Natural Family Planning: Flood of research supports breastfeeding

I can’t remember anything like this.  I have on my desk eight breastfeeding studies published between September 6 and November 27 2019.  Sheila Kippley will be reviewing these more thoroughly next year when she does her annual review of breastfeeding research.  So for the purposes of this blog, I simply want to point out that breastfeeding is so important that every program designed for young people from adolescence to marriage preparation and/or baptism should be encouraging breastfeeding.  And not just breastfeeding but Exclusive Breastfeeding for the first six months.  And further, not just Exclusive Breastfeeding for six months but Ecological Breastfeeding for one to two or more years as Pope John Paul II recommended.  Yes, in 1995, the Pope co-hosted a Vatican conference on breastfeeding and endorsed the recommendations of WHO and UNICEF for breastfeeding one or two years and beyond. 

The September 6 research showed that breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact in the first six days causes a significant reduction in Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID).  A previous study showed that 29% of SUIDs occurred in the first six days; breastfeeding is a significant help for maintaining life.

On October 2 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a report on the environmental hazards of manufacturing baby formulas and concluded with a very strong recommendation for doing Exclusive Breastfeeding for six months.  The next day, a commentary in News-Medical made the main points of the BMJ report stand out.  For example: If all mothers in the UK alone did Exclusive Breastfeeding, that “would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to reducing road traffic by 50,000 to 70,000 cars each year.”

Later in October, a UNICEF report lamented that one-third of children under age five are malnourished…while two thirds are at risk of malnutrition and hidden hunger because of the poor quality of their diets.  Further, only 2 in 5 infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed as recommended.  One conclusion is this: “Breastfeeding cold save the lives of 820,000 children annually worldwide.”

On October 16, JAMA Network Open published an important review.  From the summary: “Breastfeeding for more than 12 months was associated with a relative risk reduction of 30% for diabetes and a relative risk reduction of 13% for hypertension.”  I love two-for-one benefits.  If mom takes care of her baby in this way, then she gets a big benefit as well.

On November 7, a report from the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology showed that vaginal delivery and breastfeeding lessen the number of new allergy and asthma cases in children up to the age of 18 years. 

November 24: A report posted by SDD Contributor (sic) was headlined “Breastfeeding may protect mothers against depression in later life.”  A couple details: “The risk of depression decreased by 29 per cent for each additional infant breastfed and by 9.3 per cent for each additional year of breastfeeding.”  Also, “Women who breastfed for at least 47 months had 67 per cent decreased risk of depression, compared to those less than 24 months.”  This was a report on an original article in the Journal of Affective Disorders

November 27 from the International Breastfeeding Journal.  This report emphasizes some of the things in the October BMJ article but with a special emphasis on Asia, Australia and New Zealand.   From the summary: “A  ground-breaking study in 2016 showed emissions [from the manufacture of baby formulas] from just six Asia Pacific countries were equivalent to 6 billion miles of car travel.”  The first sentence in the summary conclusion: “Formula feeding is a maladaptive practice in the face of contemporary global environmental and population health challenges.”

I have to admit that claims about the World Environment tend to leave me feeling either somewhat skeptical or helpless.  Call that the Macro-Environment.  But what is reported about mother-baby breastfeeding relationship—a Micro-Environment—makes sense.  Such studies report on the real experience of babies and mothers.

The emphasis in these studies is on Exclusive Breastfeeding for six months.  A problem with that emphasis is that Exclusive Breastfeeding studies show that only about half of such breastfeeding  mothers remain without periods for six months and many will lose their milk supply in that time.  The good news is that Exclusive Breastfeeding for six months (or more) is only one of the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding.  The key to Ecological Breastfeeding is frequent nursing according to the Seven Standards, and these Standards are simply maternal behaviors that keep mother and baby together and allow the baby to suckle frequently.  Mothers who continue to do Ecological Breastfeeding will experience, on average, 14 to 15 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea (no periods).  And such mothers will use exactly ZERO ounces of manufactured baby formulas.

All of the above leads to this conclusion:  Every NFP program and every pre-marriage program and every pre-baptism class should promote and teaching Ecological Breastfeeding.  Striving to do our best for the Micro-Environment of mother and baby will automatically be the best also for the Macro-Environment.

John F. Kippley



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