BREASTFEEDING: DOES IT REALLY SPACE BABIES
The World's oldest and still most widely practiced form of birth regulation is
breastfeeding. That statement draws much skepticism among ordinary people in
Western culture, but it is recognized as still true by professionals in the fields of
international demography and infant nutrition because they know how breastfeeding
affects both health and birth intervals in primitive cultures around the world.
A professor of pediatrics put it this way:
This was confirmed by a conference on lactation infertility (Bellagio, Italy, 1988) which
Furthermore, it is now recognized that it is not just any kind of breastfeeding that
spaces babies. That's why the Bellagio conference added, "They (the mothers) should
be informed how to maximize the antifertility effects of breastfeeding to prevent
pregnancy. What that means is this: only "ecological" breastfeeding provides
extended postpartum infertility. This is a form of baby care which is characterized by
constant mother-baby togetherness and frequent nursing, both by day and by night.
How you can do ecological breastfeeding and still be an active member of your society
is described in
A couple of examples help to make the point.In a study conducted in the West African
country of Rwanda, a culture in which there were no contraceptives or taboos against
intercourse after birth at the time, there were no differences in the birth intervals of
bottle feeding mothers in the city compared to those in the rural areas. On the other
hand, among breastfeeding mothers, there were significant differences. Among the city
mothers who were already developing patterns of separation from their babies, 75%
conceived between 6 and 15 months postpartum. However, in the rural areas, mothers
had their babies with them all of the time, and 75% of the rural breastfeeding mothers
conceived between 24 and 29 months postpartum.
An even more dramatic example of the effects of very frequent suckling is provided by
the !Kung tribe. (The exclamation point represents a clicking sound.) Anthropologists
watched these people with stopwatches and found that the babies and toddlers were
nursing an average of two minutes every fifteen minutes, and the mothers were
conceiving at about 35 months.
Such extended periods of breastfeeding infertility are rarely seen in Western culture.
First of all, only a few Western mothers nurse that long although their number seems to
be increasing. Secondly, there is some speculation that the richer diet of Western
women may contribute to an earlier return of fertility. Nevertheless, the Couple to
Couple League office has received letters from a few women who experienced the
return of their first postpartum menstruation between 34 and 42 months. In two
separate studies, the Couple to Couple League found that the more common range for
the return of the first menstruation among American women doing ecological
breastfeeding is 12 to 16 months postpartum with an average of about 14.5 months.[7,8]
And, just as there are a few who have a more extended duration of amenorrhea, there
are also a few who experience the return of menstrual periods only two to four months
postpartum. On the average, however, true ecological breastfeeding will space babies
about two years apart even in North American culture.
The key to breastfeeding infertility is frequent suckling  and that is simply a part of
natural mothering which entails mother- baby inseparability. When mother goes to
church, so does baby. When mother goes shopping, attends a meeting, or visits a
friend, so does baby. And when baby indicates a need to nurse, mother obliges. When
mother goes to bed at night, baby is either in the same bed, or at least the child's bed is
right next to the parents' bed so that baby can nurse off and on during the night
without any fuss and bother.
Most babies who receive the benefits of "natural mothering" and ecological
breastfeeding start to take other nourishment sometime between five and nine months
postpartum and gradually take more and more to satisfy their growing appetites.
However, they continue to nurse frequently, and breastmilk remains the primary
nutrient for some time.
In the first six months, you can't beat the effectiveness of ecological breastfeeding!
During the first three months postpartum the possibility of becoming pregnant is
almost nil for the mother who is doing ecological breastfeeding and is still in
amenorrhea (no periods). Experts agree that any bleeding up to the 56th day
postpartum can be ignored.. The next three months postpartum provide a 99%
infertility rate to the ecologically breastfeeding mother who remains in amenorrhea
. God's plan provides a most effective method of family planning for the mother
who follows his plan for mother and baby.
Eventually fertility returns. Usually, but not always, it is preceded by a "warning
menstrual period" and frequently the first menstrual cycle will be infertile (sometimes
others as well).
While the chances of pregnancy are at the 1% level during the first six months
postpartum prior to the first menstruation, after six months the chance of pregnancy
increases. Three studies have indicated that the actual rate of pregnancy is about 6%, a
rate that is very competitive with actual use rates for both natural and unnatural
methods of birth control.
When a couple seeks to reduce the 6% chance of pregnancy to something closer to 1%
(i.e., one per 100 women years of exposure), the woman makes the observations that are
standard in the Sympto-Thermal Method of natural family planning. She takes her
temperature upon waking in the morning and checks for the appearance of cervical
mucus and the opening of the cervical os several times during the day while taking care
of her usual bathroom routine.
When she enters a time of fertility or potential fertility, the cervix secretes a mucus
discharge that most women can notice easily by an examination of the wiping tissue
alter urination. In addition, the cervical mucus discharge usually produces a sensation
of lubrication or wetness at the outer lips of the vagina. It appears that the
breastfeeding mother usually has a longer and more obvious mucus pattern prior to the
first postpartum ovulation than she has during regular cycles, thus providing her with
an ample indication of the return of fertility. Many women also observe some physical
changes that occur in the cervical os (for example, it opens up during the fertile time).
After ovulation, the temperature goes up and stays up for 10 to 14 days before the next
period, the mucus dries up or disappears, and the cervical os closes.
Some women will have an almost constant discharge of a less fertile mucus for months
during breastfeeding, and this can be distinguished from the more fertile type
preceding ovulation. However, this brochure is not the place to describe in detail how
to observe the mucus or how to interpret it as a symptom of fertility or infertility, and
the same holds true for the changes in the cervix and the basal temperature pattern.
contains that information and has a
chapter devoted entirely to detecting the return of fertility after childbirth, especially
when breastfeeding. Thousands of women today are enjoying the breastfeeding
relationship and successfully relying upon these signs to detect the return of
The purpose of this brochure is to affirm three statements:
1. The proper kind of breastfeeding definitely postpones the return of fertility. This
kind of nursing is called ecological breastfeeding or natural mothering.
2. Eventually fertility returns even while the mother is engaged in ecological
3. The return of fertility can be detected through the natural signs of fertility with a
very high degree of accuracy.
The advantages of this form of natural family planning are obvi ous. Freed from the
Pill, a woman doesn't have to worry about what it may be doing to her body or to her
milk and to her baby, nor does she have to worry about its abortifacient potential once
fertility returns. Freed from the IUD, the nursing mother doesn't have to be concerned
about what it is doing to her uterus which contracts as her baby nurses, nor does she
have to feel guilty about its almost universally abortifacient mechanism once fertility
returns. And she is freed from the messiness or unesthetic qualities of the traditional
female and male barrier methods of contraception.
Ecological breastfeeding is another term for natural mothering,and on a worldwide
basis it is still the most widely practiced form of birth regulation. Practically the only
form of birth regulations in primitive cultures, it is gradually getting more recognition
in Western culture. And, as the practice of natural mothering is encouraged by groups
of breastfeeding mothers and by teachers of natural family planning , such
recognition is being greeted by sighs of relief and shouts of joy among nursing mothers.
The Couple to Couple League International Inc.
P O Box 111184,
Cincinnati, OH. 45211