Mary Albrecht still gets teary-eyed when she remembers the way a La Leche League (LLL) leader was there for her as a young mother -- and she's doing her best to bring that LLL support to Le Mars, too.
Albrecht, now a Le Mars resident, mother of four and Le Mars LLL leader, recalls a Sunday afternoon when she lived in Ohio more than seven years ago. She was having difficulties breastfeeding her second child, so she called her LLL leader, who gave her the phone number of a more experienced leader.
"I called her on a Sunday," Albrecht said. "She drove half an hour to my house. She was just the coolest lady."
Besides sitting with her and helping her position her baby, Albrecht doesn't remember much of what the leader did that day. However, she does remember that the woman's calm, reassuring presence was exactly what she and her daughter needed.
"You think with your second child you might have (breastfeeding) figured out. It doesn't always work that way," Albrecht said with a laugh.
By the time the leader left, Albrecht felt much better -- and her daughter was nursing better, Albrecht said.
"It was magic," Albrecht said. "I still have a lot of good feelings about that encounter."
The LLL organization was started in 1956 by seven moms from the Chicago area who met at a church picnic and wanted to support each other in breastfeeding their children.
According to LLL's website, www.llli.org, breastfeeding rates in the United States dropped close to 20 percent that year.
"Anybody who was doing it probably felt quite out of the norm," Albrecht said.
The seven moms found that by creating their own support network, it was a magnet for other women, Albrecht said, and LLL continued to grow. It is now an international organization.
"The primary purpose of La Leche League is to support moms who breastfeed," Albrecht said, "and that can be offering encouragement, resources and help when something isn't going the way they need it to."
Albrecht became involved with her first LLL group while breastfeeding her first child.
"I was just blown away," Albrecht said. "It was a really cool group of moms, and they were just so helpful, so encouraging."
After the first few initial meetings, she continued to attend the monthly gatherings.
"I went to the meetings then not just for that encouragement, but to meet more moms that I could hang out with that were doing what I was doing and that understood my life," Albrecht said.
She and her family moved to Le Mars seven years ago, and she started attending an LLL chapter in Sioux City.
"After about a year or more of attending meetings, one of the leaders just said to me, 'You know, have you ever thought about becoming a leader?'" Albrecht said.
Hoping to encourage other mothers like she'd been encouraged, Albrecht decided to go through the process to become an accredited volunteer leader. For the last four years, she has been an LLL leader in Sioux City. Now, however, Albrecht is starting a chapter in Le Mars while continuing to lead a chapter in Sioux City.
"The nice thing about La Leche League is you can do things at a mother's pace," Albrecht said. "It's a family-friendly volunteer opportunity for me."
Being an LLL leader has already provided Albrecht with many opportunities to help moms.
"Maybe once a week, maybe twice a week I'll get a call from a mom saying, "I've got this going on and I don't know what's happening. Can you help me out?"
Albrecht has one main piece of encouragement she tries to impart to the moms.
"You can get through this," Albrecht said. "It's perseverance. It's getting the resources you need."
Albrecht brings a suitcase of helpful parenting books with her to the meetings as a lending library for the moms.
Each LLL meeting starts off with an ice breaker question in which the moms discuss the different ways they handle breastfeeding and parenting issues. For the main educational part of the meeting, the mothers rotate through a series of four topics: advantages of breastfeeding, the family and the breastfed baby, the art of breastfeeding and avoiding difficulties, and nutrition and weaning.
Although the main emphasis of LLL is on breastfeeding, Albrecht said she and the other mothers often discuss broader parenting topics, too. The meetings create a mother-to-mother support network where moms can feel welcomed by other people who know what they're going through, Albrecht said.
"One of the neat things I try to remember to emphasize at every meeting is: Take what works for you and leave the rest," Albrecht said.
Not every piece of advice fits every family, she added.
"That way nobody feels like there's one right way to parent and one right way to breastfeed. Because there isn't," Albrecht said. "There's more than one way to do it. What we're there to do is support each other, and I think that is really valuable."
Of the three LLL meetings that have taken place in Le Mars, Albrecht said the attendance has varied from one to five mothers.
"Some moms just come to meet that immediate need -- one or two or five meetings. Other moms keep coming to give back. They're just there to meet new people and to give their advice."
LLL meetings in Le Mars are at 11 a.m. the second Thursday of every month at Rejoice! Community Church. The next meeting is Feb. 10. Those would would like to get involved or find out more information can call Albrecht at 712-546-7280. There is no charge to attend and mothers are welcome to bring their children of all ages to the meetings.