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Michelle Teheux: Edwina Froehlich wasn't famous, but had big impact

Michelle Teheux

A great lady to whom I owe much died recently.

Edwina Froehlich was 93 when she died June 8 in the Chicago area.

Her name is not a household word, but her obituary ran in both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.

Something she did in 1956 has had a most profound effect not only in my life but in the lives of many millions of women and children worldwide.

She was one of the seven founding mothers of La Leche League and helped author the group’s bible, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” which has more than 2 million copies in print. Incidentally, my picture appears in one edition.

Young parents today don’t realize how much things have changed. Nowadays almost everybody agrees that breastfeeding is best. The standard information on how to nurse is often incorrect, but at least the effort to nurse is usually applauded, and the information is gradually improving.

Once upon a time, however, mothers who wanted to nurse their children received little support. Formula feeding was thought to be more scientific, more hygienic, and better in every way. Women who wanted to nurse often received such bad information that they could not succeed. The standard medical advice of the time, such as nursing on a severe schedule, almost guaranteed that breastfeeding attempts would end in failure.

Seven mothers, including Froehlich, got together in 1956 to talk about their experiences nursing their babies. They had figured out what worked through trial and error, and they realized they had the knowledge and information to help other mothers succeed at a time when very few did.

At first Froehlich took calls from mothers all over the country while taking care of her children and doing her household chores. Eventually those seven mothers set up an international organization that focused on mother-to-mother help.

As a young mother who joined LLL while expecting my first child, I learned everything I needed to nurse successfully. When I had a problem at first, several phone calls to the local leader gave me the support and information I needed, and from there on out it was easy.

The organization had a profound effect on how I chose not only to feed my babies, but on every aspect of raising them. I learned everything I needed to know about nursing in a couple of meetings. But I kept attending for years because I realized the experienced mothers were the real parenting experts, better than any doctor or book. I felt that many of their older children had a unique quality to their behavior that I wanted my children to have.

An experienced mother at a meeting would show you how to hold your baby to nurse, but as she paused to interact with her older child -- children of any age are always welcome at meetings -- she taught other lessons without even trying.

One of the group’s messages was that mothers should not blindly trust anyone’s parenting advice but should gather information and then do what they believed was right for their children. I felt empowered to make parenting choices I might not have made otherwise. One was to nurse past the first birthday. Another was to put my journalism career on hold until my youngest child was in school all day.

In time I became one of the experienced mothers, eventually serving as a certified leader for several years. In turn, I was able to pass on what I’d learned.

LLL taught me to trust my instincts as a mother. My extension, it taught me to trust my instincts in other parts of my life. The way everybody else is doing things, I believe, may not be the best way for me to do things.

My life is different today because back in 1989 I decided to attend a LLL meeting.

Thank you, Edwina, and all the other moms who came before me.

Michelle Teheux can be reached at (309) 346-1111 or at mteheux@pekintimes.com.