Melinda Gates on birth control and saving babies

Billionaires get attention especially when they do something they claim is for the good of the little people.  Thus Melinda Gates got a one-third page story in the first section of the Wall Street Journal for May 11-12, 2013 (Travels Changed Gates’s view on Global Birth Control).  According to the story, Mrs. Gates heard complaints from women in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia that because of a short supply they were frequently not able to get the Depo-Provera “shot” they had previously received.  So last summer the Gates Foundation co-hosted a conference that raised pledges of $2.6 billion “to bring voluntary family planning services to 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020.”  What a horrible and counter-productive waste of money!

To reach their goal, the Gates Foundation and several public and private partners have cut a deal with Bayer and Merck to reduce the price of their long-lasting implants by roughly one-half to $8.50 per unit.  “Janelle” is the successor to Norplant and can be used for 3 to 5 years, and Merck’s Implanon can be used for 3 to 4 years.  The list of side effects is long, but third-world women who use these hormonal birth control agents will most likely not have a local doctor who can help them, and how much it will cost to remove the implants is unknown.  The Big Pharma houses will most likely not have to deal with class-action lawsuits from third-world women who believe they were inadequately warned about possible side effects—as they have in the States.

Mrs. Gates is also interested in reducing child infant mortality, and she recommends “Kangaroo” mother care.  This involves holding the infant closely with lots of skin-to-skin contact to maintain the infant’s body heat, and that’s all very well and good.  But, as my wife has pointed out in her letter to the WSJ, the primary benefit of kangaroo care is that it promotes ecological breastfeeding if the mothers and their coaches allow it.  Allow???  Yes–allow!  Although we might think that in third-world and supposedly nature-oriented cultures mothers would automatically breastfeed as soon as the baby is born, that is unfortunately far from being the case.  Here’s a quotation from Sheila’s letter:

“While the baby-warming effects of kangaroo care are important, the most important thing that can be done to save babies is immediate and prolonged breastfeeding.  A study by Save the Children (2013) shows that 830,000 babies’ lives would be saved if breastfed within the first hour and that such first-hour breastfed babies were about three times more likely to survive than babies breastfed just one day later.”

Just imagine for a few moments how much the health and lives of babies and their mothers would be improved if every third-world baby were blessed with ecological breastfeeding.  Not only would there be a natural spacing of babies about two and sometimes three years apart without any contraception or even systematic NFP, but they would also be saved from the bad effects of the hormonal contraceptives.

So, pray for the conversion of Melinda and Bill Gates, and please pray for our NFP apostolate whose advocacy of ecological breastfeeding is unique in the field of natural family planning.

John F. Kippley, President, NFP International,

More facts about Breastfeeding and Social Justice

In my previous post on Breastfeeding and Social Justice, I noted that breastfeeding has so many benefits to a baby that it is an injustice not to provide that form of baby care and nutrition.  That needs some documentation so here I will list 28 health benefits for the baby, 21 of which are specific and seven are more general. Then I will list eight specific health benefits for the breastfeeding mother.  What follows is taken from Chapter 6 in Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach.

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 (, The American Academy of Family Physicians (, and the United States Breastfeeding Committee ( report specific health benefits for breastfed children. The list below is compiled from the websites of these three organizations. Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of the following diseases for babies and children.

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

Are the benefits of breastfeeding dose-related?
Yes. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians,
1. “The strongest evidence indicates that these positive [health] effects of breastfeeding are most significant with six months of exclusive breastfeeding,” and
2. “the effects are dose-related, with improved outcomes being associated with longer breastfeeding.” (AAFP Position Paper on “Breastfeeding.”)

What are the risks for the mother who does not breastfeed?
The mother who does not breastfeed may have an increased risk for the following diseases:
• breast cancer   • endometrial cancer   • ovarian cancer   • thyroid cancer   • anemia   • lupus
• rheumatoid arthritis   • osteoporosis (increased chance of a hip fracture)

Should a mother feel guilty if she is unable to breastfeed?
No. Any mother who made every reasonable effort to breastfeed and was unsuccessful should never feel guilty. She gave it her best try.

We hope that mothers who want to breastfeed will receive the support and correct information needed so that there will be minimal problems in getting started.  One of the benefits of doing ecological breastfeeding (EBF) is that the milk supply is usually ample due to the frequent and unrestricted suckling.

What are the advantages for the mother if she breastfeeds?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) lists eight benefits for the breastfeeding mother:
1. decreased postpartum bleeding
2. more rapid uterine involution attributable to increased concentrations of oxytocin, (that is, it helps the           uterus to shrink to its normal size)
3. decreased menstrual blood loss
4. increased child spacing attributable to lactational amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods due to breastfeeding)
5. earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight
6. decreased risk of breast cancer
7. decreased risk of ovarian cancer and
8. possibly decreased risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture in the postmenopausal period (AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding, Feb. 2005).

End of text from Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach

I think these lists are quite impressive.  I didn’t make them up or even research them.  My wife, Sheila, did the research and wrote most of Chapter 6 in our NFP manual.  Good health is a great blessing, and I think that most parents want to do what is best for their babies, and that starts the first minutes after childbirth.  Yes, that first hour is important, as Sheila reported a few weeks ago.  Perhaps more on that later.

The point I want to make is that this information should be shared with every prospective mother well before childbirth.  It should be taught in pre-marriage instruction and again in pre-baptism instruction.  To be sure, no one needs to memorize the lists, but the basic fact that breastfeeding, especially ecological breastfeeding, is so helpful for a baby’s health simply must be taught.  I emphasize ecological breastfeeding because its frequent nursing maximizes the dose-related good effects.  For those who know these things and refuse to share them, isn’t that an injustice towards babies and their parents?

Breastfeeding and Social Justice

Is it proper to call breastfeeding a matter of social justice?  I submit that when something satisfies an essential life-need, is easily available, cheap, and can make a significant difference in the health of those who are helpless to help themselves, it becomes a matter of justice to provide that “something” — which is breastfeeding in the case at hand.

There is a huge problem, however, in writing or talking about this because justice-talk raises questions about morality and guilt and habitual family practices.  So I will start by noting that neither my wife nor I were breastfed.  That is, this was not part of our respective family traditions.  My wife’s introduction to breastfeeding was providential.  In our first pregnancy, her childbirth instructor urged all the prospective moms to breastfeed and to attend La Leche League meetings, and Sheila followed those instructions.

That was a real blessing to our children and to her.  La Leche League touted many of the advantages of breastfeeding for the baby, but today researchers have found even more advantages for both babies and mothers.  For example, now we know that after menopause the former breastfeeding mother still enjoys stronger bones and thus fewer hip fractures.  This gets very practical.  Sheila still plays tennis and has had five hard falls on tennis courts with no damage.  Yet we have known of much younger women who have broken legs or hips from what seemed to be much easier falls.

My concern is that people who should be getting this information are not getting it.  We share this information in our natural family planning manual and course, but we may be close to unique.  How many Catholic women do you know who were urged during their preparation for marriage to breastfeed their children?  And by “urged” I mean they at least briefly reviewed some 20 advantages for the baby and another 8 for the mother, and they were also told about the natural baby spacing effects of ecological breastfeeding.

This is where the justice issue comes up.  I think that the advantages to the baby are so significant that all those who are preparing couples for marriage and for family life should be doing their best to encourage this form of baby-care.  And since birth control has become a political as well as a moral issue, it should also be stressed that the frequent nursing of ecological breastfeeding is a natural baby spacer.   That’s God’s plan for spacing babies, and it requires no abstinence.  I think teaching these things is a simple matter of justice for helpless babies and for married couples, all of whom need this information.  It is such a matter of justice worldwide that I hope that Pope Francis will address it.  For more on breastfeeding and NFP, see the website under my signature.

I encourage you to read an excellent two-page essay on the Eradication of Poverty by Ruth Lawrence, M.D. because Dr. Lawrence really demonstrates what I am trying to say.  I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone who hasn’t breastfed or properly instructed others in their care because of ignorance.  But what Dr. Lawrence and I are saying is that the great benefits of breastfeeding-in-general and especially ecological breastfeeding are now common knowledge among those educating others about marriage, baby-care, and the fertility cycle.  Or at least they should be.  This is the 21st Century, not the bottle-crazed mid-20th Century.

I will close with the last three lines from the Lawrence essay:

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.
John F. Kippley