“Hung up” on Breastfeeding?

I feel certain that more than one reader has wondered why we seem to be so “hung up” on breastfeeding.  If that applies to you, this might be helpful.

For years, Sheila has been getting “Google Alerts” regarding breastfeeding research.  Sometimes she makes an immediate comment in the NFPI blogs.  Next, at the start of each calendar year, she reviews all the breastfeeding research she had filed for the preceding year.

Breastfeeding’s value regarding Crohn’s disease (CD).  Friends have a granddaughter who has suffered much with it.  She is a young girl in her primary grades.  Repeated surgeries.  Slow healing, then another round.  But in God’s plan, this is not statistically inevitable.  Recent research indicates that it is a preventable disease.  In September 2017, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported that “The longer an infant was breastfed — especially 12 months or more — the greater the decrease that was seen in [Crohn’s] disease risk, a decline observed by comparing [the] disease in people reporting long-duration breastfeeding to those breastfed for three or six months.”  (L. Xu, P. Lochhead, et al.  “Systematic review with meta-analysis: breastfeeding and the risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis,” Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 11 Sep 2017 online)

A December 2017 research report: “In third world countries where breastfeeding is an economic necessity, Crohn’s disease (CD) is literally un-documented until the imposition of a western diet. Taken in totality, the data in evidence makes the case that Crohn’s disease is a preventable disease entity.”  It concluded that current science makes it “an ethical imperative” to inform pregnant women about this information so they can “make a fully informed decision” about whether to breastfeed their babies.  (Gilles, RG Monif, “Prevention of Crohn’s Disease by Breastfeeding,” Infectious Diseases Inc GA, 5 Dec 2017)

In October 2018, researchers concluded that “early life environmental influences may offer the greatest potential to alter susceptibility to CD risk and behavior.” (Breastfeeding can limit Crohn’s progression in children, Lindoso L, et al. Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;doi:10.1038/s41395-018-0239-9)

Protection against Crohn’s disease is only one of many health benefits for babies.  In our user’s manual, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach, we list 21 specific diseases against which breastfeeding offers significant protection.  Research also shows at least eight other general conditions showing the benefits of breast-feeding to children even as they grow older—such as scoring higher on cognitive and IQ tests at school age.

Very importantly, mothers also gain significant benefits from breastfeedingWe would not be surprised if you know someone who has dealt with breast cancer.  Every October we see lots of pink and talk about finding the “Cure” for this disease.  The old adage applies here: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Note this quote from a 2002 study involving more than 147,000 women:

“The relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every twelve months of breastfeeding in addition to a decrease of 7 percent for each birth.”  Also, women in the United States could reduce their breast cancer rate by 42 percent “solely by the longer duration of breastfeeding.” (Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis…” Lancet 360, 9328, p 187-195, July 20, 2002)

Breastfeeding also reduces a mother’s risk for ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, thyroid cancer, anemia, diabetes, heart disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis.  In the latter case, breastfeeding reduces the risk of a hip fracture even much later in life.  It sounds almost unbelievable, but that’s what the research tells us.  There is no drug or vaccine—cheap or costly—that can provide all these health benefits.

Breastfeeding research continuesOur NFPI weekly blogs cite 37 research studies published in 2019, up from 29 in 2018 and 26 in 2017.  We keep our readers informed.

God provides these benefits to mothers who are willing to breastfeed frequently and for at least one year, and the results are even better with two years.  For years we have focused on the mother and baby micro- environment, but we recently learned that what we teach about this micro-environment also affects the macro-environment, as follows:

On October 2, 2019, the British Medical Journal startled readers with this headline: Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative.  The BMJ report described the environmental hazards of manufacturing baby formulas and then described some of the health benefits of “exclusive breastfeeding” (nothing but mother’s milk) for the first six months.  In this study, researchers show that helping mothers in the UK alone to exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months “would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to reducing road traffic by 50,000 to 77,500 cars each year.” (Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative. Naomi Joffe, Flic Webster, and Natalie Shenker. BMJ 2019;366:l5646.doi: 10.1136/bmj.l5646)

None of this implies that a child or an adult will be unhealthy if not breastfed.  Neither Sheila or I was breastfed, and we both enjoy excellent health.  On the other hand, I probably would be dead if I had not had excellent medical care a few times.

The facts are simple.  There is no question that breastfeeding is the best form of baby care and that many of the benefits of breastfeeding are dose-related. Thus, a longer duration of breastfeeding confers more benefits.  There is also no question that Ecological Breastfeeding is the most health-supporting pattern because it maintains the milk supply.

Individual situations can be complex.  The two-income culture does not support the frequent nursing of Ecological Breastfeeding.  Within the Church, knowledge about Ecological Breastfeeding or even breastfeeding-in-general is rarely promoted, even within the NFP movement and marriage-preparation programs.

Yet, Sheila and I and a few others are convinced that everyone has a God-given right to know these things about the way God made us.

So, to tie this up, if you have ever wondered why we are “hung up” on breastfeeding and especially Ecological Breastfeeding, now you know.

Please pray that every pastor soon realizes that he should enable couples to learn these aspects of human life well before they start their marriages.

John F. Kippley


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