the women’s page editor’s query about the need for breastfeeding support with a resounding “yes.” Today’s mothers may not see lace tablecloths and china tea cups when they attend a La Leche League meeting, but the same kinds of questions will be asked and Leaders will offer the same kind of information and support. As long as there are mothers and babies, La Leche League will have a place in Canada.
The name “La Leche” (pronounced La Lay-chay) means “the milk” in Spanish, and was adopted in part because the word “breastfeeding” was not acceptable at the time. The women who founded La Leche League tell this story about how they chose the name:
“In searching for a name for our new organization, we Founders were struck by the importance placed on breastfeeding by early Spanish settlers in America. In 1598, they dedicated a shrine to "Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto" ("Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk"). The words "happy delivery and plentiful milk" spoke profoundly of yearnings that are common to many mothers. Like women of old, we rejoiced in breastfeeding our babies and wanted to share our newfound knowledge with others. Even though our name came from a religious shrine, we unanimously chose to be a nonsectarian organization from the start. To us, "La Leche" ("The Milk") became as much a symbol as a name. While it was chosen in part because the word "breastfeeding" was not acceptable at that time, in another sense our name's lofty origin reflected the importance we attached to the work we were undertaking.”