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Ecological Breastfeeding: A Natural Approach to Child Spacing

guest February 18, 2014

Editor’s note: Today’s post is from Danielle Faucher. Danielle is married to her best friend, Nathan, and together they have three young children. She is a music teacher turned homeschooling mom. She has a passion for fun and creative ideas, a desire to feed her family delicious and nutrient-rich foods, and loves to fill her mind with new information. You can follow her adventures at Raising Little Treasures.

My husband and I were abstinent until our wedding night, almost six years ago.  During our engagement, we had decided we would accept a child when God was ready to bless us with one. To our surprise, after returning home from our honeymoon, we purchased a pregnancy test during our first shopping trip as a married couple. We stood in the bathroom together and stared at those two pink lines; in shock, in gratitude, and in awe of our future.

Nine months later, our beautiful bundle was born. We brought him home from the hospital and started enjoying the new addition to our family. A few weeks later, we had to decide how we would want to space our children. It was, and still is, a desire of ours to have several babies, but what if we had Irish twins? What if I got pregnant as fast as I did the first time? How could we handle it financially? Emotionally? Could my body physically carry another baby so soon?

We had discussed the idea of Natural Family Planning before our wedding and had every intention of abstaining whenever I was fertile until we were ready to conceive again. I bought a thermometer, printed charts, and started tracking every little change in my body. I watched my charts but, with the absence of a menstrual period, there wasn’t much to track. This is when I realized there was some truth to “you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.”

Ecological Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be used as a form of child spacing. Now before you start saying, “but I got pregnant and I was breastfeeding!” “It doesn’t work, my child was conceived at only 3 months postpartum!” There are rules. And, every woman, every baby, every body is different.

The following are the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding*:

1. Do exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids and solids.
2. Pacify your baby at your breasts.
3. Don’t use bottles and pacifiers.
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.

When I first read these “rules,” our first child was a few months old. I realized that I had been following each as part of our own parenting philosophies. Even with this new knowledge, I continued to watch my charts. I bought pregnancy tests in bulk and took them obsessively. How else was I supposed to know if it “failed?”

When our son was 13 months old, my cycles returned. I continued to chart, but my husband and I decided not to abstain if I did indeed ovulate. Five months later, we were overjoyed that God had blessed us with our second child. With the use of only ecological breastfeeding, our first two children were spaced 26 months apart. We have since welcomed our third child into our arms, 24 months later.

ecological breastfeeding
Image by Digital Grins and Giggles

I followed all the rules, now what?

The average woman has 14.6 months of lactational amenorrhea (lack of menstrual period due to breastfeeding).** The chances of pregnancy in the first 3 months is almost 0%, months 3-6 2%, and around 6% after 6 months if a menstrual period has not started.*** Often times, a “warning period” will come before the first ovulation. In my personal experience, my cycles return but I do not conceive for 5 months. During this time, I do not stop following the seven standards. By reacting to my baby’s needs, I remain infertile. I watch their independence grow and have always been able to predict when my fertility would return.

Have you ever spaced your children using Ecological Breastfeeding? How far apart are they in age?

Sources:
* John and Sheila Kippley, “The Art of Natural Family Planning” (Cincinnati: Couple to Couple League, 2005), 347.
** Jen O’Quinn, “Natural Child Spacing and Breastfeeding,” La Leche League
*** Kelly Bonyata, “Breastfeeding and Fertility,” KellyMom, http://kellymom.com/bf/normal/fertility/

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32 Comments

  1. I don’t really do it on purpose, but my children are 31 months apart and I did not have a cycle between them. It was interesting to talk with my midwife the second time around because we didn’t have a LMP to go off of (but we sure did have an accurate date on my chart :).

    Thanks for the refresher course! Great job!

    Reply

  2. I think it’s important to emphasize that this is a specific experience that may be experienced by many, but that there isn’t truth in breastfeeding preventing pregnancy for everyone. I have started my period when each of my three children were 3 months old. I have always ovulated two weeks after my post partum bleeding has ceased. Followed by a very light period. Then month 4 takes me right back into the normal swing of things. I have exclusively demand breast fed all of my children past the 6 month mark, and then continued to demand breastfeed in conjunction with solids until past one year. I slept with them and nursed an average of 10-12 times a day for those first 6 months. My following all of the “rules” you mentioned above did not guarantee anything for my personal cycle. I think it’s great that this method can work for some, but it shouldn’t be accepted as a given. Being aware of your own cycle and charting are very important if you choose to use the natural family planning method. I now have three children (19 months and 23 months apart). Their distance apart has nothing to do with exclusive breastfeeding, and everything to do with careful monitoring of my body and cycle, as well as practices in natural prevention until we planned to try again. Then, each time, within the first month, I was pregnant again. Everyone is different and no one should just assume they fit into the “average”. We should all listen to our own bodies and never assume we are like the next person.

    Reply

    • I have to agree with you on this one. I’ve been told numerous times that I must not have done it right but I followed all the rules with each of my 4 children and they are 12m/20m/13m apart. My period always returns by 8 weeks. It used to really annoy me that people just assumed I didn’t know what I was doing but finally realized that not everyone fits into the mold and body doesn’t take a break! So we learned to plan accordingly.

      Reply

      • We are all so different, and I think our genetics and different chemicals, plant hormones and other things that alter our hormones also have something to do with it. I was unaware of ecological breastfeeding with my first- I pumped my milk and would go a large part of the day without breastfeeding while she was in daycare and i used pacifiers. My period returned at 4 months. With baby #2, I followed all the rules, except I did not take naps with my baby, period returned at 4.5 months. I couldnt believe it! With baby #3, I have followed all the rules, and I do nap with him quite often once a day, he is 8 months old currently and no period yet! So I am thrilled and wondering how long it will last. One thing that I will mention is this- baby #1 and 2, in their first 2 days of life, slept at least one or two 6 hour stretches of time without nursing (they were not drugged births which can make a difference and cause baby to be extra sleepy, but this was not the case), and baby #3 did not. I have no idea if this made a difference, or maybe it was my napping with #3 that has made the difference, or maybe it’s all coincedence, I do not know. But it’s interesting to think about I guess 🙂 I think all baby’s are different too. Some babies dont comfort nurse very often so may not stimulate the mothers breast often enough to suppress her fertility. Other baby’s comfort nurse more so may be more likely to suppress fertility. I think there are more factors at play then just the 7 rules.

        Reply

        • You have a good point when you mentioned each baby being different as well. One theory is that high need babies comfort nurse more, which in turn triggers mom’s body to say “I can’t handle two babies right now”. Whereas low need babies (and their moms) can better handle having another baby sooner.

          Reply

    • In my experience, nursing only 10 to 12 times a day seems very little. My 18 month old nurses more than this even though she eats a variety of solid foods. I think something also needs to be said about child led weaning which involves introducing solid foods when a child is ready to pick up small bites and eat by themselves. You’ll know when baby is ready to eat because she’ll start taking food off your plate and gobbling it up! My daughter started doing this around 9 months.

      My cycle returned at 15 months and we just found out another little one is on the way!

      Reply

  3. Danielle, Thanks so much for promoting ecological breastfeeding. There is a curve so there will be a few mothers who experience an earlier return. And there will be a few rare moms who go three years to over 40 months without any menstruation. Two published studies on eco-breastfeeding averaged 14.5 months without menstruation as you said. Another researcher in the Nineties found his average with eco-breastfeeding was 15.5 months without menstruation. As with successful breastfeeding and with eco-breastfeeding, the main factor is frequency, frequency, frequency. Our natural family planning book, Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach, is now abbreviated and can be downloaded at http://www.NFPandmore.org for a suggested donation of $10. Free charts are also available at the website. Many folks still say that breastfeeding does not work for spacing babies. I wrote The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor to respond to those folks. Each chapter is devoted to one of the Standards. It is very inexpensive and a quick read. Thanks again for bringing this wonderful option to the attention of others.

    Reply

    • I never in a million years would have thought that the author of the book I sourced would not only find this, but comment! Thank you so much for your kind words and God bless you for the beautiful work you and your husband have done!

      Reply

    • Yes, I have found the key is frequency, frequency, frequency! Even if a baby is breastfeeding exclusively, if s/he goes longer between feedings, breastfeeding may not keep a woman’s cycle from returning. I know many women rejoice then their babies sleep through the night. But if a woman is hoping to use breastfeeding to space children, that is not the idea to strive for!

      Reply

    • I am going on 4 1/2 years with no menstruation! I am nursing an almost 4 yr old and a just turned 2 year old still, so I know that doubles the case for amenorrhea, but I have yet to find anyone else who has gone anywhere near *this* long! I have been waiting for my cycle to return so that I can begin charting, but I stopped holding my breath! Is there a study going on anywhere that I can be a part of, because I feel a bit like an anomaly!

      Reply

      • Hi Catherine,

        *Some* women will not get their periods back until they fully stop breastfeeding. Others will get it after only a few months despite practicing all the tenants of ecological breastfeeding. While your experience is an outlier, it’s not unheard of.

        Reply

  4. Like Amber, my periods return earlier than this standard…around nine months post partum. This was the same with my exclusively breastfed never used a pacifier baby and the one who had a pacifier and medication for severe reflux. My boys are 18 months apart and my younger son and daughter are 24 months apart, but I lost a baby who would have been an 18 month gap again.
    It’d be interesting to find out how much each way most women deviate from the average…tough study to do, though!

    Reply

  5. I did not really know it or do it on purpose but this is exactly what happened with our family. My 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, children are 25 and 23 months apart. I do believe what you are saying works but I did use pacifiers with one child and bottles with all because I worked. I did religiously pump and follow the rest of the rules and nursed for 18+ months with all of them. So the rules are somewhat flexible but you have to be really dedicated to breastfeeding!

    Reply

  6. What if baby doesn’t want to eat at night? My 3 month old sleeps 9 hours at night, but I follow all of the other rules. With a 20 month old who is also nursing, a three year old and a bad case of SPD, I need my sleep, but I also need to avoid pregnancy for a while.

    Reply

  7. Wow…if only I didn’t have to work. A nap with my baby during the day would be delightful.

    Reply

  8. it’s very important to not rely totally on this if you are absolutely desiring to not have children closely spaced together. i used this method exclusively between my children, and had four children 5 and under (and an additional baby in heaven between the first two and second two due to a miscarriage.) 5 pregnancies in under 5 years. it is not a completely reliable method. if you don’t mind having them close together (i didn’t), then by all means, it’s much better than hormones, and yes, you do have a greater CHANCE of not becoming pregnant. but if you truly do not want to have children quickly, then other methods (including abstinence) are definitely required!

    Reply

  9. First, ecological bf has worked for me. Second, no it doesn’t work for everyone. Why? Who knows; everyone is different. Here’s my story:
    Baby #1 born 10 months after wedding. 😉 Exclusively bf ’til 6mo., then added baby food. Began slowing weaning/ adding more baby food ’til doing something of a 50/50 of bf and baby food at 9mo. (trying to follow “the rules” the “experts” give for feeding baby foods). Cycle returned about this time. Baby #2 conceived after one cycle and while still breastfeeding (though not “on demand” or exclusively; this is important to remember). So, baby #1 and #2 are 19mo. apart. As a side note, I continued to bf #1 until he was 12 1/2 mo.
    Baby #2 was bf exclusively for 6mo., then had baby food added. However, he was still bf on demand, even with eating baby food, and co-slept with Mommy. Cycle didn’t return until he was 15mo. He continued to co-sleep and bf until 17mo. Apparently, my milk changed when I became pregnant again and he didn’t like the flavor. I didn’t even know I was pg yet! lol So, baby #2 and #3 are just over 25mo. apart (I had 2 cycles between them).
    Baby #3 was bf exclusively for 7+mo. before taking to baby food. She continued to bf on demand, with food added slowly since she wasn’t too anxious to stop bf, ’til 20mo. She was also a co-sleep baby. My cycle returned when she was 14mo. and I had three before we conceived again when she was 17mo. So, baby #3 and #4 will be about 25 1/2mo. apart.
    Well, that’s my story. Maybe there is something in there that will help someone else who hasn’t been successful with using breastfeeding to space children. The key for me was “exclusive”, “on demand”, and “co-sleeping”. I know those aren’t easy as they can take a lot of time and energy. But, that seems to be what worked for me. Will it work this next time? Can’t say. The human body is always changing! What works for one person at one time, may or may not work for another person or even the same person at a different time.
    By the way, good post. =)

    Reply

  10. I stumbled on another of Sheila’s books, “Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing,” while nursing my 4 month old. At one year of age, with hindsight, I could see that I was ‘ecological breastfeeding’, too! I wound up going 14 months w/o cycles; then 12-14 months w/o cycles with subsequent children. It was very easy+natural to me, and I thank you for this great descriptive blog! Even as a nurse, I had no knowledge about this matter – how sad. Many women don’t know about the “Seven Standards” mentioned here. Sheila’s new book on the Seven Standards was an easy 2-day read for me; full of studies and research, too. Just a bit of correct information like this blog can help moms tremendously! I don’t know how you find the time, but thanks again for the time to help searching moms!

    Reply

  11. Really, whether it’s a good method for a woman depends on how long she wants to avoid pregnancy for and how strongly she wants to avoid it.

    I knew, from the statistics I’d read, that if I fully breastfed for the first six months and my period had not yet returned then I’d have only a 1% chance of getting pregnant in those six months. However, for me personally that 1% was too high, because I really didn’t want to have two babies that close together. In fact, I didn’t even want to conceive my second for quite a while after my first turned six months old, so I also didn’t want the higher risk of pregnancy at that point. So I didn’t want to rely on the method – it just wasn’t accurate enough for me.

    Another woman might be quite happy with those failure rates. Or, alternatively, might really dislike all other forms of contraception and feel that the higher failure rate of LAM (lactational amenorrhoea) is a fair trade-off for avoiding other forms of contraception. I’m just glad to be able to live in a country where women have options.

    Reply

  12. I just learned about this today and am fascinated! What I am doing with my baby is exactly as the ecological breastfeeding is described above and I didn’t even know it. I wondered why my period had not come back yet bc so many of my friends had. I was told to stop breastfeeding my baby but I didn’t and he is now 11 almost 12 months. I am glad I went with my mommy intuition.

    Reply

  13. I followed all these “rules” simply because I think it’s best for my baby, and yet I got my period at 7 WEEKS post partum. She’s now 15 months and still nursing on demand, and I’ve been able to use other alternative methods of birth control.

    Reply

  14. I followed my instincts when breast feeding my son. I nursed him on demand, day and night. My cycle returned 2 months post partum, perhaps even sooner, it wasn’t long after post partum bleeding ended. I wonder if it was because we struggled with undiagnosed tongue tie?! It wasn’t difficult to abstain anyway when giving myself and my body up wholly to my baby 🙂

    Reply

  15. We practiced ecological breastfeeding, and my children are spaced as follows. Baby born in 2001, Baby #2 January 2007, Baby #3 June 2008, Baby #4 May 2009, Baby #5 May 2010, baby #6 miscarried in 2011, baby #7 born July 2012, baby #8 & #9 miscarried in 2013, baby #10 born July 2014. Currently, the baby is 8 months old and I am NOT pregnant. She is a robust frequent nurser, bigger and hungrier than some of the others had been and a downright awful sleeper so she nurses a lot around the clock. She’s not a big fan of solid foods either. So, those factors play into spacing things out a bit. I wouldn’t change a thing about the timing, because it was meant to be, so it was and is. God’s got the hang of this and he gives grace to us that need it, and children always a blessing.

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  16. […] Ecological Breastfeeding | A Natural Approach to Child Spacing | Modern Alternative Mama […]

    Reply

  17. I ecologically breastfed my daughter without realizing it. I exclusively breastfed her, comfort nursed- no pacifiers- co slept and took a daily nap with her. I followed everything to a t. However, my period returned at 2 months postpartum! I still am not sure how, as she was a marathon nurser and would do so for many hours both day and night. I was paranoid about getting pregnant, but once I started charting my cycles, I realized that they were anovulatory. That’s about the time I heard about ecological breastfeeding. When my daughter was about a year old, I started ovulating again, but my luteal phase was too short to allow for implantation. When she was 19 months, my fertility returned, and bam! Pregnant. 🙂 I do wonder, how necessary is the daily nap? I’m a bit worried because I haven’t been napping with my six week old as I am just so busy. I have been doing everything else though. Should it work?

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  18. What if you don’t want to space things out? How do you return to “normal” if you want to conceive again but also want to breastfeed?

    Baby #1 is due on June 1, and I’ll be 38 soon after. Hubby is 49. We want to have another after this one, but considering both our ages, leaving too much time between is not feasible.

    I do want to breastfeed exclusively for a year, but am thinking we should start trying to conceive in Fall.

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  19. […] This doesn’t have to just apply to nighttime parenting. Sleep with your baby during naps. Every new mom needs naps. […]

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  20. […] breastfeeding relationship, fosters harmony between mother and child, and is a crucial part of ecological breastfeeding (natural child spacing). […]

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  21. […] But suffice it to say, the Couple to Couple League still promotes what  Shiela Kippley coined as ecological breastfeeding. And while her seven principles are quite labor intensive and certainly go beyond what the usual protocols of the LAM method call for, this method of spacing births is still being taught (See this 2014 blog post and Sheila Kippley’s reply in the comments). […]

    Reply

  22. I returned to fertility between 2.5-3mo postpartum after baby #1, but he had a pacifier and I pumped a 3-4 times over that span of time. I detected ovulation and the subsequent menses by using NFP, and tracked the ensuing cycles. We were TTA, but I conceived at 9 months postpartum with a pregnancy-evaluation confirmed method failure pregnancy using the Creighton Model.
    So after baby #2, I made sure I met all the seven standards of ecological breastfeeding, and my baby nursed very very frequently. We usually side-lay nursed. I returned to fertility at the 4-4.0mo mark that time, evidenced by a pregnancy. I had seen a bleed four weeks earlier.

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that breastfeeding – even ecological breastfeeding – does not inhibit my fertility for long. I’m a bit of an outlier, but we outliers are real. When you are in the 0.8%, you’re not 0.8% pregnant, you’re 100% pregnant! 🙂 I think it’s great for the majority of women the majority of the time, if you can manage the strict requirements. I could, since I’m a work-from-home home-schooling mother. I’m just not in that majority group anyway.

    Reply

  23. I just have a few questions, how do you sleep with your baby during day and night naps whilst feeding? Is that what you mean? I have no idea what this means haha.

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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