8. Natural Family Planning: Preparation for Marriage and What Couples Have a Right to Know

7.  The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: a natural way of spacing babies.  There are different patterns of breastfeeding, and all of them have a certain amount of value because of the inherent values of breast milk and the breastfeeding process.

With regard to breastfeeding and baby spacing, distinctions are critical.  In the Western world, common cultural breastfeeding patterns typically do NOT space babies.  Ecological breastfeeding, however, does provide a natural spacing of babies because it is a pattern of mother-baby closeness and frequent nursing.  Frequent suckling maintains the milk supply; frequent suckling also suppresses ovulation.  There is still confusion about this, and that’s why “breastfeeding and natural baby spacing” needs to be taught in terms of the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding.  These Standards are maternal behaviors that encourage frequent nursing.  As you will see in the following list, some of them are positive and some are negative.  However, all of them are contrary to common Western cultural nursing patterns.  The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding are as follows:

1.  Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don’t offer your baby other liquids and solids, not even water.
2.  Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
3.  Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers.
4.  Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
5.  Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
6.  Nurse frequently day and night and avoid schedules.
7.  Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.

All seven standards are evidence based.  That is, published research demonstrates that each of these behaviors is associated with increased nursing.

It is highly inadequate to talk only about continued or extended breastfeeding as if that would provide the spacing many couples desire.  That language takes us back to fifty years ago when an international breastfeeding organization was saying that what they called “total breastfeeding” had a baby-spacing effect.  The problem is that such language says nothing about the importance of frequency.  My wife  and other nursing mothers noticed that there was a significant variation in the duration of breastfeeding amenorrhea—the absence of periods due to breastfeeding—among mothers doing “total breastfeeding.”  Some mothers would have a first period at three or four months postpartum while others would go for a year or more, and they wondered why.  Sheila was asked to research this, so she did.

Her research was first published in a nursing journal in 1972, and it showed that American mothers who followed the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeed went an average of 14.6 months before they had their first period.  She also found that the duration of amenorrhea more or less follows a normal distribution curve with 7% having a first period by six months and 33% still in amenorrhea at 18 months.  A second, much larger study published some years later found an almost identical average of 14.5 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea among American mothers.  More recently Sheila found independent research that supports each of the Seven Standards and published this in her book, The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor.  All the standards are important.  Drop any one standard and the odds are that fertility will soon return.

There are two great advantages of Ecological Breastfeeding.  First, it maximizes the benefits of breastfeeding-in-general.  It maintains the milk supply and the baby gets all the health benefits intended by our Creator.

Second, it is a natural way of spacing babies.  Some couples use Ecological Breastfeeding as their only form of child spacing, while others will use Systematic NFP when fertility returns if they need additional spacing.  Among providentialist couples who want to let babies come as they may, it is imperative that they be well instructed about Ecological Breastfeeding because it is clearly God’s own plan for spacing babies.

John F. Kippley
To be continued next week —

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