Natural Family Planning: Breastfeeding, A Fertility-Awareness-Based Method

In discussions about birth control and especially about natural family planning, a frequently used term is Fertility-Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs).  These “methods” use a woman’s natural signs of fertility and infertility to become aware of the fertile and infertile times of the menstrual cycle.

The signs usually mentioned are these: cervical mucus, basal body temperatures and the  presence or absence of menstruation.  The signs almost always omitted are the cervix changes and breastfeeding amenorrhea—the lack of menstruation while breastfeeding.  Those promoting FABMs refer to some studies back to the 80s but ignore ecological breastfeeding research published in the 80s and 90s.  

The failure to list Ecological Breastfeeding may be based on a misunderstanding, that is, not recognizing the importance of the absence or presence of menstruation while breastfeeding.  The reality is that the absence of menses while breastfeeding is an excellent sign of infertility.  When it is used for fertility awareness, it is called either the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) or Ecological Breastfeeding, and each has its own rules. When mothers follow the rules of LAM, they may experience up to six months of post-partum amenorrhea.  This method has been well researched over the years and is very effective when followed.

Ecological Breastfeeding also has its rules called the Seven Standards.  The frequent nursing of eco-breastfeeding may extend the amenorrhea for many months and even well into the second year.  The absence of menses is certainly a sign of infertility.

When menstruation returns while breastfeeding, that’s a sign that fertility has returned or will soon return.  In a low percentage of cases, the first ovulation occurs before the first menses.  Mothers eager to achieve pregnancy, however, may have to wait on nature and experience a few cycles before a pregnancy is achieved.  Pregnancy is easily recognized by the temperature sign when it remains elevated for three weeks.  Observant mothers can use the mucus and cervix signs to detect ovulation prior to menses.

Our two studies (1972 and 1986) had the same conclusion: American ecologically breastfeeding mothers experience, on average, 14 to 15 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea.  Two mothers have translated my breastfeeding books, one in Italian and another in French (observed on the home page of NFPandmore.org).  The Italian mother experienced 37 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea; the French mother, 16 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea.  One critic claimed that the mother who experienced 37 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea must have been in premenopause.  Not so.  She was 33 when this third baby was born and was looking forward to another pregnancy.  I want to stress that their situations are not unusual according to nature’s norms, but are normal and healthy.

All couples have a right to learn about the benefits of Ecological Breastfeeding as well as its natural birth spacing.  All the health benefits of breastfeeding plus the spacing benefit are maximized by Ecological Breastfeeding. 

The natural spacing benefit of ecological breastfeeding should be taught in all natural family planning (NFP) courses.  Every woman and every man have a basic human right to be informed about this part of God’s order of creation.

Sheila Kippley
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding

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