Edwina Froehlich, La Leche Co-Founder, Dies at 93

June 17, 2008

Edwina Froehlich, who helped found La Leche League to support breast-feeding, died earlier this month at the age of 93.

The organization was founded in the 1950s, when Froehlich and six other women met in Franklin Park, Ill., to share information on how to successfully breastfeed their babies.

“In those days you didn’t mention ‘breast’ in print,” Froehlich once said. “We knew that if we were ever going to get anything in the paper we would have to find a name that wouldn’t actually tell people what our organization was about.”

From The New York Times:

A pioneer on several fronts of motherhood, she worked for Young Christian Workers, a Roman Catholic lay organization, before marrying John Froehlich when she was in her early 30s. She had her first child a couple of years later, making her comparatively old to have a first child at the time, and she made the controversial decision to forgo giving birth in a hospital in favor of a more natural delivery in her Franklin Park, Ill., home, with an obstetrician attending.

At a time when most pediatricians encouraged formula and bottle-feeding and when there were few scientific studies demonstrating the health benefits of breast milk, Mrs. Froehlich chose to breast-feed all of her babies, said another La Leche founder, Mary White.

“We used to tell the mothers the three main obstacles to successful breast-feeding were doctors, hospitals and social pressure,” Mrs. White said.

As Rachel noted yesterday, some hospitals, particularly in the south, are still engaging in practices that are not considered supportive of breastfeeding …

Update: The Dallas Morning News calls Edwina Froehlich a feminist pioneer in today’s editorial, which also describes regional prejudices against breastfeeding:

Local breastfeeding activists say many Texans think of the breast only in sexual terms, hence the anxiety over public breastfeeding. State law grants the right to breastfeed in public, but it has never been tested in court. And the risk of public humiliation is a powerful incentive to stay closeted.

That must change, and will. Even so, countless women are more free, and their babies better off, because a 1950s suburban mom refused to accept that one of the most natural things in the world is shameful or retrograde. Edwina Froehlich was ahead of her time.

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