The most natural of the natural planning methods is ecological breastfeeding and it involves no abstinence. This form of baby care postpones the return of fertility significantly, thus providing baby-spacing without the abstinence of systematic natural family planning (NFP).
From the beginning of the human race God has had a plan for mother and baby through the breastfeeding relationship. This plan involves mother-baby togetherness, provides many benefits to both mother and baby, and provides the mother with an extended absence of menstruation and fertility while she nurses her baby frequently day and night. This natural form of mothering we have termed the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. The Seven Standards are maternal behaviors that avoid common cultural practices that reduce the frequency and duration of breastfeeding.
Surprisingly, some Catholics are opposed to teaching a couple how to extend breastfeeding amenorrhea. They see this as teaching couples how not to have babies. On the contrary, pregnancy and breastfeeding amenorrhea are all part of God’s reproductive plan. Would these couples shorten the months of pregnancy so they could have another baby right away? God knows that nine months of pregnancy are best for the health of the baby. Likewise God knows that mothers and babies have a need for each other and that it is healthier for both if breastfeeding occurs over a period of several years. Saint John Paul II encouraged mothers to nurse at least two years or beyond.
What is the norm after childbirth?
If you take nature as your guide (and today many stress the benefits of following nature), extended breastfeeding is the norm and extended breastfeeding amenorrhea is the norm.
To have menstruation return within 3 months after childbirth should be the exception. Again, such an early return of menstruation postpartum should be the exception if we take nature as our guide.
With an extended time of amenorrhea, the couple does not have to abstain from the marriage act. Their practice of ecological breastfeeding has the divinely designed effect of postponing the return of fertility. Sometimes it may take several cycles before the couple can achieve pregnancy when the mother is still nursing. Eventually fertility returns.
When couples are ready to achieve pregnancy as soon as fertility returns, ecological breastfeeding requires no abstinence. We recommend, however, that they do standard sympto-thermal charting when fertility signs occur so they will have an accurate way of determining, within a few days, the time of conception. The temperature sign gives them the most accurate estimate of the childbirth date. When couples need to postpone their next pregnancy, they need to observe the fertility signs (especially the cervix sign) during the amenorrhea prior to the first menstruation or the first ovulation. As fertility signs occur, then the abstinence begins.
Ecological breastfeeding is the best way to space the births of children in a family. Should ecological breastfeeding be taught? Why not? In our bottle-feeding culture especially, couples in natural family planning classes deserve to learn that eco-breastfeeding is a viable and wonderful option.
New book which promotes and teaches ecological breastfeeding and which helps new mothers to breastfeed successfully: Getting Started With Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers by Gina Peterson and priced under $10.