The language that Pope Francis used about family size certainly got attention, but the Church has always taught that a couple does not have to seek to have as many children as they can have, biologically speaking. As soon as there was scientific speculation that women, like many other mammals, have periodic fertility, the Vatican stated that it would be legitimate for a couple to abstain during the fertile time of the cycle in order to avoid pregnancy—and that was in 1850. The Church teaches that a couple can use systematic natural family planning if they have a sufficiently serious reason. Such reasons are given in Humanae Vitae.
The Pope also referred to natural family planning which today is highly effective when understood and practiced by couples who have a real need to avoid pregnancy, especially if they use a system that cross-checks two of the fertility signs.
Much has also been made of the Pope’s reference that humans should not produce like rabbits. In the old days, two babies born within a 12-month span sometimes were called “Catholic twins.” What is not mentioned in all the discussions on this topic is that God has a plan for spacing our children’s births. A physiology teacher in the Fifties taught in her high school class that the reproductive cycle ends with breastfeeding. She was a wonderful teacher. Of course, as one of her students, I did not fully understand what that all meant. Unfortunately today everyone assumes that the reproductive cycle ends with childbirth. Not so, if you take nature as your norm. Repeated research has shown that mothers who practice ecological breastfeeding experience, on average, 14 to 15 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea (no periods), some less and some much more.
We are the only American NFP organization that teaches the Seven Standards of ecological breastfeeding, a form of natural mothering that spaces babies. The Seven Standards are simply maternal behaviors associated with extended breastfeeding amenorrhea. For example, no bottles, no formula, no pacifiers, no babysitting, no strict schedules, and more. See the Seven Standards. The key is mother-baby closeness and frequent suckling. Some mothers may not be able to practice eco-breastfeeding for various reasons; but among those who do, their appreciation is frequently huge.
World and Church leaders should promote ecological breastfeeding whenever natural family planning is discussed. Couples should be able to learn this option for planning their families.
Witness: “The Kippleys’ teaching about ecological breastfeeding was instrumental to my conversion, not only to the fullness of Church teaching on marriage, but to the Catholic faith itself. I was a 30-something, “childless-by-choice”, nominal Protestant when I encountered it and my heart was so changed that I became Catholic within a year, AND became pregnant with my first child. My husband and I used ONLY ecological breastfeeding to space our three children going forward, and our marriage and family life has been immeasurably enriched. Bishops who encourage this teaching are truly evangelizing in a desperately needed way in today’s world.” Pamela Pilch
Another witness: “Since our marriage, my husband and I have used ecological breastfeeding to space our 6 children, you guessed it, 2-3 years apart. I hope to further your work to share ecological breastfeeding with the world!” She adds the benefits: “no menstrual bleeding, no cramps, migraines, PMS, or pads; and no ovulations—for years on end. My husband and I have been free of what others call the “fear” of pregnancy, that is, free to enjoy each other intimately for years without any concerns or even [a] thought given to preventing pregnancy. No potentially contentious discussions about whether to try for another baby. No need to chart. No need to take temps. Simply letting God plan our family. By the time my fertility has returned, we have been mentally in the place where another pregnancy and another baby seemed….well…natural!” Christelle Hagen
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding