Linda Wieser, Nova Scotia, Canada

When practicing helping questions, Leader Applicants often want to start with a practice email. They assume it will be much easier than responding to a question on the phone or in person because they can respond when their children are sleeping or with someone else. They look forward to being able to research the topic and give a thoughtful, well-organized response. They quickly learn that responding to a helping email is not always easy. It has its own challenges.

In many parts of the world, most helping questions are received electronically, usually by email or text message. In order to respond you only have the words on the screen or in the text. You can’t see the mother or hear her voice for its tone or inflection. She may have shared little information and you want to hear the full story. You have so many questions you want to ask. Where do you start? How much information do you share? If you’re communicating by text message, you may be able to give short replies and get quick responses. You may be able to have a dialogue in real time. With an email this is often more difficult.

When working on the Preview of Mothers’ Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (Preview), it’s helpful to provide the Applicant with the opportunity to practice responding to email helping questions. Sending an Applicant a couple of practice emails has become routine for many Leaders. If you support an Applicant, you might send an email and ask her to respond promptly, as a Leader would. When you receive the Applicant’s response, reply as the “mother” and also give feedback as the supporting Leader.

A practice email is like a role-play on paper. However, instead of responding immediately, each person has time to think about her responses. Thus, it’s helpful for you as the “mother” to reply two or three times to what the Applicant has written as “Leader.” In addition, you can give feedback by pointing out what worked well, suggesting alternative wording, sharing another way to respond. Some Applicants like to rewrite their responses after getting feedback. It’s important to follow the Applicant’s lead. If she feels confident in her ability to respond via email, move on to other parts of the Preview. If she wants more practice, send another helping email.

Some Leaders use the Preview topics as a guide to create their practice emails.  They find it easy to start with a common topic such as starting solids.

Email from Anika:

Hi I got your name off the La Leche League website. I hope you can help me. My son Henry is ten months old and still not interested in eating. I was patient at first but now I’m worried that he’ll never want to eat. All my sister’s children were eating everything at eight months. What can I do to get Henry to eat? Should I be worried about him getting enough iron?

In the Applicant’s response look for:

  • “Thank you for contacting La Leche League”
  • Initial empathetic response
  • Normalizing of the mother’s experience and feelings
  • Questions for clarification or to gather additional information
  • Asking for feedback from the mother on the suggestions shared
  • Offering one or two suggestions, not everything on the topic
  • Inviting the mother to a Series Meeting, if available

When giving the Applicant your feedback, point out things she did well:

  • “I felt reassured by your response.”
  • “You identified my feelings and normalized my baby’s behavior.”
  • “Your tone was reassuring and you sounded knowledgeable.”
  • “You didn’t tell the mother there was one way to offer solids.”

Applicants are often eager to share everything they know about a topic.  If this happens, you might respond by saying:  “It’s often a challenge to know how much information to share, especially with a new mother who is already overwhelmed. I often share one or two suggestions, not everything I know on the topic. I may share more with a mother of an older baby. However, I’d first want to find out what she has already tried.”

Give the Applicant the opportunity to respond to a more challenging helping question, particularly a situation where the baby and mother need to be seen to assess what’s happening. This might be a question about sore nipples, not gaining weight, or not latching.

Email form Makayla:

My friend told me to contact you. My daughter Jasmine is a week old and breastfeeding is still very painful. In the hospital the nurses watched her latch and said it looked good and would probably get better when my milk came in. If anything it’s worse. I really want to breastfeed. Why is it hurting so much?

For this situation help the Applicant to realize that mother and baby need to be seen. You might look for recognition of this. The Applicant might

  • Suggest talking by phone or online video
  • Invite the mother to a Series Meeting, if scheduled within 1-2 days
  • Offer to do a home visit or have the mother come to her home
  • Refer the mother to an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
  • Recommend a weight check with the baby’s health care provider

In addition, look for the communication skills mentioned above—empathetic responses and normalizing the mother’s feelings and concerns.

Since so much of a Leader’s communication these days is done electronically, it’s important to practice email helping in the Preview.

Linda Wieser lives in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, with her husband, Jim. They have two grown daughters, and three grandchildren: Omar (2 years), Freya (9 months) and Lola (3 months). Linda has been a Leader since 1984. For many years she worked in the Professional Liaison Department as Area Professional Liaison for Michigan, USA, and then Atlantic Canada. In 2008, she became a member of the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) and is currently the Administrator of Leader Accreditation for LLL Canada.  She is also the Contributing Editor of the “Preparing for Leadership” column in Leader Today.
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