In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis offers contemporary Western cultures some worthy challenges. The extent to which optional human activity contributes to climate change is open to debate, but it seems to me that it is just a matter of common sense to conserve our non-renewable natural resources. Some of it can start right within churches. It just seems wasteful that I have to wear a jacket in an exclusively cooled church.
Pope Francis covered many subjects, but it seems to me that his non-treatment of breastfeeding, and especially ecological breastfeeding, is truly a significant omission.
The purpose of this encyclical was to discuss “the present ecological crisis” and then “to offer guidelines for human development.” (15) I thought of ecological breastfeeding when the Pope Francis discussed pollution related to health because pollution “causes millions of premature deaths,” (20) and causes accumulated waste of harmful substances and filth (21). But he said nothing about the number one cause of death worldwide for children under five, namely the absence of breastfeeding. That is why the World Health Organization and Saint John Paul II encouraged mothers to nurse for at least two years. About 1.5 million babies would be saved each year if mothers exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and continued to breastfeed into the second year (Superfood for Babies: How overcoming barriers to breastfeed will save children’s lives by Save the Children, 2013).
Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of the following diseases for babies and children: allergies, asthma, bacterial meningitis, botulism, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, ear infections, eczema, gastroenteritis, leukemia, autoimmune thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, lymphoma, multiple sclerosis, necrotizing enterocolitis, obesity, respiratory tract infections, sudden infant death syndrome, ulcerative colitis, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and urinary tract infections. That’s 22 health advantages of breastfeeding for the child, and every year new benefits are discovered.
Breastfeeding also reduces the incidence of the following diseases for the mother: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, endometrial cancer, thyroid cancer, lupus, and osteoporosis. More current research for both mother and baby are found at the categories for Breastfeeding Research at the right side of this blog.
Regarding waste, if mothers worldwide breastfed for two years there would be a great reduction in the production of formula, bottles, pacifiers, baby food and related jars, and feminine products, and a consequent reduction of waste and filth.
The Pope mentioned “reproductive health” (50). The best reproductive health that God gave humankind since the beginning of time is nursing according to the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. These Standards are simple maternal behaviors that encourage frequent and unrestricted nursing. Ecological Breastfeeding postpones the return of menses and fertility for 14 to 15 months, on average. The Pope and the Church need to promote ecological breastfeeding to the world. Governments sometimes stress the need for “birth control” so that there is a spacing of births for the health of the mother. God has already given humankind a natural way to space babies, and it’s free.
There is no need to buy formula or the baby food products. Pope Francis speaks of boycotting certain products. I think of just not purchasing products, such as formula, etc. Also one can avoid buying baby cards which picture baby bottles or pacifiers on the card.
The Pope also spoke of his concern for crime and violence. Many in the past have written about the breastfeeding relationship as a crime-preventive factor; they have noted the importance of the first three years with the mother as crucial for building a healthy human being, but there was nothing about the crucial first three years in this encyclical. Pope Francis spoke of our need to be fully present to someone (226) and that we need one another (229) and the importance of close relationships. The extended breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby exemplifies all of these. He mentioned the “abandonment of the elderly” but unfortunately did not mention the abandonment of the very young which is common in our society where babies and little ones are left in the care of others.
The Pope says we need to change the ecological crisis and educate others plus the Church so everyone responds to a new lifestyle. We need “leadership capable of striking out on new paths” (53) and we need to be concerned for all people. We need “a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life.” (189) Yet earlier the Pope states that “the worldwide ecological movement” has been ineffective, lacks interest or has opposition. I would say the same about my Catholic Church. We have promoted the benefits of ecological breastfeeding for over 45 years and basically the message has been ignored by the Church, except by a few. So I challenge the Pope to take up the cause. We will have a healthier Church as a result and a better quality of human life.
What is so disappointing about this significant omission is that the proper inclusion of ecological breastfeeding could have influenced millions of mothers to adopt it. I’m quite ignorant about how many people will turn up their thermostats during hot weather, and how much that will help the macro-environment. But the research is solid and repeated over and over—breastfeeding is best for babies and mothers, and the frequent nursing with the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding maximizes all the benefits of breastfeeding and, on average, it delays the return of menstruation and fertility for 14 to 15 months.