Natural Family Planning: Research in the Home

“God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws (Humanae Vitae, n.11).

To draw attention to Natural Family Planning Week (July 22-28, 2007), I am blogging daily on breastfeeding and natural child spacing.

In my blog yesterday I explained how God led me through certain events to give me a basis for the ministry of promoting natural child spacing through breastfeeding. His guidance became even clearer by the changes that took place in my mothering practices. These changes were an important step in my discovery of breastfeeding as a natural baby spacer.

Why did my mothering practices change?
While my research began in the medical library, the real “research” began in our home. I am convinced that God had a hand in the weird events that developed about a year before my research began. He was teaching me there was another way to take care of our second baby. Of course, I did not see it that way at the time. I don’t remember the order of these events, but will mention four major events that occurred early after childbirth with our second baby that changed my, and later John’s, views about parenting.

First, I was very much a part of our culture. I was adamantly opposed to sleeping with the baby. Our first baby had a crib in a separate room. I remember becoming very upset when I came home and found my sister and our first baby, now older, sleeping together on the top of our bed. My La Leche League leader encouraged me to sleep with both my babies as I am sure I often complained to her about how tired I was after each birth. I refused to follow her advice. For some reason I thought sleeping with a baby was very dangerous.

One afternoon I was nursing our second daughter before placing her in the crib. I awoke three hours later to find her still at the breast. I was so exhausted I had fallen asleep on the top of our bed. What surprised me was how rested I felt and our baby was safe! That afternoon was the beginning of a different kind of parenting for us. For me sleeping with the baby allowed the baby to nurse at will and it gave me the rest I needed.

Co-sharing sleep is an advantage when breastfeeding. People who are opposed to having baby in bed with the parents don’t realize the dangers of nursing a baby during the night in a chair. Oftentimes the mother falls asleep and awakes scared because she almost dropped the baby. This happened to me. Sitting up also restricts the nursing due to the mother’s fatigue. It did for me. I was tired and tried to get the sleeping baby off the breast as soon as possible so I could get back to bed myself. Or the room was cold and I was anxious to get back into a warm bed. There is a big difference in the amount of suckling at the breast when the mother sits up at night to nurse as contrasted to nursing the baby in bed. In addition, more babies die in their own cribs. A SIDS death while co-sleeping is almost unheard of if the situation is normal and proper precautions are taken. By normal situation, I mean the baby is with the mother and not the boyfriend or some other person, and the nursing mother is not a smoker and is not drugged or morbidly obese or incapacitated in some way.

Second, in the early Sixties the University of California dental faculty at San Francisco recommended only one brand of pacifier for good oral health. This pacifier, however, caused a rash around our second baby’s mouth, so I discarded it. With our first baby we used a pacifier constantly. We did not use a pacifier with our last four children. It’s unfortunate today that most parents believe that their baby needs a pacifier. What babies really need is that extra suckling from their mother’s breast.

Third, God led us to a new Catholic obstetrician with our second baby. He was faithful to Church teaching and encouraged the use of the thermometer for family planning. He did not recommend the thermometer to me however, because he knew I wanted to breastfeed. He told me to breastfeed exclusively and to call him when I had my first period. It was July and hot at the time. I remember asking him if I could give the baby water. His response was that my milk was adequate for the baby. He stressed that I was not to give the baby water or anything else.

His advice was so different from the first Catholic obstetrician I had who told me I would have a period within three months after childbirth no matter how I nursed my baby. I thought this first doctor was correct because I did have a period within three months after childbirth with my first baby. At the time I did not realize that this doctor was not properly informed. For several reasons I had to search for another Catholic obstetrician with the birth of our second child. I am very grateful for his “exclusive breastfeeding” advice. Our baby took to solids gradually at eight months of age and my first period returned at twelve months postpartum.

Fourth, while I nursed our first baby frequently, I used an occasional bottle. Exclusive breastfeeding our second baby brought changes. I never used a bottle for her or our other children. In addition, my mothering lifestyle changed. I went from mother-baby separation to mother-baby togetherness. If I had to be somewhere, I picked up our baby and went. We also went from the lifestyle of using babysitters for our first baby to never using a babysitter for our other babies. When we began our family, my husband believed it was best to expose the baby to many babysitters. He too changed and felt baby was best with mother. In America you are unusual when you adopt a lifestyle of mother-baby togetherness. This major change in my mothering, taking the baby with me, was completely new to me; I knew no one else who did this. But it was a necessary step toward breastfeeding infertility.

With our first baby, my periods returned within three months after childbirth. With our second baby my first period returned when she was a year old. Why the difference? I attended La Leche League meetings while nursing my two babies. At those meetings you learn to nurse your baby often day and night in order to have an ample supply of milk. The main difference was that I had changed how I cared for our baby. With exclusive breastfeeding and baby-skin irritation from a pacifier, I quit using bottles and pacifiers. Taking the baby with me whenever I left the house also allowed for more nursing if needed. In addition, co-sharing sleep allowed for frequent and unrestricted nursing all during the night as needed. The main benefit for me was that nursing was one thing I could do in my sleep and I was well rested in the morning.

I am very grateful I learned a natural form of mothering and began to realize it is the kind of mothering that one does that primarily influences whether or not a mother will experience natural child spacing.

For those wanting scientific support and safe guidelines for co-sharing sleep, go to “Links” at our website (“Safe bedsharing for mother and baby” and “Reactions to the AAP’s Policy Statement on SIDS”)

Tomorrow: The Specifics of Natural Child Spacing

Sheila Kippley
NFP International
Author: Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood (Sophia, 2005)
Natural Family Planning: TheQuestion-Answer Book (e-book
at this website, 2005)

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