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European Conference 2000

By Carol Hunter
Rhein-Main Area, Germany
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 112-113

In 1999, our LLL Group won the prize for the Most Creative World Walk for Breastfeeding outside the US. Our tour of the previously walled city of Zwingenberg was a nice opportunity to think of the mothers who had lived there through the centuries, and who had breastfed and carried their babies through the streets and up and down the long granite staircases. Our prize was a paid registration for the Second European LLLI Conference in Nottingham, England, during World Breastfeeding Week in August 2000.

I was the lucky one chosen to use the registration to the conference, and I brought along my younger daughter, Rachel. This was my first big conference, so it was particularly exciting for me. One of the high points came on the opening day when I approached Marian Tompson, one of the Founders of LLL, and asked her to sign my copy of THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING (Available from LLLI 144-12, $14.95). I'm not one whose knees go weak in the presence of famous persons, but this was something completely different. In the presence of this kind-hearted woman, I found myself feeling quite shy. Mrs. Tompson was pleased to learn of my Walk prize, and she asked how LLL had come into my life. What a wonderful icebreaker! She signed my book, and I now have a very memento of my trip to Nottingham.

I met many new people, and one woman invited us to dinner in her apartment one evening. Four children and several other Leaders from many different countries were also present. There was not one word said that evening that was understood by everyone in the room. But our commitment to breastfeeding support crossed all cultural lines, and I was glad to be part of this group.

The conference sessions were very interesting. The session I came away raving most enthusiastically about was given by Dr. Carlos Gonzáles, a Spanish pediatrician and member of the LLLI Health Advisory Council. Dr. Gonzáles and his family were staying in the apartment beneath the one Rachel and I were in at the University of Nottingham, so we often rode the bus together to the conference center. It wasn't long before my little extrovert was engaging him in face-making wars on the bus and on the street when we met. Dr. Gonzáles' book is entitled Mi Niño No Me Come (My Child Won't Eat), and his session was named after the book. One of my children was very interested in solids and another was very uninterested, so I wanted to attend this session for my own information. I came away feeling strongly confirmed in the decisions we had made regarding Rachel's refusal of solids until 13 months; In truth, the majority of her nutrition came from the breast until about age two and a half.

According to Dr. Gonzáles, many toddlers resist eating solid foods, and this is more prevalent among breastfed children. Also, many stop eating solids around one year of age. He discussed caloric needs of babies and toddlers and compared some other foods to human milk, based on calorie content. For instance, 100 grams of human milk has about 70 calories. Boiled potato came the closest with 65 calories in 100 grams, apple has 52 calories, and the favorite first food of the German mothers I have known, carrot, has only 27 calories per 100 grams. Dr. Gonzáles says babies have very small stomachs, and that they don't like low-calorie foods. My pen was flying as he made bold statements that countered all of the criticism I had received for fully breastfeeding for so long, then for continuing to breastfeed for so long.

Dr. Gonzáles gave some very interesting commentary on the history of advice on feeding babies. At the beginning of the 20th century, professionals advised that solids should not be offered until after 12 months. In 1907 every baby (in Spain) was breastfed. Rich families may have had wet nurses. During the period from 1928 to 1936, women had more opportunities opened to them, so there were fewer wet nurses. Wealthy families began bottle-feeding. Babies began dying. Orphanages had staff wet nurses up to this period, and once they were no longer available, over 90 percent of the babies in the orphanages died. In order to avoid tuberculosis, the milk given to the babies was first boiled. This destroyed the vitamin C, and rickets, scurvy, and anemia became rampant.

An important point Dr. Gonzáles made was that you cannot diagnose undernourishment strictly by weight. To a mother who was upset because her baby was in only the 7th percentile on the doctor's growth chart, he said this meant that there were 23,000 other babies (in Spain) who weighed less than her baby did. As the mother of a child who refused solids, I couldn't help turning to my neighbor and saying, 'That really puts it into perspective." The growth charts are different in different countries, as well, and Dr. Gonzáles pointed out that only normal babies are used to calculate the growth charts, so even babies in the first or second percentage are normal babies.

After this, Dr. Gonzáles made a statement that I don't believe was in his notes. On the subject of "normal babies" he said, "Only breastfed babies are normal babies." I started clapping loudly and everyone in the room joined me. He spoke a little while longer after this, but this is the last thing I wrote in my notes on this session. I floated out from this presentation, feeling confirmed as a mother and as an LLL Leader. I had the opportunity on our bus rides to tell Dr. Gonzáles how much I had appreciated his talk and what it had meant to me. At this time his book is only available in Spanish. If it ever becomes available in English or German, I will be the first in line.

Thank you, La Leche League International, for choosing my group for the Walk Prize. Attending the conference was a great honor.

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