After experiencing issues that we feel were a result of using contraceptives, my husband and I both received a moral conviction regarding contraceptives and chose to take a more natural route, avoiding artificial hormones and artificial methods of birth control.
I already viewed myself as a die-hard breastfeeder and wanted to use breastfeeding as a natural way to space my children, but I didn’t think it worked, because even while breastfeeding exclusively, my cycles come back immediately. So I never gave it a chance.
But what the majority of women deem as “exclusive” breastfeeding is far from what nature requires.
Exclusive breastfeeding shouldn’t be confused with Ecological Breastfeeding.
After reading a copy of Breastfeeding and Fertility by Jenny Silliman and then Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley, who is considered an authority on the topic, I realized that I hadn’t followed this mothering lifestyle as closely as I assumed. There’s a distinct difference between exclusive breastfeeding and ecological breastfeeding, and the effective method is usually the latter.
While Ecological Breastfeeding has shown to be effective when the standards are followed, every woman is different. It’s important to note the necessity of the standards. Yes, there are rules to follow, just like other contraceptive methods require certain rules.
Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding
1.Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life (don’t use other liquids and solids, not even water.)
2. Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.
3. Don’t use bottles and don’t use pacifiers. Here is where we start to deviate a little from typical “exclusive.” Shipley writes that when she speaks to a woman who talks of how her cycles returned while mom was exclusively breastfeeding, chances are that the baby is sitting on the mama’s lap with a pacifier. I used to think that pacifiers were absolute necessities. When we decided to stop using the pacifier, I had two concerns:
1. Baby would always want to nurse, without a break.
2. Baby would simply begin thumb sucking.
But what I discovered is that when I allowed him to nurse on demand, even when only for comfort, he needed to comfort nurse less and less. It was as though that need was truly being met and therefore he needed less to be satisfied.
4.Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
5.Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
6. Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
Putting it All Together
When looking at the standards, one can understand how this more intensive way of nursing can affect a woman’s body more than our culture’s exclusive breastfeeding norm.
As the baby nurses, it sends a signal that she’s taking care of a baby who needs her and to suppress ovulation. If the baby is taking a pacifier or a bottle, having that need met through other methods, the signal to delay fertility isn’t there.
For some women, typical exclusive breastfeeding is enough to naturally delay fertility, but for many, all seven standards of true Ecological Breastfeeding must be followed.
While the standards may sound restrictive, the benefits we experience are incredible. I believe my delayed cycles contributed to increased energy and the avoidance of anemia. My cycle returned at 22 months after my fourth and 17 months after my fifth–I deviated from the seven standards when he was 15 months old. My babies also experienced improved health, even compared to older siblings who were more traditionally breastfed. And I experienced a more responsive relationship. While I’m close to all of my children, I seem to extend greater patience to my ecologically breastfed babies. Could it be the extra oxytocin at work?
While I refer to ecological breastfeeding as a natural contraceptive, I don’t look at my children as birth control, which is a common misconception from those not familiar with ecological breastfeeding. As I naturally mother my babies, meeting their needs as I’m designed, a delay in fertility is simply a natural occurrence.
Above all, I hope that readers will see the difference between ecological and exclusive breastfeeding, understanding that ecological breastfeeding is a viable option for natural child spacing, and the importance of following the seven standards.