5. Ecological Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

Here is some of the natural baby spacing research in certain areas of the world. Among the Canadian Eskimos, traditional breastfeeding spaced births naturally. Conception, not childbirth, occurred at 20 to 30 months postpartum due to traditional breastfeeding. When the trading posts came to the Canadian Eskimos, the Eskimo mothers were introduced to the bottle. The use of the bottle among breastfeeding Eskimo mothers reduced the frequency and duration of breastfeeding, and these mothers were now conceiving 2 to 4 months after childbirth.  In fact, the closer the mothers lived to the trading posts, the sooner their babies came. They completely lost the natural spacing they previously had through traditional breastfeeding.

Dr. Otto Schaefer, one of the two doctors who did much of the fertility research among the Canadian Eskimos, attended an Eskimo women’s conference, and it was the first time he heard the mothers complaining because babies were coming rather quickly. With traditional breastfeeding, babies were well spaced and families averaged 3 to 4 children.  From this experience, Dr. Schaefer taught that 1) “breastfeeding had a greater influence on the life and health of infants than any other single factor,” and 2) that “the traditional Inuit custom of breastfeeding until the age of three years…provided an effective type of birth control,” and 3) that “lactation allowed for a desirable spacing of children.”  

Dr. Schaefer published in 1971, and our first work was published in 1972. A number of studies have corroborated these findings.

In a 1974 Rwanda study, different groups of breastfeeding mothers had different conception rates. In the rural areas 75% of breastfeeding women conceived between 24 and 29 months postpartum, while in the city 75% of the mothers were conceiving between 6 and 15 months postpartum. According to the researchers, the reason the rural mothers conceived much later was due to the fact that they remained with their babies while the city mothers were developing nursing patterns closer to Western cultural nursing and leaving their babies with others.

In 1976 Dr. R. V. Short of Scotland stated: “Throughout the world as a whole, more births are prevented by lactation than all other forms of contraception put together.”  He continued his studies of certain tribes and mammals and in 1984 concluded that frequent nursing is the norm, that is, that the frequent suckling stimulus is the “crucial” factor for postpartum infertility.

In 1980 Konner and Worthman reported that a tribe living in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa had a natural birth spacing of 44 months due to their mothering and frequent nursing pattern. On average, the mothers in this study were conceiving 35 months postpartum. The babies of this non-contraceptive tribe remained physically close to their mothers day and night during their first two years. The researchers concluded that frequent breastfeeding was the likely key to the child spacing of these people.

In 1985, Dr. James Wood at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center studied a New Guinea people, the Gainj, where the child nursed day and night and always slept with his mother. The breastfeeding episodes were short and frequent. These people did not practice contraception or abortion. Their average birth interval was 44 months with an average family size of 4.3 children.

From July 19th to the evening of August 7th (NFP Awareness Week through World Breastfeeding Week) anyone can purchase the following printed books at a 40% discount at lulu:
Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach (coil edition preferred for learners)
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor
Battle-Scarred: Justice Can Be Elusive
Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

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