The September/October edition of New Beginnings, La Leche League International’s magazine, contains an article by Sheila Kippley about her new book The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor
I recognize this approach is not for everyone. However, many couples wish to minimize the use of artificial birth control for a variety of reasons, and it can be difficult to find information about the relationship between breastfeeding and fertility.
In the article Kippley distinguishes between exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby receives all nourishment from the breast. It’s common for mothers to conceive three or four months after birth, even if they are exclusively nursing. As she writes, “Research shows that almost half of the exclusively breastfeeding mothers using the above rule [of exclusive breastfeeding, see #1 below] will experience menstruation prior to six months.”
Both exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding are different from LAM, the lactation amenorrhea method of birth control. LAM works when the mother is exclusively nursing, the baby nurses at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night, and the mother has not had a return of menses before the age of six months. If the mother has any bleeding after 56 days, she must consider herself fertile. LAM is a simple way to determine whether a mother is fertile, but it only works until she gets a period or the baby turns six months old. It is based on the fact that ovulation is extremely rare before the first period if the minimum spacing of feedings is maintained. That first period then serves as a warning sign of fertility so a mother can take precautions. Until the return of menses or six months postpartum, whichever comes first, LAM provides a 98-99% rate of protection from pregnancy.
The seven standards of ecological breastfeeding are meant to push off the return of that first period to six months and even longer. The standards are:
- Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.
- Pacify your baby at your breasts.
- Don’t use bottles or pacifiers.
- Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
- Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
- Breastfeed frequently day and night and avoid schedules.
- Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
I followed these standards for all but one of my children, with the exception of the daily nap, and experienced breastfeeding infertility for one to two years.
More details about each standard can be found in the full article and the book.
Many years ago I recommended one of Kippley’s earlier books, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, to a friend. My friend enjoyed the book despite its Christian outlook and was inspired by the loving attitude of the author toward babies. In the New Beginnings article, Kippley goes well beyond a dry description of biological mechanisms connected to fertility and hormonal shifts. She is unapologetic about babies needing their mothers and the fact that comforting is as important as feeding, if not more so. The developing relationship between mothers and babies is about much more than nutrition or delaying fertility. While some mothers will appreciate this approach, others might find it preachy.
One important issue that Kippley does not address, at least in the published article, are signs that breastfeeding fertility is nearing an end. With an older baby there is not necessarily a warning period before ovulation.