Ecological Breastfeeding - Why is breastfeeding best for babies?

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for a baby, and, most importantly, a baby thrives emotionally with the repeated close contact with his mother that breastfeeding provides.  Of course breastfed babies get sick occasionally, but statistically there is no debate:  breastfed babies are healthier.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org), The American Academy of Family Physicians (aafp.org), and the United States Breastfeeding Committee (usbreastfeeding.org) report specific health benefits for breastfed children.  The list below and continued on page two is compiled from the websites of these three organizations.  Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of the following diseases for babies and children.

  • allergies      
  • autoimmune thyroid disease 
  • asthma
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • bacterial meningitis
  • lymphoma      
  • botulism
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • necrotizing enterocolitis
  • diarrhea
  • obesity
  • ear infections
  • respiratory tract infections
  • eczema
  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • gastroenteritis
  • ulcerative colitis     
  • leukemia
  • type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • urinary tract infections

Compared to those who are not breastfed, breastfed children

  • stay in the hospital fewer days as premature infants,
  • have a more mature infant intestinal tract, 
  • have a better immune system and a better response to vaccinations, 
  • have fewer sick days,
  • score higher on visual acuity tests, and
  • score higher on cognitive and IQ tests at school age.

Ecological Breastfeeding 

What is ecological breastfeeding?

Ecological breastfeeding is that form of nursing in which the mother fulfills her baby’s needs for frequent suckling and her full-time presence and in which the child’s frequent suckling postpones the return of the mother’s fertility. Ecological breastfeeding, or eco-breastfeeding, involves frequent and unrestricted nursing day and night and is characterized in practice by the Seven Standards.

 When a mother does eco-breastfeeding, she uses her breasts both to nourish and comfort her baby.  She does not use bottles or pacifiers.  She keeps her baby with her and sleeps with her baby.  She follows the natural cues from her baby and nurses frequently.  She exclusively breastfeeds for the first 6 months, and then (within a month or two) gradually offers other appropriate foods while continuing to nurse frequently.  

What is the difference between exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding in the first six months?  

The biggest difference is the frequency of nursing.  Exclusive breastfeeding does not exclude pacifiers and some other aspects of cultural nursing.  As you will see below, eco-breastfeeding involves frequent nursing day and night.

Many mothers who exclusively breastfeed have an early return of menstruation because they do not nurse frequently enough to inhibit the menstrual cycle.  Most breastfeeding mothers need frequent nursing day and night to keep the reproductive cycle at rest.  Ecological breastfeeding usually provides the amount of nursing necessary to inhibit the menstrual cycles and normally provides an average of more than a year of natural infertility.

How does ecological breastfeeding compare with exclusive breast-feeding for maintaining natural infertility?

Think of ecological breastfeeding as a pie.  This pie has 7 pieces that are needed for extended breastfeeding infertility.  Exclusive breastfeeding is one piece of the pie, but you also need the other six pieces for extended natural infertility.  Each piece is important for the frequent suckling that keeps the reproductive cycle at rest.  

Is ecological breastfeeding associated with extended breastfeeding infertility?

Yes.  Ecological breastfeeding is the only pattern of breastfeeding that is associated with extended natural infertility.   American mothers who do ecological breastfeeding experience 14 to 15 months of amenorrhea (absence of periods) on the average.  The vast majority of American mothers (70%) who do ecological breastfeeding will have their first postpartum period between 9 and 20 months postpartum.  Some breastfeeding mothers will go two or three years without any menstruation, and this is a normal, healthy situation for them.

Why do mothers practice ecological breastfeeding?

The primary reason is that eco-breastfeeding normally gives babies and mothers alike more of the dose-related blessings of breastfeeding.  It does this by maintaining the milk supply for an extended time and by suppressing ovulation and menstruation.                                      

A second reason is the conviction that God Himself created woman and baby in such a way as to enjoy these benefits.  Many who share this conviction practice ecological breastfeeding because they believe it is God’s own plan for baby care and baby spacing that He has “revealed” in the Book of Nature.

A third reason to practice eco-breastfeeding is to accept the natural infertility that God has built into this natural form of baby care. In the rest of this chapter you will be reading so much about the extended infertility of eco-breastfeeding that it may seem that we are making that the primary reason for this kind of baby care.  Not so. 

In summary, we see three reasons why mothers do eco-breastfeeding: practical health and emotional benefits for both mother and baby, religious conviction, and natural infertility.

How does breastfeeding postpone the return of fertility?

Frequent and unrestricted nursing by the baby day and night usually keeps the mother’s reproductive cycle at rest for a considerable time after childbirth.  As breastfeeding decreases, eventually the mother’s fertility returns.

Why do some people say that breastfeeding doesn’t space babies?

 Ignorance and fear play a significant role in negative talk about breastfeeding as a baby spacer.  Most people in the elite circles of education, medicine and politics are uninformed about breastfeeding as a natural baby spacer.  Among those who are familiar with natural child spacing via breastfeeding, many remain silent when an opportunity presents itself.  Some persons may believe that breastfeeding is not politically correct—even in Church circles.  Also, breast milk is not a product which produces immediate money for someone.

God’s way of baby spacing through breastfeeding needs advocates.  The benefits of breastfeeding have been researched and researched and new benefits are added each year.  With regard to breastfeeding being a natural baby spacer, there is no scientific doubt on this issue.  

Why do many nursing mothers have an early return of fertility? 

The primary reason is that they do not follow the frequent nursing pattern of eco-breastfeeding.  Many breastfeeding mothers offer early supplements and use pacifiers or bottles and strict schedules; these practices have long been associated with an early return of fertility.

On the other hand, natural child spacing has been demonstrated in certain areas of the world where mothers at one time breastfed for an extended length of time.  Among the Canadian Eskimos, traditional breastfeeding kept the Eskimo family small—three or four children.  Conception occurred among the traditional breastfeeding Eskimo mothers at 20 to 30 months after childbirth.  The use of the bottle among breastfeeding Eskimo mothers, however, reduced the frequency and duration of breastfeeding, and these mothers were conceiving 2 to 4 months after childbirth.

Mother-baby togetherness is important for natural child spacing.  In a Rwanda study, breastfeeding mothers had different conception rates depending on their lifestyles, but the bottle-feeding mothers’ conception rates were the same, whether the mothers lived in the city or in the country.  Why the difference in conception rates among the breastfeeding mothers?  Seventy-five percent (75%) of the city breastfeeding mothers conceived between 6 and 15 months after childbirth, while 75% of the rural breastfeeding mothers conceived between 24 and 29 months after childbirth.  According to the researchers, the reason the country mothers conceived much later was due to the amount of physical contact these mothers had with their babies.  The country mothers remained with their babies while the city mothers were leaving their babies with others.

The frequency of breastfeeding,, short intervals between feedings, and night feedings,— all these factors have been proven to be extremely important for natural child spacing.

Because the research is so substantial, we believe that those involved with natural family planning, the family, the health of our nation, and the Church should teach the important health and baby-spacing benefits of ecological breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for all these reasons should especially be promoted among the poor. As Dr. Ruth Lawrence says: 

Breastfeeding is the most precious gift a mother can give her infant.

If there is illness or infection, it may be a life-saving gift.

If there is poverty, it may be the only gift. 

What is the ecological breastfeeding rule?

The ecological breastfeeding rule is this: Satisfy your baby’s needs for frequent suckling and your full-time presence by following the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding.  Each Standard is important and should be followed.  Each Standard helps to provide the frequent and unrestricted nursing day and night that is needed for long-term natural infertility.

What are the SEVEN STANDARDS of ecological breastfeeding?

  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.

    What are the two keys to breastfeeding’s natural infertility?

    The two keys are mother-baby togetherness and frequent suckling.

    How does ecological breastfeeding affect fertility during the first three months after childbirth?

    There is an almost zero chance of pregnancy if—

    • the baby is not yet three months old
    • the mother is following the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding
    • the mother has no vaginal bleeding after the first 8 weeks postpartum. (She can ignore any bleeding during the first 56 days after childbirth.)      

    We have been teaching ecological breastfeeding for over 40 years.  In that time we have not seen a charted fertile ovulation or pregnancy during the first three months when the mother followed the Seven Standards.  

    How does ecological breastfeeding affect fertility during the 4th, 5th, and 6th months after childbirth? 

    There is less than a 1% chance of pregnancy when these three conditions are present:

    • the baby is not yet six months old
    • the mother is following the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding
    • the mother has had no vaginal bleeding after the first eight weeks.

    When a mother provides 1) all of her baby’s nourishment at the breast and 2) the greater part of his other suckling needs at her breast, the mother will usually experience the side effect of natural infertility and breastfeeding amenorrhea during the first 6 months.  

    Can breastfeeding infertility continue once solids are gradually intro-duced after the baby turns 6 months of age?

    Yes.  The baby usually begins other foods between 6 and 8 months of age, but this does not mean that breastfeeding decreases.  The baby is bigger and will continue to nurse often.  Frequent and unrestricted nursing usually continues to provide natural infertility for the mother even though the baby has begun taking some other foods.  At first, solids are only a supplement to breastfeeding, not a replacement.

    Once other foods are introduced after six months, aren’t there only Six Standards of ecological breastfeeding?

    Yes.  The First Standard of “exclusive breastfeeding” no longer applies once the baby is taking other foods. 

    Do the Six Standards still provide natural infertility after six months postpartum?

    Yes.  The type of mothering and breastfeeding provided by ecological breastfeeding can continue to provide natural infertility even though solids are given to an older baby.  An older baby of increasing size and appetite will begin to take other food and may still continue to nurse at the breast just as much as before.  

    If you had 100 mothers doing long-term ecological breastfeeding, this group would average 14.5 months without any periods.  Obviously, on the average these mothers have another 8 months of amenorrhea with the Six Standards in addition to the first 6 months of amenorrhea with the Seven Standards.  

    How long do amenorrhea and natural infertility last for the ecological breastfeeding mother?

    The length of natural infertility varies among mothers doing ecological breastfeeding.  It is normal for a breastfeeding mother to go one or two years without any menstruation if she is doing ecological breastfeeding.  Some even go for three years or more.  In the research done by Sheila Kippley, three mothers reported they experienced 41, 41, and 42 postpartum months without menstruation.   These mothers were not included in her published research.    There are also a few (about 7%) who experience menstruation or spotting prior to six months postpartum.  

    Our two studies showed that eco-breastfeeding mothers averaged 14.5 months without any menstrual periods.  We also found that 93% of the mothers doing eco-breastfeeding were without menstruation at 6 months, 56% were without menstruation at 12 months and 34% were still without menstruation at 18 months.  This is why ecological breastfeeding is known to be a natural baby spacer.  

    Can a nursing mother become pregnant during amenorrhea?

    Yes.  Some mothers ovulate before their first postpartum period, but only about 6% become pregnant before they menstruate.  This assumes they ignore the normal signs of fertility and do not abstain during the fertile time before the first postpartum menstrual period.

    Can a couple use breastfeeding alone to space their babies?   

    Yes.  Many couples can use ecological breastfeeding alone to space their babies.  If a couple needs further spacing between babies, they can switch to systematic NFP to determine the return of fertility and the fertile time during each cycle.  

    What are some common cultural practices that shorten breastfeeding or the time of natural infertility?

    Some of the following practices of baby care can reduce or eliminate breastfeeding’s normal side effect of natural infertility.

    • Offering solids to a baby less than six months of age.
    • Offering other liquids as a substitute for breast milk during the early months of life.
    • Using bottles.
    • Using pacifiers.  Pacifiers can shorten the time of mother’s infertility.
    • Not taking a nap once during the day when nursing the baby to sleep.  A short nap gives the mother a better disposition during the remainder of the day. The natural spacing mechanism seems to work best when the mother is relaxed and at rest.
    • Not sleeping with the baby during the night.  Babies who sleep next to their mother at night nurse three times more than babies who sleep separately from their mother.
    • Encouraging the baby to sleep through the night.  Going a long time without nursing during the night may end the mother’s infertility.
    • Encouraging the baby to go a long time between feedings or having the baby      on a nursing schedule.        
    • Not providing opportunities for non-nutritive suckling.
    • Leaving the baby at home when mother goes out.
    • Relying on other equipment or gadgets or family members to keep the baby occupied so the mother can delay nursing the baby.  Or the mother walks, rocks, or tries to distract the baby to avoid nursing her baby at that time.

    Some mothers claim they did ecological breastfeeding, but their menstruation returned early.  Can you explain this?

    First, we did a study of the few mothers who wrote saying they did eco-breastfeeding but their menstrual cycles returned quite early.  All said their menstrual cycles returned at about three months postpartum.  None of these mothers followed Standard Five for ecological breastfeeding.  Standard Five requires the mother to take a nap with her baby and nurse her baby while doing so.  So at least one of the Standards was omitted.  Since we started to give more emphasis to each of the Seven Standards, these comments from nursing mothers have been almost non-existent.  

    Secondly, perhaps some mothers do not nurse their babies frequently enough.  At a breastfeeding conference, a group of breastfeeding leaders all agreed that the mothers who claimed eco-breastfeeding did not produce natural infertility probably did not nurse often enough.  The early-return mothers were observed to not nurse their babies in situations where most nursing moms would put the baby to breast.  They would walk their babies or do other things to delay nursing them.

    How long should a mother nurse her baby?

    The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Pope John Paul II have encouraged mothers to nurse their babies for at least two years.  If that goal is unappealing to some couples or mothers, they should consider the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).  The AAP encourages American mothers to nurse for at least one year or longer if desired.

    What if a mother cannot nurse exclusively for a full six months?

    Any amount of exclusive breastfeeding is better than partial breastfeeding.  Likewise, continued partial breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding.   Nursing mothers find themselves in different situations.  Our society should support any kind of breastfeeding that the mother is able to do.  Unfortunately our culture does very little to support and encourage breastfeeding, especially exclusive and ecological breastfeeding.

    How does one wean a breastfed baby?

    Gradually and at the baby’s timing and pace.  Many mothers enjoy the nursing relationship they have with their baby and continue to breastfeed for a year or more after solids foods are gradually introduced.  However, there are exceptions.  There are a few situations where the nursing is not going very well for the mother of an older baby, say a two-year-old, and the mother will find breastfeeding is no longer peaceful and will decide to gradually wean.  A few mothers may not enjoy breastfeeding and will aim to breastfeed for only a certain amount of time.  We know and admire a mother who did not enjoy breastfeeding but nursed each child for 18 months for their health.  Every breastfeeding situation is different.  

    How can a mother learn how to practice eco-breastfeeding?

    The primary source book is The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor by Sheila Kippley.  This text provides information to show how the Seven Standards space babies. See additional resources in Recommended Reading.

     

     

    Attention should be given to the positive benefits of breastfeeding for nourishment and disease prevention in infants as well as for maternal bonding and birth spacing.

    —John Paul II, Address to International Conference on Population and Development, March 18, 1994.

    Sources

    2 Sheila Kippley, “Review of Breastfeeding Infertility Research up to 1972,” Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, 2nd edition (New York: Harper & Row, 1974, and Penguin Books, 1975).  Available at www.nfpandmore.org.

    3 Gerald Hankins, Sunrise Over Pangnirtung: The Story of Otto Schaefer, M.D. (Calgary, Alberta: The Arctic Institute of North America of the University of Calgary, 2000) 192.

    . J. Hildes and O. Schaefer, “Health of Igloolik Eskimos and Changes with Urbanization.” Paper presented at the Circumpolar Health Symposium, Oulu, Finland, June 1971.

    . M. Bonte, et al., “Influence of the Socio-Economic Level on the Conception Rate During Lactation,” International Journal of Fertility, 19 (1974) 97-102.

    . J. Wood, “Lactation and Birth Spacing,” Journal of Biosocial Science, Supplement, 9 (1985) 159. 

    7 M. Konner and C. Worthman, “Nursing Frequency, Gonadal Function, and Birth-Spacing Among !Kung Hunter-Gatherers,” Science (February 15, 1980) 788. 

    . W. Taylor, W. Smith, and S. Samuels, “Post-Partum Anovulation in Nursing Mothers,” Journal of Tropical Pediatrics (December 1991) 286-292.

    . Peter Howie, “Synopsis of Research on Breastfeeding and Fertility,” Breastfeeding and Natural Family Planning (Bethesda, Maryland: KM Associates, 1986). 

    . M. Elias, et al., “Nursing Practices and Lactation Amenorrhea,” Journal of Biosocial Science, January 1986. 

    . Ruth A. Lawrence, “The Eradication of Poverty: One Child at a Time through Breastfeeding,” Breastfeeding Medicine, October 22, 2007.  Article is available at www.nfpandmore.org

    . Sheila and John Kippley, “The Relation Between Breastfeeding and Amenorrhea: Report of a Survey,” JOGN Nursing (November/December 1972) 15-21. Also “The Spacing of Babies with Ecological Breastfeeding,” International Review (Spring/Summer 1989) 107-116.  Available at www.nfpandmore.org.

    13 L. Remfry, “The Effects of Lactation on Menstruation and Pregnation,” Transactions of the Obstetrical Society of London, 38 (1897), 22-27.  Also Konald A. Prem, “Post-Partum Ovulation,” Unpublished paper presented at the La Leche League International Conference, Chicago, July 1971.  Both articles are available at www.nfpandmore.org
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