Your Right to Know: Ecological Breastfeeding

NFP Awareness Week in 2013 runs from July 21 through July 27.  This week I begin focusing on your God-given right to know certain facts about natural family planning.  The order of my topics will follow a more or less chronological order according to which the process or sign was practiced or discovered.

Let’s start with ecological breastfeeding because this is the sort of breastfeeding that was practiced for many thousands of years and was significantly responsible, according to some demographers, for keeping the world population quite stable for many centuries.  This is the kind of baby care in which mother takes her baby with her wherever she goes and allows her baby to nurse whenever he or she wants.  The result is frequent and unrestricted nursing.

The 19th century Malthusians drew attention to population issues, dropped the morality of the Rev. Thomas Malthus, and were soon promoting contraception.  Among the social classes in which women breastfed their own babies, there was a general if confused knowledge that breastfeeding somehow delayed the next pregnancy.  This led Dr. Leonard Remfry of British Columbia to study the effect of lactation on menstruation and pregnancy, and in 1895 he published that only six percent of the breastfeeding women in his study became pregnant before their first postpartum menstruation http://www.nfpandmore.org/remfrys_article_1895.pdf .  Dr. Konald Prem of the University of Minnesota Medical School surveyed nursing mothers and found in 1971 that only five percent became pregnant before they had a first period.  http://www.nfpandmore.org/Postpartum_ovulation_prem.pdf.

Research was more plentiful in the second half of the 20th century, and Sheila has summarized this at http://www.nfpandmore.org/reviewbreastfeeding.shtml .  When she  attended La Leche League meetings in 1963-1967, the League promoted the idea that “total breastfeeding” spaces babies, but among mothers who gave their babies nothing but their breastmilk there was still a wide variation in the length of breastfeeding amenorrhea (the absence of periods).  The mothers would discuss this, and one of them, Nancy Hornback, really encouraged Sheila to research it.

That she did, and the combination of the research and the experiences of nursing mothers led her to formulate a hypothesis.  She wrote her first book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, and included a survey.  That survey showed that those mothers who followed what we now call the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding averaged 14.6 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea.  See http://www.nfpandmore.org/The%20Seven%20Standards%20Summary.pdf .

Some years later she analyzed a much larger number of surveys and found almost exactly the same results, 14.5 months http://www.nfpandmore.org/spacingbabies.shtml .

Other researchers have found similar or almost identical results.  The evidence is clear.  The frequent suckling of ecological breastfeeding naturally postpones the return of menstruation and fertility.  On average, if the mothers become pregnant soon after their first period, their babies will be spaced about two years apart, and that’s beautiful.  Ecological breastfeeding is an excellent form of natural baby spacing.

Everyone has a God-given right to know this information.  It is truly God’s own way of spacing babies, and the frequent suckling both maximizes all the benefits of breastfeeding and maintains a mother’s milk supply.

So why doesn’t every Church-related NFP course teach ecological breastfeeding as a normal part of its instruction?  I don’t know.

Should the Catholic Church insist that all NFP programs related to diocesan or parish efforts promote and teach ecological breastfeeding?  Well, why not?  Isn’t it part of God’s natural revelation?  And doesn’t the Catholic Church have to teach both the natural and the divine law?  And isn’t it obliged to do what it can to help couples live out the teaching of Humanae Vitae?  And what could be more healthy?

My conclusion:  Since ecological breastfeeding is God’s own plan for spacing babies, you have a God-given right to learn it, and the Catholic Church has a God-given obligation to teach it to engaged and married couples.  In fact, it should be taught by respectful teachers in seventh or eighth grade.

Next week: Your Right to Know: Cervical Mucus.

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, www.NFPandmore.org

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 (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 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

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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?