The Couple to Couple League of Indianapolis

The Truth About Breastfeeding and Child Spacing

By RenŠe Schoening - August 2002


Everyone is familiar with the facts that breastmilk is best for babies and that making milk for our offspring is the purpose of breasts.  Still, your experience with breastfeeding and feelings about it are often determined by your upbringing and what the families around you have done.  Although it may not be a regular topic of conversation, did you know that we are encouraged as Catholics to breastfeed our children?  In May 1995, Pope John Paul II encouraged breastfeeding in comments to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.  He noted “two major benefits to the child: protection against disease and proper nourishment”.
 
He went on to say, “In addition to these immunological and nutritional effects, this natural way of feeding can create a bond of love and security between mother and child, and enable the child to assert its presence as a person through interaction with the mother... All of this is obviously a matter of immediate concern to countless women and children, and something which clearly has general importance for every society, rich or poor.  One hopes that your studies will serve to heighten public awareness of how much this natural activity benefits the child and helps to create the closeness and maternal bonding so necessary for healthy child development.  So human and natural is this bond that the Psalms use the image of the infant at its mother’s breast as a picture of God’s care for man (cf. Ps. 22.9).  So vital is this interaction between mother and child that my predecessor Pope Pius XII urged Catholic mothers, if at all possible, to nourish their children themselves.  From various perspectives therefore the theme is of interest to the Church, called as she is to concern herself with sanctity of life and of the family.”  (If you would like the footnote information on that, just let me know!)
 
Pope John Paul II also commented on how to help mothers in breastfeeding stating, “Mothers need time, information, and support.  So much is expected of women in many societies that time to devote to breastfeeding and early care is not always available.”  Encouraging the value of extended breastfeeding, he stated, “The overwhelming body of research is in favor of natural feeding rather than its substitutes.  Responsible international agencies are calling on governments to ensure that women are enabled to breastfeed their children for four to six months from birth and to continue this practice, supplemented by other foods, up to the second year of life or beyond.”  Wow - is what I said!  He has truly taken the time to do his research on this topic and to lovingly make statements to support and care for women and children.
 
If you are interested in more information, education, and support regarding breastfeeding, La Leche League International is an organization begun by seven Catholic women and dedicated precisely to that cause.  Locally, the Indianapolis Southside La Leche League meets the third Tuesday of each month at the Franklin Road Library (5550 S. Franklin Rd., just north of FCHS) at 6:30 p.m.  There is also an extensive website at: www.lalecheleague.org.
  
Now that you know just a little bit more about the “Catholic” side of breastfeeding, what is this stuff about breastfeeding spacing children?  It turns out, when we take a look at history, for thousands of years children have been naturally spaced apart by breastfeeding alone.  Breastfeeding is still the most widely practiced form of birth regulation worldwide.  A professor of pediatrics put it this way: “Demographic data recorded prior to the 20th century from birth records all over the world indicate that the average spacing of children was about two years when mother’s milk supplied the major source of calories for infants during the first year to 1.5 years of life.”  Still, so many of us are not aware of the natural child spacing effects of breastfeeding.  Why?
 
It is now recognized that it is not just any kind of breastfeeding that spaces babies.  Only “ecological breastfeeding” provides extended postpartum infertility.  Sheila Kippley, co-founder of The Couple to Couple League (CCL), describes this in depth as the ecology of breastfeeding or natural mothering in her book Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing.  In essence, the understanding that baby has a strong need for the presence of his or her mother and so baby care is characterized by constant mother-baby togetherness and frequent nursing, both by day and night.  Studies show that through ecological breastfeeding, women commonly experience between 9 and 20 months of postpartum infertility, with the average being 14.5 months.  When you do the math, that means children are naturally spaced about two to three years apart. 
 
In the first six months, the baby spacing effectiveness of ecological breastfeeding is unsurpassed by any non-permanent or non-hormonal form of birth control.  During the first three months of ecological breastfeeding and amenorrhea, the possibility of pregnancy is almost nil.  During the next three months, the pregnancy rate among mothers doing ecological breastfeeding and still in amenorrhea is not over 1%.  God’s plan provides the most effective method of family planning for the mother who follows His plan for mother and baby.
 
Want to get more details on how ecological breastfeeding spaces children? See Breastfeeding Information on the CCL website. Does this form of natural family planning sound like something you would like to practice in your family?  Go to Class Schedule & Registration Information to find the nearest CCL NFP class.