Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Bit More on Ecological Breastfeeding...

After re-reading my post on Mothering through Breastfeeding, I realized that I had gone into eco-breastfeeding more than I had intended to do in that post and then didn't go as in-depth as I would like to do with the subject... hence, another post.

I do believe that God made out bodies to work this way - to nurture our babies and toddlers through breastfeeding. I also believe that it contributes to spacing babies in many cases, but that is not the main reason to do it. Even for women who tend to have an earlier than expected return to fertility, this type of mothering is clearly valuable to mothers and babies alike for numerous other physical and emotional reasons. I have read comments on some other sites where women said they felt like "failures" because they had an earlier than normal return of fertility, even though they had read the book and followed the seven standards completely - no pacifiers, never leaving baby, sleeping with baby, naps with baby, etc. From the study that was done, it is shown that 93% of mothers who follow this style of nursing will not experience a return to fertility in the first six months postpartum. The average in this study is something like 12-14 months. For myself, I suppose I could be one of those who had a somewhat earlier than normal return to fertility - it was at about 7-7.5 months that menstruation resumed with my first child, and about 10.5 months with my second child. The difference between the two is that I stopped taking a daily nap with my first around six months of age. I continued to at least lay down (didn't always nap since I wanted to be able to hear that my three year old was okay) with my second until she was over a year old. So, the daily nap seems to have really made a difference for me.

However, there are other mothers I know who have said that they followed all the standards and still had a return of fertility prior to six months... more than 7% of the women I have talked to have stated this. Why is this? I noticed that Sheila Kippley has commented on my other post on this topic and I am hoping she can shed some light on this.

Here are some of my guesses:
* The daily nap is important. Even at a year postpartum, the mother's body still benefits from this time of rest. A time of rest for all small children and their mothers is wonderful, but not always feasible. I have known many mothers who said they just couldn't do the nap because of their older children - ones who no longer nap and would be distracting to the older baby if they were in the same room as the mother. This is understandable - my older child would have "quiet time" throughout the first year of the new baby's life, and she would sometimes still need the ap herself and fall asleep during her quiet time. She takes quiet toys and books into her room for about an hour and listens to a CD of classical music (when the CD ends, she knows that rest time is over). But - not all children will cooperate with this, and even when they do, there are the interruptions of the older child needing to use the bathroom and needing assistance, or hearing thunder and being scared, or being afraid of a bug in her room (all personal examples here!). These interruptions didn't bother the baby a bit when she was younger, but after about the 6 month mark, it would wake her up if her big sister came in and talked to me or climbed into the bed with us.

* I wonder how much environmental factors contribute to the return of fertility. What is in our water, what is in our food, what else could be affecting this in women? Past history of drug use (not talking illegal drugs here!)? Stress levels? The studies done in more primitive tribal areas may not reflect some of the factors we face here in the Western world. Tribal communities often have much more help from extended family and friends who live with or very near to the mother - so she has more help, she has more opportunity to rest, her older children are occupied playing with their cousins and friends while mom rests with the baby.

* Could diet play a role? We tend to eat more processed foods, meats treated with various hormones and such, and foods that are generally not in their closest to natural state - and even when we do, often times these foods have be treated with pesticides. Could this have an affect on earlier than normal return of fertility? Could it also be the amount we eat - that we eat a lot more calories than many tribal cultures, especially carbs? If our bodies are getting so much nourishment from our food, might menstuation return earlier? We do know that women who eat very little (too little in some cases) and are underweight can actually cease menstruation... could the same happen in cultures where the nursing mother is not consuming as many calories as we do in our culture? We are told that we should eat 300-500 more calories daily when nursing. If eating more contributes to an earlier return of fertility, then where is the balance: eating enough to remain healthy and not becoming undernourished while not eating too much, either?

* Could it be God's will at times? God never gives us more than we can handle - perhaps he blesses those who He knows possess the patience for more children with babies spaced more closely together. Perhaps He sees the woman at age 39 who has just had her first baby and blesses her with three or four more babies spaced only a year apart, because the first baby would not have the gift of siblings otherwise, as his mother's natural fertility was nearing its end as she entered her 40s.

* Could it be medical-related? Women have a higher rate lately of things like PCOS, infertility, extremely heavy bleeding and pain with monthly menstruation, and other reproductive issues... and maybe this is caused by environmental factors, diet, lack of exercise, etc. We know there is an alarming amount of synthetic hormones being dumped into our water daily - from the birth control pill. To put it bluntly, women who take the pill put these synthetic estrogens and other hormones into the water when they urinate. High levels have been found when samples of water have been tested, and the fish in some areas have actually mutated (the male fish essentially became female) due to these hormones (and WHY do environmentalists refuse to acknowledge this human-caused chemical impact on the environment?? Being anti-birth control pill must not fit with their agenda, it would seem). What effect could these hormones be having on our young daughters and their reproductive systems as they are exposed to this throughout their development? We also know girls are getting their periods earlier than they did in years past... could this be a factor?

Just some things that I wonder. I get disappointed to see people being turned off to ecological breastfeeding because it "didn't work." Just because it didn't work as in not producing 13 months of natural infertility, it *did* work in teaching a mother about mothering through breastfeeding, a wonderful gift to her child. I think that is the most important part of ecological breastfeeding. But I can understand it would be frustrating to somebody who always gets her fertility back at four months postpartum while her friend never has a return of fertility until at least 20 months postpartum... especially when they are both mothering through breastfeeding in the same exact way.

It is clearly beneficial to the female body to have extended times of natural infertility... less mentruation (as occurring naturally, not like the four periods per year pill) has been shown to be related to many health benefits - lower risks of certain cancers, for instance. Pregnancy obviously creates these naturally infertile times. It appears that breastfeeding was meant to do the same. It seems like God had a clear plan in designing our bodies this way - so why does it not always work this well for us in our culture? I really do wonder how much birth control might have an impact (as I love to blame the birth control pill for so many of our culture's ills, of which it can be linked to many!).

Clearly, mothering through breastfeeding has some impact on our fertility. I saw it myself, even if it was on the lower end of the average for me. Learning about the seven standards is clearly beneficial to mothers and their children, even if they do not experience more than a few months of natural infertility. A formula-feeding mother would experience no period of extended infertility - just the few weeks postpartum.

Could it be that Couple to Couple League decided to not teach ecological breastfeeding as explicitly because they were afraid of offending those people who have an early return of fertility? Would it not have been a better idea if they instead continued to teach it (as it does space babies for many using a natural, God-given method) while also reassuring women that for some, their fertility will return sooner, and it does not mean that these mothers are "failures" - and that they can then apply the other parts of their NFP understanding if they discern that they should postpone their next pregnancy?

The standards should be presented clearly, though - so no mother can say, "Oh, breastfeeding doesn't space babies. It didn't for me," when that same mother was also using a pacifier and not napping with the baby. But for the mothers who were taught the standards clearly by CCL and incorporated them into their lives, and then still experienced a return of fertility prior to six months postpartum... CCL could still emphasize that the mother was still mothering in a beneficial, God-given way, and that we do not always understand His plan for our fertility, nor do we understand the other environmental/situational factors that may affect fertility. I would love to see more studies into other things that may influence our fertility. God has blessed us with the ability to get get to know how our bodies work and to understand them, and science can be our friend on this as well.


Anonymous said...

I have heard that it does have to do with the napping and also maybe some of the other factors. I wish I had been taught to nap with the other kids and do ecological breastfeeding. By the time I learned about ecological breastfeeding, I had 3 kids and I still did not know about the nap until the 4th child when it was too late. I am trying to lay down more often now though even more difficult with homeschooling. The best time to homeschool is with Leah sleeping. It is frustrating to get it back at 2-3 mo. and now especially to be scared of having more kids, but wonderful to breastfeed and follow the rules even without the fertility benefit.

Erin said...

And maybe now that you are tandem nursing that will increase the length of the infertile period for you, because of the extra frequency of suckling. Something to hope for, but only time will tell...