La Leche League has fallen

267 of its leaders fight back against the ideological colionialism of gender identity ideology

La Leche League International is an organisation that works in over 80 countries, it exists to help mothers to breastfeed and has status at the U.N.

Over the last few years as gender identity ideology has become big in America, pressure has been placed on the organisation and volunteer breastfeeding counsellors to change their language, to avoid saying the words "woman" and "mother" when they are talking about breastfeeding. 

A lot of volunteer breastfeeding counsellors in the U.S. have wanted the organisation to stop using the words "woman" and '"mother" altogether, whereas breastfeeding counsellors in other parts of the world where gender identity ideology is not relevant have wanted to keep using the language they have always used.

Recently the organisation decided that all communications from La Leche League International, including social media and their educational articles and magazines would use a mix of language including "mother" and language that was de-sexed and talked about breastfeeding parents, chestfeeding and human milk feeding. 

Breastfeeding counsellors all over the world have been really upset about this as this mix of terms can be factually incorrect or confusing for people, especially when English is not their first language. Breastfeeding counsellors are concerned that even though La Leche League International are saying that "mother" will continue to be used they might eventually remove "mother" altogether as La Leche League USA pretty much has done.  In addition, La Leche League USA no longer provides mother-to-mother support, just parent-to-parent support for breastfeeding, chestfeeding and human milk feeding. 

Some survivors of domestic violence have been unhappy about La Leche League saying they support "families". Breast cancer survivors have mentioned that they are offended by the term "chestfeeding". On La Leche League online forums mothers from around the world are being shamed for talking about mothers and breastfeeding and told they have to change their words. Under the current policy, if breastfeeding counsellors from outside of the U.S. want to publish an article in the La Leche League International magazine they have to change their words or the organisation will not publish their work. 

More than two hundred and fifty breastfeeding counsellors wrote to the La Leche League International Board recently, saying that forcing these changes on them is cultural imperialism and colonialist. Some of the breastfeeding counsellors who signed the letter have been volunteering their time to help mothers to breastfeed for decades, they love the organisation and the work that it does but they are upset that an American idea is being enforced on the rest of the world and that mothers are disappearing, because their ability to make mothers visible in language is being taken away. 

LLL breastfeeding counsellors are still collecting signatures from other LLLI volunteers around the world in support of their letter. Although the La Leche League International Board has so far rejected their concerns. These are the letters that have been sent and received.....

9 August 2021

To: La Leche League International (LLLI) Board of Directors, LLLI Executive Director

Subject: The Language of LLLI publications

We are Leaders from all over the world, writing to express concerns with the recently published LLLI FAQs on Language written by the LLLI Board. We also wish to raise concerns about the LLLI Cultural Sensitivity in Publications policy, which we do not believe is culturally sensitive or useful.

We recognise that the LLLI Board has a difficult task in meeting the needs of multiple groups and therefore has proposed that, in order to be inclusive of female parents who do not identify as mothers, authors of 

LLLI publications must incorporate a variety of terms to describe those who are mothers. The LLLI Board has described this as a welcoming approach.

We appreciate that the LLLI Board is taking steps to make LLLI a more inclusive organisation. However, we do not believe that requiring a variety of terms to be used to describe mothers is an appropriate solution for
an international organisation. 

We recognise that the Board is in a difficult situation. We understand from LLLI News that some Leaders advocate for the eradication of the term “mother” entirely in LLLI publications, while other Leaders propose using only the term “mother”. Consequently, the LLLI Board may perceive that using a variety of terms
within publications is a reasonable compromise that meets the needs of everyone. We disagree.

LLLI is an international organisation. As such, it is expected that LLLI would use an international language that is culturally appropriate to the majority of the world and is understandable on a global scale. Using a variety of terms for “mother” can be a hindrance to clear communication between Leaders and mothers,
and it can also change meaning. For reference to a resource on using English internationally, see the attached document.

LLLI expects Leaders to regularly read LLLI News and Leader Today, yet many Leaders already find it difficult to access these publications because English is not their first language. In the case of ‘adding more ink’ and using a variety of terms, LLLI publications have become more challenging for many to understand and confusing even for those who have English as their first language. This approach to language is therefore not inclusive of those for whom English is a second language, nor for the vast population of mothers with low literacy. LLLI cannot truly consider itself international unless it finds ways to reach all Leaders and mothers, not just those who speak English. In seeking inclusivity, we argue that LLLI must consider both these groups. 

The current Cultural Sensitivity in Publications policy, LLLI publications, articles, and social media feed are read by us as saying that regardless of what may be considered appropriate in your country, your country is not as important as the U.S. and those in Western countries that have been influenced by U.S. culture. What is important is the dominant viewpoint; the rest of the world is unimportant. The views and needs of other countries are subjugated, yet we are an international organisation. We wonder what LLLI is trying to achieve. We believe that through its publications, articles, social media and other activities, LLLI should be seen as a champion of women’s and children’s rights in relation to breastfeeding and should be actively working against such oppressive and colonialist actions.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective, UNICEF and WHO are the benchmark for breastfeeding guidance worldwide, and to provide a truly international approach, it would be beneficial for LLLI to look at the publications of these organistions and how they are using language. LLLI might also consider how other organisations support diversity; for example, the International Breastfeeding Journal will allow authors to use either British or American English – that is an approach many organisations follow. Another example is the recently published Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Position Statement and Guideline: Infant Feeding and Lactation-Related Language and Gender, see attached document.

We strongly recommend:

1. LLLI should allow writers to use the language that they are most comfortable with – so there would be a variety of terms used overall, but an author’s words would not be changed arbitrarily. Ultimately, this will result in a variety of terms being used across the organisation but not within any single article. In this way LLLI can achieve diversity.

2. LLLI should actively seek representation from non-Western Leaders in LLLI publications and allow Leaders to use the language that works for them in their context. That could mean that some Leaders are unhappy and this is a conversation that LLLI needs to have.

3. If LLLI wants to be truly inclusive and working against power structures that seek to oppress vulnerable and marginalized groups, then they need to overtly choose not to enforce Western conventions that will be perceived and experienced as oppressive. LLLI needs to answer questions openly and honestly with members and Leaders without de-platforming or silencing reasonable comments on social media. In publications, we call on LLLI to respect the author’s words as authentically theirs, and not arbitrarily change content in the name of Western cultural sensitivity. We call on LLLI to be respectful of where people are coming from, their worldview, their experience, their values and what they consider important.

For those of us who wish to use the word “mother” we wish it to be emphasized that we are not being exclusionary. We are using “mother” in the sexed manner to include all female parents regardless of their gender identity. 

We ask that LLLI revisit the policy regarding “using a variety of terms” that it has imposed, which detracts from the critical mother-baby focus that is the heart of LLL. 

In ending, we find it imperative that LLLI stay true to the LLL mission statement and that “All LLLI and LLL publications, whether in print or digital, shall reflect LLL philosophy,” as stated in the LLL Publications policy. 

We may be contacting you in future with additional names of Leaders wishing to sign.

Signed by Leaders from the following countries, as of September 7, 2021:

Argentina Indonesia Paraguay

Australia Ireland Peru

Bolivia Israel Russia

Cambodia Italy Saudi Arabia

Canada Japan Scotland

Chile Lebanon Singapore

China Luxembourg South Africa

Colombia Malaysia South Korea

Costa Rica Mexico Spain

Dominican Republic Morocco Sri Lanka

France Netherlands Switzerland

Great Britain New Zealand TaiwanGuatemala Nicaragua Ukraine

Hong Kong Pakistan United Arb Emirates

India Panama United States of America

Total number of countries: 45

Total number of Leaders: 267

Any Leader who wishes to add their support to this letter beyond the date it is first shared with the LLLI Board may do so by contacting:  

The Response

August 31, 2021

Dear Leaders,

We want to start by being clear that LLLI supports our Leaders who do, and do not, identify as mothers, and we will continue to respect their identities. Using the word ‘mother’ to refer to those who do not want to be identified as mothers is disrespectful and hurtful. Clause 7.1 of LLLI’s Code of Conduct makes clear that “LLL Leaders, LLLI volunteers, and LLLI staff respect the right of Leaders, mothers, and other parents to determine their own identity.”

People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community exist throughout the world. Many have babies, and some want to nurture them with their own milk. Breastfeeding mothers and nursing parents need support; individuals do not access support if they do not feel included or welcomed. We wish to be very clear that LLLI’s approach is to refer to nursing parents with the terms they prefer.

We are happy to see that your letter acknowledges that the LLLI policy is to use a variety of terms to describe people, because we have been concerned to hear over and over that LLLI seeks to eliminate the use of words such as “mother” and “woman.” That is absolutely not the case. As the LLLI Board wrote in our FAQ, “We have no intention of ceasing to use the words “mother,” “mothering,” and “breastfeeding.” The words “mother” and “breastfeeding” are fundamental words to what we do as an organization. “Mother” and ”breastfeeding” are essential to the identity of many Leaders and mothers and fundamental in how they value their relationship with their children and with the wider society.”

The LLLI Board shares several of the concerns expressed in your letter and is taking steps to mitigate them. Most importantly, we share your concerns that the language we use in our publications should include everyone, and not inadvertently exclude groups. We also agree that global representation is vital in an international organisation, and that non-Western participant should be particularly welcomed. The LLLI Board has actively sought participation by members of all DCEs in LLLI committees and forums, and also as authors in LLLI publications. Currently, Leaders from the IAN (the most globally diverse DCE within LLL, comprising 13% of LLL Leaders) make up 25% of LLLI committee and taskforce members. The upcoming LLLI Conference will include speakers from around the world, and translation will be offered in several languages. Our publications actively seek material from non-USA, non-English-speaking authors.

The Cultural Sensitivity in Publications policy is under review by the Bylaws Committee. The focus of the review is clarification of the policy to eliminate misperceptions and fears. In addition, under the leadership of a Bylaws subcommittee of members who also work in publications, and the Breastfeeding Today, Leader Today, and LLLI News editors, all the LLLI forums, review boards, and editors who work with publications have just been asked to review all their style guides to determine how the policy may best be implemented. Many of your concerns are currently being discussed in that forum. Some of the signatories of this letter already have a voice in that discussion.

Your letter recommends that LLLI should investigate the use of language by organisations such as WHO, UNICEF, and the Global Breastfeeding Collective. It is true that these organisations do not typically use gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language. Nevertheless, there are many breastfeeding, parenting, and public health organisations around the world that do. ILCA’s style guidelines, adopted in 2017, specifically seek to use gender-inclusive language in order to represent all nursing parents.1 Articles published in the Journal of Human Lactation argue for the use of gender-inclusive language to prevent discrimination.2 WABA used gender-neutral language in their post for International Day of Families.3 IBCLE4, GoldLearning5, the UK Association of Breastfeeding Mothers6, and HealthLine7 all use it. The organisation Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (with 135,000 members of its Facebook group) recently changed their language to say “breastfeeding parents” rather than “breastfeeding mothers.”8 The National Health Service in the United Kingdom9 and the New Zealand “National Breastfeeding Policy”10 both use gender-inclusive language. LLLI is not alone in using inclusive language to support breastfeeding.

LLLI shares your concern that Leaders reading LLLI publications in English as their second language or from a position of low literacy should be able to easily access the resources. We have carefully considered and researched this concern as it relates to gender-inclusive language. We have discovered that terms commonly used within LLL (such as “mother,” “parent,” “breast,” “chest,” “feeding,” and “birth”) are all high-frequency words that are acquired early by both those learning to read and those learning to speak English. Leaders who read LLLI material on the website are able to access Google translations for 101 different languages from within the website. The LLLI Strategic Plan prioritises making higher quality translation of all LLLI materials into six major languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. We aim to be able to share a concrete plan for achieving this goal before the end of the year.

Using a variety of terms for gender inclusion is not a hallmark of colonial oppression, rather the opposite. Western colonialism is responsible for suppressing the expression of gender diversity in many cultures around the world, and introducing concepts of homophobia and gender “norms” that were not a part of the indigenous cultures.11 Gender identities such as the hijra in India,12 the takatapui13 and fa’afafine/fa’afatama14 in the Pacific, and the Two-Spirits people in North America15 are examples of indigenous gender identities suppressed by colonialism which are now beginning to be acknowledged and celebrated again as there is greater cultural acceptance of gender diversity around the world.16 17

Setting a policy to use a variety of terms to acknowledge different genders of Leaders and parents is not imposing a North American perspective on a global audience. Within LLL, we see gender-inclusive language used on many LLL platforms, and in resources in multiple languages. We see engagement with social media posts from LLLI that use inclusive language, which includes positive reactions from around the world. LLL USA was not the first DCE or Area to use gender-inclusive language on their website; that distinction belongs to LLL Canada, LLL Flanders, and LLL Netherlands. The movement towards freedom in gender identity is worldwide, as is the development of gender inclusive language. Some examples include English “they” as a singular pronoun, new perspectives on the Chinese pronoun “ta”, the use of “x” or “e” in Spanish, and the Swedish pronoun “hen”.

Regarding your recommendation to allow writers to use the language that they are most comfortable with, it is important that LLLI statements, policies, and breastfeeding information resources consistently use a variety of terms to include all of our Leaders and those who seek our support. Personal discomfort in the matter of inclusive terminology is not a sufficient reason to avoid using a variety of terms when the effect would be to reduce inclusion of under-represented groups. We do not allow writers to use other terminology of their choice if it conflicts with LLL policy, even if it is important to them. We refer to partners, rather than only to husbands or wives, in order to recognise reality and not seek to impose a particular cultural viewpoint. The use of various terms alongside “mother” is similar to that situation. Exceptions are being made for very short publications like social media posts and for personal stories or creative literature.

Using the word “mother” to include everyone who gives birth and breastfeeds is not inclusive. Justifying this on the basis of it being a “sexed” use of language rather than a “gendered” use does not make a difference. The effect is the same - a group of parents who we already know have difficulties in finding acceptance and being welcomed are rendered invisible again.

LLL is committed to including everyone who wants to nurse their baby, regardless of the way they refer to themselves. As we explained in the FAQ, LLLI has chosen not to take the route of gender neutrality for the very reason that we wish to recognise the fundamental importance of motherhood to many Leaders and people we support. We have also chosen not to retain the use of only mother-centred terms, in recognition that there are people within and outside LLL who do not identify as mothers but who need breastfeeding support and information.

Using gender-inclusive language is a new step, but one that we believe builds on LLL’s long history of valuing the experiential knowledge of nursing parents and reaching out to share breastfeeding support to everyone who comes to us. Breastfeeding mothers, nursing parents, and most importantly, babies, all need the information and support we can offer. The LLLI Board has concluded that the best way to accomplish that goal through our publications is to be sure that the language we use is sensitive to the variety of Leaders and parents who read them, so that no one is rendered invisible or pushed to the margins. The Board seeks to show clearly that we are respecting mothers’ and parents’ freedom to determine their own identities and will welcome them when they come to us for help.

Sincerely yours on behalf of the LLLI Board,

LLLI Board Secretary