There is a direct connection between the type of parenting and child spacing. When the baby stays with his mother day and night, nurses on cue without bottles and pacifiers, starts solids gradually at about six months, and spends a good deal of his time either nursing or in close physical contact with his mother, the mother’s natural postpartum infertility generally lasts longer. Six to twelve months is fairly common, but a year or two is also quite possible. When you hear of mothers who exclusively breastfed and still had a return to fertility or a pregnancy at three months postpartum, it’s often ( but not always) related to scheduled nursings, mother-baby separation, or a baby who is encouraged to sleep through the night. Because most young couples and health-care professionals lack knowledge regarding breastfeeding and fertility, the parents can’t make informed decisions. When I counsel haredi mothers they are desperate for such information. This information should be readily available to everyone, but it is especially sad when it is lacking in a community that discourages use of artificial birth control.
Here are some questionable ways I have seen families cope with closely spaced children. I have seen many counter-examples as well.
- Sending very young children out to daycare (and not necessarily because both parents are working). Keeping two at home is unusual in Israel, and daycare is dirt cheap in some communities where large families are the norm.
- Inferior daycare: In my neighborhood a man noticed four or five infants crawling on the sidewalk and in the street. It turned out that they had escaped from a local daycare center (for large families) where the door had been inadvertently left open.
- Giving excessive responsibility to older children..
- Going to a “beit havraah” after birth. This is de rigeur in charedi families, and many municipalities and health funds chip in after the fourth birth. The problem is that because these institutions view their role as giving the mother an opportunity to rest, they interfere with the mother’s bonding with the baby and breastfeeding (because they don’t allow the mother to have the baby with her at night and encourage supplementation). One mother I spoke to discovered when she got home that her baby really needed to nurse every two hours, instead of the five-hour schedule he had been on in the beit havraah (undoubtedly he had received bottles of formula, but she didn’t know about it.) In almost every case the money for this “vacation” would be better spent on household help, meals, and child care, allowing the mother to rest in her own home and be available full-time for the baby and her older children.
- Continuing this pattern at home and allowing others to take over care for the baby so that the mother can recover from birth, and not because the mother had medical complications.
- Sending a toddler to the neighbor’s house for two full weeks after birth, during which time the child does not see his mother.
- Forcing children to sleep through the night before they are developmentally ready.
- Mixing cereal with milk or formula and giving it in a bottle, instead of taking time to feed the baby a meal.
- Unnecessary supplementing and early or sudden weaning.
- Ignoring the toddler except for diaper changes and meals.
We need to question the idea that if something is good for the mother, the baby benefits (“me” time, sleeping through the night, babysitters). We instead need to be pointing out that most things that are good for our babies, ultimately benefit the mother and the entire family when they get the proper support.