La Leche League

At the Crossroads of Medicine, Feminism, and Religion

By Jule DeJager Ward

La Leche League

248 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4791-6
    Published: January 2000

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Awards & distinctions

A 2000 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In 1956, when La Leche League was founded, if a new mother chose to breastfeed rather than bottlefeed her child, she could by no means expect universal support for her decision. Though physicians of the era admitted that breastfeeding was the best method of infant feeding, they warned of the difficulties that nursing mothers faced, and many held that successful breastfeeding required a knowledge of science and medicine that most new mothers could not claim. Started by seven Catholic women who simply wished to help their friends learn to breastfeed, La Leche League grew into an organization with several million members worldwide, known here and abroad for its pathbreaking promotion of the breastfeeding of infants.

Offering a fascinating look inside an organization whose full history has been essentially untold, Jule Ward explores the genesis, theological underpinnings, and development of La Leche League. She demonstrates that, despite distancing itself from any overt expression of its religious roots, the organization remains a quasi-religious articulation of Catholic social thought blended with scientific ideology and feminism. In short, says Ward, the story of La Leche League provides an excellent example of how religion in practice permeates everyday life.

About the Author

le DeJager Ward teaches religious studies at DePaul University.
For more information about Jule DeJager Ward, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Offers much historical background and contemporary assessment of what has made the League so appealing over time and across cultures."--Journal of the American Medical Association

"A readable history and philosophy of the organization. . . . This book is well referenced, illustrated, and indexed, and highly recommended for college and university libraries that support courses in women’s history, religion, ethics, nursing, sociology, anthropology, and public health."--Choice

“This fascinating, accessible cultural study explores the interplay of religion and feminism in La Leche League. . . . Ward approaches her often-controversial subject with empathy and finesse.”--Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating look inside an organization whose full history has been essentially untold."--American Catholic Studies Newsletter

"This book presents an engaging analysis of how informal encounters at a Catholic family picnic in 1956 grew into an internationally acclaimed organization that uses woman-to-woman networks to enhance breast feeding practices. Focusing on the positive, Ward describes the theological, feminist, and medical viewpoints that jointly fueled the engine of the La Leche League success story."--Judith Walzer Leavitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"While lactation and nursing may seem rather unimportant maternal matters, in actuality La Leche League tells an intriguing tale of the revival of an intimate practice at the heart of child rearing and hence at the core of family life, development, relationships, and even human love. In a word, La Leche League participated in creating new ideals of motherhood, and Jule Ward tells the story of this evolution with finesse and insight. Her fine cultural analysis of the religious roots in Catholicism and the complex debates within the feminist movement should interest many people, from those in women's studies and history to those in religious studies and practical theology. Out of a movement that many of us simply take for granted come fascinating insights into the nature of human community and practical wisdom."--Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Vanderbilt University