Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

You can be as convinced of the benefits of natural parenting as you like, but don't you sometimes have moments when you wonder if things really will turn out all right? When little worries about being different start to snowball into bigger worries, and you need a boost to make you feel good about your choices? I just read a book that has given me that shot in the arm I needed. It's called Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing an was written by a lady called Sheila Kippley back in the late 1960s.

I've written before about how I am concerned about my continuing infertility following childbirth. I gave birth 18 months ago and have yet to see the return of my periods. So I went looking for more information on breastfeeding amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) and found this book that was recommended by La Leche League.

The book did not give me any more information on the biological mechanisms that are keeping me in amenorrhea. But what it did brilliantly was reassure me that my experience is completely normal for a mother following the "seven standards of ecological breastfeeding". More than this, it reminded me, on almost every page, that I am doing a good thing by giving my time, my love and my milk without restriction to my daughter.

So what are the seven standards? They are:
  1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, giving no water, juice or food;

  2. Allow your baby to suckle for comfort as well as nutrition and do not restrict its time at the breast;

  3. Don't use bottles or dummies;

  4. Sleep with your baby at night;

  5. Lie down with your baby to get it to sleep for a nap during the day;

  6. Nurse frequently day and night and do not schedule feedings;

  7. Avoid separation from your baby.

This programme is 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy for the first six months postpartum. After this, there is a 6% chance that a nursing mother will become pregnant before having a period. When menstruation resumes, infertility may still persist for several months. Most women can expect to go without periods for some time between nine and twenty months postpartum.

The figure of 14.6 months as the average length of amenorrhea originates from this book, and actually refers to mothers who are following the seven standards. The actual time you spend without periods can vary according to your body chemistry, age (older women go longer) and how much your baby likes sucking. I am unintentionally following the seven standards, I am 31 and I have a high needs baby who really likes suckling, so I guess it's no wonder that I'm coming in a little above average.

A thing many natural parenting books suffer from is the need to constantly justify why natural practices are good. Nobody ever questioned Gina Ford as to why it was good for a baby to sleep through the night at 6 weeks, but it seems that extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping need to be explained repeatedly. This book gets around this problem very neatly because it is actually about child spacing. It basically says, "If you want as long as possible without periods, this is what you do. Oh and by the way, this is a really good way to bring up your child." Science justifies the advice, but experience shows that it is a wonderful way to meet a child's emotional and physical needs. A long amenorrhea is clearly nature's way of allowing a woman's body to prepare for the next pregnancy, while giving her child as much time as possible with its mother before it has to compete for attention with the next baby. Evolution has made us this way because it helps us to survive, and this in itself is a good justification for following a natural parenting approach.

The book made me realise how much our attitudes towards natural parenting have changed in 40 years, but also how far we still have to go until these healthy practices are fully accepted by society. Some bits are quite shocking, like doctors advising that babies should be given cereals at two weeks of age, and the author recalling how her breasts were bound tightly after birth. I am glad that breastfeeding in public has become a little more acceptable and that doctors now "allow" us to give birth naturally, but we still have a long way to go in convincing mothers that babies do not need food before six months and that breastfeeding beyond a year is a good idea.

What I did not like about the book was its Catholic undercurrent. I'm not religious and I don't buy a book on breastfeeding in order to be lectured about the evils of contraception. The religious bits could put a lot of people off the book, but I'm glad I read it because I've been walking about on a bit of a cloud of happiness ever since I picked it up. I'm happy because I know I'm not the first person to be totally attached to my baby, to breastfeed her to sleep every day and every night and to want to stay with her all the time. Even if I sometimes have a hard time explaining to other people why I bring up my baby like this, I know that lots of mums have done it before me and raved about it.

Forty years ago, mothers were saying exactly the same things about natural parenting as we are now, and that really comforts me and gives me a stronger conviction that I am doing the right thing after all.

Do you know what I mean about needing a boost every so often to convince you that you're doing the best for your child? Can you recommend a book that gave you the shot in the arm that you needed? Have you experienced a long amenorrhea? All comments gratefully received!


MamaEm said...

My daughter is 3 1/2 months and I'm just starting to think about this, namely starting to consider contraception. That my chances of becoming pregnant before a period are only 6% makes me feel much better about delaying that decision. Thanks for that info!
Like you, I often go looking for support for my parenting decisions. Today, I found it in this this post from you :) Thank you! Do you think it will be easier with our second children to feel confident in our choices?

Olivia said...

My daughter just turned 11 months and I still don't have my period. We are working on getting to the point I don't have to pump at work, and I wonder if my period will return once that happens. I'll still be nursing whenever I'm with her and during the night so we'll see.

My husband and I are thinking about trying for our second child when our first is about 18 months old. I'm not sure what we will decide if my fertility doesn't return by then. Will we decide to wean in order to conceive? I really don't know.

Lisa C said...

I am so going to do this with my next one (with my first we had breastfeeding issues in the beginning and I got my period back right away!). I wonder if there is any way to tell you are ovulating if you haven't had your period yet. Then you could use timing as well to reduce chances of getting pregnant.

Also it totally makes me feel good that "natural spacing" is a bit longer than the average spacing (in the US average is 2.5 years). I want 3-4 years between my little ones, and for some reason some people think that is selfish!

carol b said...

two books constantly give me the boost I need - what every parent needs to know
raising children raising ourselves

Jenny said...

My daughter will be 7 months on March 12, and we followed these principles until a little after 6 months. Except for having tried her on solid foods twice since her half-birthday, we still are. I have been meaning to get this book, but there are so many books I need to read and I figured if I know what to do and it works for me, maybe I can skip the book. It really does sound good though, because I am religious (although not Catholic), and I'd like to read her perspective.

I've been questioned plenty about why the baby can't go ahead and have food. I'm about ready to start her on solids, but she's mostly gagged so far and we haven't found a winner yet. We wanted to do baby-led weaning and give her finger foods, but it looks like we're going to try some mushy stuff for a week or two first.

I'm dreading the return of my period though. So far I've had light, irregular bleeding but not the real deal. I'm hoping I've got a few months left still, at least until she gets past the worst of teething. Sometimes she spends half the day nursing and I don't really see that stopping just because I'm feeding her solids a couple of times a day.

Cave Mother said...

MamaEm - For your first six months you really are pretty safe, as long as you follow the "rules". Glad I could help support you! I hope that I'll be more confident when (if) I have a second child, but I bet a new baby will raise a whole load of new questions.

Olivia - I understand what you're saying. What will I do if I still don't have my period in another six months? I think I just have to accept that while I am in amenorrhea, my body does not want to get pregnant. It might be best just to let our bodies do their thing.

Lisa - I seem to remember from school that most of my friends' siblings were about 3.5 years older or younger. That must have been the fashion back then. I don't think 3-4 years is selfish at all - I don't even understand why anyone would think it was selfish. You have to do what you think is best for your family. And you can monitor your fertility by checking your cervical mucous (clear and stretchy means fertile) and temperatures. The book's author says that if you do ecological breastfeeding AND other fertility monitoring then you have an even lower chance of pregnancy before the first period - something like 1%. Actually I'm trying to keep an eye on my fertility this way, though I'm not being very thorough.

carol b - thanks. Actually I keep meaning to read "Raising Our Children.." following your recommendation ages ago.

Jenny - to be honest, you probably can skip the book. It's a nice read but it all basically comes down to following the seven principles. There is no problem with giving your baby solids now, and hopefully your body should remain in amenorrhea as your baby gradually takes less milk. I don't think there's any problem with giving a baby a bit of mush, even if you are attracted to BLW. We mainly did BLW meals but Cave Baby did enjoy apple puree and fromage frais from a spoon. It is worth looking at what the WHO and UNICEF say about solids - they say that for baby's first year, food should be regarded as fun, with milk still providing the main diet. I had a baby that took to solids very easily but it certainly did NOT slow her down on the nursing front. She still nurses as frequently as she did when she was six months old!

Lisa C said...

I like 1% better than 6%!

I think the reasoning behind further child spacing being selfish is that they figure you will have fewer children, which is some people consider selfish. Of course that's not true. Like you said, it's about what is best for your family.

Betsy B. Honest said...

D'oh! Natural child spacing!

Everytime I've tried to use natural birth control techniques I've immediately become pregnant. Apparently this runs in my family.

I was raised Catholic and am a 5th child. My Catholic granny had 13 children and died quite young after a long struggle with depression and ultimately cancer which was probably caused from being run absolutely ragged.

I have to laugh when you mention the Catholic thing because it seems to me the whole Catholic agenda is to get people to have as many Catholics as possible, regardless of how much strain it puts on women and families.


I was tandem nursing a 6 month old and a two year old when I got pregnant with number 3 and had not had a period yet so I am definately going to give natural child spacing a skip for ever more.

It is definately a good idea to let your body (etc.) recover between children, and I know that is what you are saying here. I'd just like to add that I don't think any woman should rely on "natural child spacing" unless she is in a hurry to have her children close together for some reason. Then she can either have a nice surprise (pregnant already?) or adequate time to recover.

Liz said...

As always, can only recommend Toni Weschler's excellent book Taking Charge Of Your Fertility - classic, modern natural fertility. More scientific than the rhythm method, which is the Catholic and fallible method, and with a chapter on Fertility Awarenes while breastfeeding. For anyone who doesn't want to use artificial or homronal contraception but doesn't want to get pregnant. And for people having trouble getting pregnant it can really help to pinpoint timings and problems.

Melodie said...

I did all those things. I literally nursed around the clock, every hour on the hour, maybe two when she napped, but my periods came back at 6 months with both my kids. I really felt let down by that and very envious of moms who didn't have their period for 19 months post partum.

Hobo Mama said...

You know I'm one of those people who followed the principles but came in sooner than average for returning fertility (and very annoyed I was about it, too!).

But I totally agree with you that it's a kick to read that other people have agreed with you even in the past — that attachment parenting isn't something that was made up whole cloth a decade ago or something. It was actually quite radical to write a breastfeeding book in the 1960s, wasn't it? I think breastfeeding was definitely on the outs popularity-wise at that point. Good for the author!

allgrownup said...

Wow. Was debating about this with my cousin today. She asked me why I'd had the coil fitted if I truly believed bf was a contraception! Truth is, I've never used just one form of contraception, currently using three :-) I've tagged you over at my blog, I hope you'll play along, it's a pretty big issue.

Anonymous said...

I totally know what you mean. I will say that, as my first child gets older, I have fewer doubts. Once you have at least one child who can talk and print her name and use the bathroom and sleep through the night the worries abate. With my second child, I face far fewer doubts.

I guess I am average for someone who follows those principles - I went around 15 months before my period returned both times. I was expecting it to be longer with my 2nd as I'd heard that can happen, but no.

Also, I have to say that I LOVE this article about breastfeeding and fertility. It talks about how to delay fertility, and also how to kick-start it if you want to, in terms that I find very non-judgemental. It's a quick read if you want the skinny on what is up with your breastfeeding body: http://www.llli.org/NB/NBSepOct06p196.html

Cave Mother said...

Amber - yes that's a really good article. I read that, then followed some links to get to the LLL recommended reading, which is why I ended up getting the book.

Hobo Mama - I know, it's cool that it was written back then. My mum always says "We didn't have books like that when you were a baby" but now I can show her this one and say "Yes you did".

Cave Mother said...

Amber - yes that's a really good article. I read that, then followed some links to get to the LLL recommended reading, which is why I ended up getting the book.

clareybabble said...

This is really interesting. I breastfed my son for a year and it took a further 6-9 months for my periods to return. But I am still breastfeeding my daughter at 19 mths and my periods returned about 6 months ago! I'm not sure what's been different between the two other than the length of time spent breastfeeding.
I totally agree with you ref Gina Ford, whos books I bought when my son wouldn't do what I thought he should. Natural parenting has worked wonders with my daughter compared to the rigidness of routines.

Cave Mother said...

clare - How interesting. Going 6-9 months after weaning must have been a bit nerve wracking. I would have been worrying that there was something wrong with me! But then I'm a bit of a worrier I suppose. I wonder if your two children have different suckling requirements? Or did one have a dummy, and the other not?

clareybabble said...

Both of mine have/have had dummies. I think my daughter has spent more time at the breast as by the time my son was 1, he only wanted a couple of feeds a day. My daughter on the other hand feeds lots during the day.
I was a bit concerned and went to the drs about the absence of my periods. She said it's not uncommon and wasn't too concerned.

prince n princess mum said...

Nice sharing...

ecoMILF said...

I definitely hear you on this one. I am usually very confident about my non-conventional parenting choices however occasionally dark moments will hit when I need a reminder that there are others out there like me. That's when I turn to the Australian Breastfeeding Magazine, or similar blogs and the wonderful support network I have met through them. Interestingly, I am still breastfeeding my 18 month-old and am now 17 weeks pregnant. I got my period when he was 13 months old and fell pregnant when he was 15ish. It wasn't planned but wasn't unplanned if you know what I mean. The two will be exactly 2 years apart. I am reading up on tandem feeding and feeding during pregnancy and I feel it is really a great way to keep us all bonded and close. xo m.

Sheila Kippley said...

Thanks for promoting eco-breastfeeding. My book you recommended is the Classic Edition from 1974. The up-to-date version with new research and quotes is The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor (2008). It is completely secular, shows that it does work, and is recommended by La Leche League. Sheila Kippley

Jessica said...

I breastfed my son whenever he wanted for as long as he wanted and bed-shared for 6 months and my period still came in at 6 months. Hmm, I wonder if moving him out of my bed had anything to do with that... We used condoms once I started cycling again and didn't really worry too much about it. Hell, I made him wear condoms even BEFORE I'd started my period since I have almost no way of knowing whether or not I've ovulated prior to a first period :)

And yes, I love it when I find a resource that tells me I'm NOT out of my mind. I feel the same way about blogs, too.

Pickle said...

another great post. I'm having fun reading your blog. I am Catholic so I don't use contraception for religious reasons but so often I feel awkward or out of place for using natural child spacing as a 'birth control'. But I'm really happy because natural child spacing fits so well into my parenting views. Letting your baby and body decide when it's time seems like the way to go and the way it should be. Thanks for writting about this, I loved it. I'll have to check out the book.
ps I'd anyone wants to know about fertility monitoring, I've read wayyyyy to much about it :)

Jennifer said...

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing is one of my very favorite parenting books right now. I feel so encouraged by it, so supported in my need and my son's need to be together. He is now 18 months and I do not have my cycles back yet either. We follow the 7 standards completely. I am quite content with a gradual return to fertility. Sebastien's needs as a toddler are quite intense right now and I am trusting that my body senses that.

Cave Mother said...

Thanks for all the comments - and one from Sheila Kippley herself! Thanks so much for doing this Sheila. It means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

i am a mum with a 5mths old aby, i breast feed my gal for a period of 2mths, cos i was about to travel and i had to make love to my husband, but d next month i noticed my period and after that the next following mths that is d 4mths nd 5mth i still had not seen my period, just womndering if i had become pregant, cos after the intercourse i had to take ampicillin dont know if that the cause of my early menstruation or that i am pregnanet again

Thag said...

My baby is 21 months and I still have not had a period. I love it! She sounds much like your own child in her nursing demands. I, too, follow those 7 rules, though not because I knew they existed. I have a great and reassuring OBGYN who said he has seen the gamut when it comes to periods returning and that every woman is different. He's not at all concerned my periods are not back. Interestingly, my mom did not get her period until she stopped breastfeeding me and my sister completely, both around 18 months. She slept with us, too, but I'm not sure if she breastfed on demand.

I would not call this infertility, though. Infertility means you can't have a child. You clearly can because you did. Your body and your baby are just not ready for another, yet.

Charles and Samantha said...

My twin boys are 21 months old. They nurse about every 3 hours and a few times at night. I am starting to spot occasionally and was wondering if this is the start of my period? Am I fertile again? The spotting is very light and sporadic. Defintely not what my periods were before I got pregnant!! Is this just a sign that it's coming soon?

Shawna said...

I just found this thread! I accidentally practiced "ecological nursing" and went without a period until my son was 27 months old. I'm trying to chart this cycle ( the first one I'be known about post partum) and I'm on day 47 with no ovulation. We're trying hot #2, but something tells me this will be a long road. I keep picking up the book to remind myself that I'm doing the right thing! It's so hard sometimes!

imy said...

I have 12 months between daughter number one and 2(fell pregnant when daughter 1 was 12wks, and 16 months between daughter 2 and 3. I didn't breastfeed daughter 1 and 2 but did 3. No periods have returned and i think it's my body saying it's had enough of being preganantfor nearly 3 years. If i'm honest i know for fact i would be pregnant if i had bottle fed. She is hooked on breast and wont go near a bottle or cup which i think is her saying i want to be the youngest for a while

The Waits said...

i fell upon her 4th book at the thrift store the other day for 50 cents. its one of the best books i have ever read! I too had no periods for a year after both boys were born, and never really understood why. our family practices the 7 traits ( not knowing that what we were doing was anything special, it was just what felt right for us). I am glad to have read this book, and it makes me feel good that what we are doing has even more benefits to back up how we are doing things. ps, i just bought my first subscription to breastfeeding today. thanks for sharing this blogging about this! -m

Jennifer Reed said...

Well, it doesn't always work. I followed all 7 principles and had my first PP period at 6 weeks. I didn't believe it at first and went back to tracking my ovulation. Even my midwife was puzzled. I started ovulating like clockwork - every 17th cycle day just as before pregnancy. I still nurse my 13 month old on demand never going more than a couple hours day and night. I've tried to find information on WHY some women do not see any delay in fertility, but have been unsuccessful.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is an old post but I can't help but comment. I bought the book your speaking of when my first child was about 1 and wondering why I still hadn't gotten my period. I was practicing all 7 points without knowing anything about it, just from what came natural to me as a mother. With my first child, my period returned after 3 months shy of her turning 2 when I weaned her. But I seem to get more relaxed about weaning with each one and have noticed that with each child it has taken longer and longer to have my periods return. I am currently nursing my fourth child who turned 2 in march. I still haven't gotten my period back and was searching the Web to see if anyone else could relate to such an extended break from their mensus. I realized with my others I eventually started working on taking away the morning nursing, then the nap time one, etc but with my current child I have not done any of that yet and am guessing that's why I still haven't had a period. So I am curious to see how long this will continue. With my other children I always got to a point where I really wanted another baby and that's what drove me to start weaning in earnest. I guess this time around I am not so anxious. I would gladly welcome another baby, but don't feel desperate for one either. I know a lot of mom's who say this method doesn't work, and I know moms who say it does, but I personally know of only 1 other mom who has had a longer stretch than ke, hers didn't return until her last child was 3 years old! It's kind of interesting how different people's bodies react to different things!

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