Is breastfeeding an effective form of contraception? Ask ten different moms and you will get ten different answers. This is simply because everybody is different and responds to changing hormones differently. However, “exclusive breastfeeding” and “ecological breastfeeding” are not the same and while “exclusive breastfeeding” works for many moms, “ecological breastfeeding” is much more effective.
Ecological Breastfeeding is essentially a lifestyle of mothering and is guided by 7 principles. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok. I am in no way implying that it is the best way to mother. However, for parents who are interested in natural child spacing and who are comfortable with breastfeeding and attachment style parenting, these principles may be all the validation they need to mother in a way that comes instinctually to them.
The statistics and principles I’m presenting can be found at the Natural Family Planning website and for more detailed information on the topic check out Sheila Kippley’s book “The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding.”
How effective is ecological breastfeeding you may ask? During the first three months of baby’s life, an ecologically breastfeeding mother has a (next to) zero percent chance of getting pregnant if she has not had a period and her chances of getting pregnant in the first 6 months go up to 1%. After the first 6 months her chances rise to 6% even if she has yet to have a period BUT if she also practices the Fertility Awareness Method, her chance of getting pregnant remains at 1%. (For information regarding my Fertility Awareness Course click here.) Around 70% of ecologically breastfeeding moms will get their first period between 9 and 20 months postpartum with the average being 14.6 months. Of course, statistics can never accurately predict what will happen to an individual and I’m sure there are plenty of moms who don’t follow all 7 principles of ecological breastfeeding and still went an extended amount of time without a cycle. Likewise, there are other moms who do follow all 7 principles and had their first period earlier than they wanted. Nevertheless, ecological breastfeeding is certainly worth a try.
So let’s dig into these principles, shall we?
1) Give your baby breastmilk exclusively for the first six months of life. No water, formula, cereal etc. After baby turns 6 months, breast milk is still the main aspect of baby’s diet and baby is still breastfed completely on demand even as other foods are introduced.
These are the rules for “exclusively breastfeeding” and many mothers are told this will be sufficient for avoiding pregnancy. While many moms are successful with this alone, there are plenty more who begin menstruating again 1-2 months postpartum and they think breastfeeding failed them. However, this is only the first principle of ecological breastfeeding so let’s keep going.
2) Comfort your baby at your breast.
How many times have nursing mothers been told “he’s just using you as a pacifier”? Or “your baby isn’t actually hungry, you shouldn’t keep nursing”? Here’s the thing, newborns cry often. They’re in a new, big, scary world and all they know is the comfort of being close to their mamas. Breastfeeding produces oxytocin which helps both mom and baby manage stress and calm down. So don’t be surprised when breastfeeding is the easiest way to make your baby stop crying. It’s normal, it’s natural and you can take advantage of it. Not only does it soothe your baby, but it boosts your milk supply and is your second step to preventing pregnancy naturally.
3) Don’t use bottles or pacifiers.
Because breastfeeding is so good at soothing babies, breasts are the ultimate pacifier. Remember, pacifiers we’re a human invention designed to replace the breast, so saying a baby is “using the breast as a pacifier” is backwards. Instead, we should say the baby is “using the pacifier as a breast.” Babies who are nursed for comfort often need that comfort less than babies who rely on pacifiers so I promise you won’t be latched 24/7.
Now about those bottles, the invention of a breast pump is awesome and has allowed many babies to get the breast milk they need and I highly admire dedicated, pumping mamas. But many moms who pump frequently find their fertility returns much quicker than those who mostly nurse because our bodies don’t have the same hormonal response to a breast pump as we do to a sweet, suckling baby. So if you don’t have to pump, don’t.
4) Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
Night feedings are important not only for your baby’s health and development, but also for keeping menstruation at bay. Once your baby starts consistently sleeping more than 6 hour stretches, you are likely to see a return of fertility. While this may seem like an unfair predicament, one way to work around it is to sleep next to your baby. This way, you are literally able to sleep and nurse at the same time. Baby is soothed and nourished and you never even had to get out of bed. I promise it’s a dream and it often insures that you will only have one baby at a time requiring this much attention.
5) Sleep with your baby for a daily nap feeding.
Ok I will be honest, if I could delete one rule, it would be this one and truthfully I didn’t do this most of the time. But how many of us have had the issue of baby waking from her nap as soon as we unlatched her?? Even though it’s incredibly frustrating it is so unbelievably normal. It’s just what babies do. And if we’re being honest, how many new moms truly do need a nap in the middle of the day but we’re too stressed to take one? I think many of us. So if you need an excuse to just latch that baby and fall asleep, this is it: natural child spacing!
6) Nurse frequently, day and night, and avoid schedules.
When babies are very young, it feels like they want to nurse constantly. Many moms feel nervous that either they aren’t making enough milk or that they’re over feeding their infant. However, the first option is unlikely and the second option is impossible. Breastfeeding works in a simple supply and demand system. So the more you allow your baby to nurse, the more milk your body will make. Newborns will often cluster feed just before a growth spurt so that your body knows to make more milk for your soon-to-be bigger baby. It’s an amazing cycle IF we let our babies guide the process. They know when they need to nurse so when we try to schedule feedings, we miss out on the natural process. And furthermore, remember that babies don’t just nurse for calories. Breast milk satisfies thirst, it’s comforting, and it helps them poop, wind down, and sleep. So keep on nursing mamas, a break from menstruation is so rewarding.
7) Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.
This final principle reiterates much of what we’ve already covered. Going back to work full time, sleep training, or supplementing with formula can all have an effect on your body and allow you to ovulate again. So while those are extremely personal decisions and there is no right choice, it is important to know that you may not be able to use breastfeeding as effective contraception if you choose to cut back on nursing.
Remember that the return of your fertility is not a terrible thing. It’s simply your body’s way of noticing that your first baby doesn’t need as many of your extra calories anymore so you could physically handle another baby. But if you know you aren’t ready for another one either emotionally, financially, or situationally, these 7 principles can guide you along without ever having to touch hormonal birth control. Combine it with the power of the Fertility Awareness Method and you’ve got a strong chance of avoiding pregnancy. So sweet mamas, just keep on nursing!
Did you practice ecological breastfeeding? How many months did you go before you had a return of fertility?