Breastfeeding: Is it Contraception or an NFP Method or Neither?

It may surprise you, but Ecological Breastfeeding is controversial among Catholics.  Some say breastfeeding is a form of contraception.  They say that a breastfeeding mother is avoiding conception with breastfeeding’s natural suppression of ovulation.  But the baby is nursing not the mother, and every nursing mother knows that she cannot force a baby to nurse.  When Saint John Paul II promoted breastfeeding for health reasons, he also noted its natural child spacing effect.

Others say that breastfeeding can’t be called a natural family planning method because it does not involve charting fertility/infertility or follow a fertility awareness system.  But for about 94% of breastfeeding moms, their first period is all they need by way of fertility awareness.

In reality, Ecological Breastfeeding is definitely a form of natural baby spacing.  That’s why we teach that there are two distinct forms of natural family planning—systematic NFP and Ecological Breastfeeding.  Realistically, couples who learn Ecological Breastfeeding from NFPI and intend to use it as their only “spacer” will probably be charting in the later months of amenorrhea so that they can accurately determine the temperature-based “due date” for their next baby if they achieve pregnancy before their first menses.

I’m reviewing some standards set by a USCCB committee in which it says several times that all phases of the reproductive cycle must be taught.  In a high school physiology class I was taught by a wonderful teacher that the reproductive cycle ended with breastfeeding, not childbirth.  She knew something about the effect that breastfeeding had on inhibiting ovulation.  Of course, eventually menstruation and fertility returns for the nursing mother, and the reproductive cycle can start once again.  It is unfortunate that this has been lost in part of the NFP movement.

Let’s do a survey!  Let’s ask 10 ecologically breastfeeding mothers if they are practicing contraception.  Of course, their answer is NO.  Then let’s ask these same breastfeeding mothers if they are practicing a form of natural family planning.  Of course, their answer would be YES because they are using the most natural form of natural baby spacing—God’s plan for both mother and baby.  However, it seems that some of those involved with NFP in the Church will say the answer to the second question is NO for  eco-breastfeeding mothers.

These mothers are not practicing NFP?  Really?

Any comments on this dilemma are welcome!

Sheila Kippley
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding

7 Responses to “Breastfeeding: Is it Contraception or an NFP Method or Neither?”

  1. anne cherney says:

    It’s not just best for the baby, and it is not just great for child spacing. It is, more importantly, blessing God. It is doing what God intends us to do. That’s the real reason for breastfeeding. Any kickback is simply what He wants to give us!

  2. Ginnie says:

    I feel that if ecological breastfeeding were better supported by NFP/NaPro doctors as a type of NFP or child spacing, I would have had a better informed decision when contemplating the progesterone shot for PPD. The doctor knew I was breastfeeding and trying for long term amnorrhea, but no one told me that the progesterone shots would force my cycles to come back. In fact, it wasn’t until my husband researched into it AFTER my shots were taken that it was often used as a fertility treatment!

    Before these shots, I was nearly five weeks pp and already charting. I was consistently dry, no mucus, and was faithfully following all seven standards. But after the shots, I bled for several days and my mucus returned. I spent a number of months in the air about when my fertility would finally return, when I had consistent egg white mucus and no thermal shift showing I ovulated. While I am back in somewhat normal cycles again, and I have been charting, I am so very upset that my breastfeeding infertility was “taken” from me because no one warned me about progesterone shots forcing fertility to return.

    Women in our society already struggle with their breastfeeding goals, I would hope that NFP-supporting doctors would understand and support eco-breastfeeding to support the goal of natural infertility for mothers like me.

    I would like you to spread my story, in hopes that other mothers, instructors, and doctors can better support eco-breastfeeding. The progesterone shot for PPD is certainly a lifesaver for many women, but I would have made a different decision for my own struggles if I had known it would disrupt my natural infertility.

  3. Thanks, Ginnie, for posting. In the past a few mothers have told us they were told by their NFP insturctor to stop breastfeeding so they could cycle and chart. The Billings organization in the States does not teach the Lactational Amenorrhea Method and has the nursing mother start charting “at 3 weeks postpartum or as soon as the lochia clears.” A former Creighton employee stated that their office taught that breastfeeding infertility occurred only in the first 56 days postpartum and that the Lacational Amenorrhea was ignored. We have been trying to influence people in the Church for 50 years on the importance of ecological breastfeeding as a form of natural family planning. We hope you and others take up this mission.

  4. Lexy says:

    If breastfeeding were a contraceptive and the Church required every couple to have as many children as possible, then the Church would require us to formula feed so that breastfeeding would not interfere with PP return of fertility and mothers could conceive ASAP. Clearly, none of these are the case.
    Ecological breastfeeding certainly isn’t systematic NFP, but if a couple has discerned no need to postpone pregnancy, then Ecological breastfeeding is probably a good fit to have a healthy space between pregnancies and certainly sounds like it falls into the logical definition of NFP.

  5. CJ says:

    I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the quandry.

    It is not, by definition, contraception, which is defined as “the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.” One cannot argue, with a straight face anyway, that lactational amenorrhea is an artificial method when it’s the human body’s natural response to breastfeeding.

    The medical definition of natural family planning is “a method of birth control that involves abstention from sexual intercourse during the period of ovulation which is determined through observation and measurement of bodily signs (as cervical mucus and body temperature)”. LAM clearly falls under this umbrella – it’s simply if there’s no signs to measure or observe then charting isn’t exactly necessary (and ergo abstinence may not be necessary). I personally am comfortable not charting until I start to see symptoms of impending fertility.

    I think a lot of the pushback that we get about LAM and NFP isn’t rooted in science or even theology, but cultural inhibitions about breastfeeding in general and the “ick” factor many people seem to have about extended nursing into toddlerhood. In my experience, that’s where a lot of the debate seems to stem from in the big picture.

  6. Anna says:

    Hmmm…. I feel like NFP is something one actively does. They chart, or make daily observations, have at least a vague understanding of what their bodies are doing in regards to fertility. To EBF, you don’t need to do any of that. There are Catholics, who just let nature take it’s course. They have their babies, they nurse their babies, and fertility returns whenever it does, and they get pregnant again, whenever it happens. Can one use EBF as NFP/with NFP, yes. But I don’t think they necessarily go hand in hand.

  7. Carol H says:

    Breastfeeding is, by design, for the good of the child above all (though others benefit!). This includes not only the feeding and bonding but also the “side effect” of delaying subsequent pregnancy in the vast majority of women. I would consider this design an important part of *natural* family planning and certainly not contraceptive.