We had been hoping for and planning to try for another child -- so the news I was pregnant was welcomed by both of us -- but I share this story to let you know that holiday weaning -- and an unexpected holiday-conceived baby -- aren't just theories for me!
A mere two months prior to that positive pregnancy test, when our oldest child turned two years old, I had visited my doctor to let her know that my fertility (both menstruation and ovulation) had not yet returned. Due to my prior history of infertility, she had advised that we begin to investigate possible causes. However, I had done nothing more than talk to the doctor when we conceived our dearly loved second child. Surprise! What happened?
After giving birth, a breastfeeding mother has two different hormonal "sides" that can be imagined as the two sides of a scale. On one side, she has breastfeeding hormones that promote lactation (and tend to suppress ovulation) -- and on the other, reproductive hormones that promote ovulation, and which may lead to another pregnancy. While the timing of her return of fertility varies from woman to woman, and even from baby to baby by the same mother (due to many different factors) the general principle is that frequent and unrestricted suckling at the breast is the most important factor that keeps the breastfeeding hormones side of the scale "heavier," resulting in continued natural suppression of fertility.
However, the further out in time from the birth, the easier it is for the reproductive hormones to tip the scales, so that menstruation or ovulation may return. This is part of the reason why the holiday season is indirectly responsible for many late summer and fall babies!
What factors contribute to this unexpected holiday-related return of fertility? Here is a partial list:
If, like my husband and me, you are hoping for another baby, then just pay attention to your signs of fertility and enjoy making your holiday baby if the signs point to being fertile!
However, especially if your baby is under a year old, you may want to protect your breastfeeding relationship, discourage weaning, and delay making a new baby until later in the future. In that case, you definitely want to do what you can to avoid changes in your usual nursing and sleeping routines as much as possible. This may not be the year to host holidays and celebrations! Keep your meals and preparations simple, and maybe even skip some of this year's parties. Remember, you need to maintain your normal routines as much as possible, so that baby's frequent suckling at the breast remains as consistent as possible. At the same time, be vigilant to observe and record your signs of fertility, so that if you do detect any changes that indicate fertility, you and your husband can still celebrate, but in less intimate ways.
If a more detailed discussion of how to protect your breastfeeding relationship during the holidays, how to interpret your signs of fertility, or how to understand the return of fertility after birth would be helpful to you, contact me (Christelle) to book a free online, phone, or in-person consultation. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and fertility educator, I can help!
For Catholic breastfeeding mothers, "Navigating the Holidays as a Breastfeeding Family," and the unexpected return of fertility are the discussion topics of our online Catholic Nursing Mothers' Group in November. Reach out if you would like to join us for this free online breastfeeding support group!
One of my most popular posts in this blog is about ecological breastfeeding. Earlier this year, I was asked by Natural Family Planning International to produce a short video about ecological breastfeeding. I wrote the video, filmed it, acted in it, and edited it. This was a fun experience and I hope to produce more parenting videos in the future! Contact me or comment below if you have ideas for parenting videos, or questions I can answer with a video!
Because they go by kind of fast, here are the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding:
Do you have comments or questions about ecological breastfeeding (sometimes called eco-breastfeeding)? Do you have eco-bfing experiences to share? Comment below!
What is Ecological Breastfeeding?
It must be noted that ALL breastmilk and any way a mother feeds her baby is good. Whether directly from the breast, from an eye dropper, dripped from a spoon, squirted with a syringe, dribbled out of a cup, or sucked out of a bottle--as the saying goes, "breast is best." The Seven Standards aren't intended to be a measure of whether or not you are "mom enough" (as the now famous TIME magazine cover challenged). There are seven "standards" because ecological breastfeeding is a means of spacing babies. As such, there are rules ("standards") to be followed. If the standards are followed, most women will experience completely natural infertility (for, on average, about 14-15 months after birth) as her body focuses on growing her babe in arms. She will neither ovulate nor menstruate during this time of natural infertility. Until mature eggs are released, there is no chance of pregnancy. As more time passes from birth, the more likely it is that a mother will begin to ovulate again. Studies of ecological breastfeeding mothers have shown that the actual rates of pregnancy are virtually zero from 0-3 months; 2% from 3-6 months, and about 6% after 6 months, assuming the mother has not experienced bleeding or spotting on two or more consecutive days. Eventually, full fertility returns and in the natural order of things, within the context of a normal marital relationship, and with nothing but ecological breastfeeding, babies will come about every two to three years. ...But if natural infertility--babies spaced without charting, abstinence, barriers, medications or devices--isn't something you desire, then ecological breastfeeding isn't for you.
Kippley’s Ecological Breastfeeding Program sets the stage as much as possible for successful breastfeeding. While it is not for every family, it certainly would benefit some families who are unlikely to hear of it. Unfortunately, natural breastfeeding continues to be viewed not only as a countercultural relic of the days of the cave woman, but it is also the best kept secret as a means to naturally space children, even in natural family planning circles.
Am I adding to the guilt? I hope not. My aim is to let mothers and couples know about the most natural form of breastfeeding so they have the option of choosing it, if it is right for them.
Natural breastfeeding moms need to come out of the closet, or more accurately, get out of the house! …and let the world know about this most beautiful way to space babies. To that end, in the coming weeks, I will describe in detail each of Kippley’s Seven Standards and present evidence-based information and personal anecdotes about each of them. I will follow this up with a series of posts explaining what moms, dads, relatives, employees, employers, clergy, and others can do to promote and support breastfeeding within your walls. Make sure to come back in the coming weeks to learn what you can do to encourage the spread of information about natural breastfeeding, to help promote healthier and happier families, mothers, and babies. Or get my posts directly in your email inbox by subscribing to them in the box in the side column of this blog!
"Kabala mother" by John Atherton - originally posted to Flickr as New baby and proud mother, Kabala, Sierra Leone (West Africa). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kabala_mother.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kabala_mother.jpg
With both my husband and I working on our family farm, and having six homeschooled children, there is nearly always somebody around the homestead. However, finding myself with only a sleeping baby in the house over the weekend, I took the opportunity to watch the documentary, Breastmilk, the latest from executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (who previously directed and produced The Business of Being Born; and More Business of Being Born). While there were certainly troublesome segments (such as the “feminist” who graphically exalted “lactation porn”...and the random images of spouting breasts) which require that I post a Do Not Watch In Mixed Company or In the Presence of Children warning, the overall message—that successfully breastfeeding a baby in the United States is practically a miracle—came through loud and clear. By following a handful of mothers from late in pregnancy through their baby’s first year of life, Breastmilk reveals how terribly difficult it is for American mothers to make milk.
In watching the documentary, I found myself relating to the one mother in the documentary who successfully nursed her baby as she described the odd experience of lending a sympathetic ear to all of her friends who could not breastfeed, but feeling there was no place to share her own prosaic story of breastfeeding success. Breastmilk left me with feelings akin to survivor’s guilt. While my own social circles contain a far higher percentage of successful breastfeeding mothers than were included in the documentary, I have experienced a less extreme version of the same story, as it seems that breastfeeding problems are the rule, not the exception.
Similarly, many mothers find nursing in public (a necessity unless you never leave your house) incredibly uncomfortable and embarrassing. Carrying a bottle of pumped milk magically eliminates this embarrassment. No one looks twice when a mother feeds her baby with a bottle. However, as I can attest from an outing just yesterday, feeding a baby from the breast—even with a nursing cover—merits triple takes! It is simply ridiculous that an act that defines our species, that our very species has relied upon for survival, is seen as something immodest, scandalous, and by some, even disgusting.
...Should have worn my
How have I been able to feed six children without a bottle in the house? And more directly: Am I a hippie who also smokes joints and flips peace signs at the least provocation? Sorry; no joints and no peace signs—not even during the “passing of the peace” at church—but I probably still qualify as a hippie. I home birth; home school; and have a home business—teaching natural birth classes among other things. On more than one occasion, I have actually been barefoot and pregnant. But my “style” of breastfeeding wasn’t the result of following the example of my peace-loving foremothers; it was the result of following the example of one woman: Sheila Kippley.
While the two Business of Being Born documentaries provided alternatives to medicalized childbirth—namely, natural childbirth; out of hospital births; midwives; and doulas--Breastmilk has no practical help to suggest. A new mother could easily conclude after watching the film that if she doesn’t have a close female friend or partner willing to share in the nursing in order to keep her baby alive, she is destined for breastfeeding failure.
In natural childbirth classes, the “Cascade of Interventions” is a common topic of discussion. I have not noticed the same concept discussed often enough in reference to breastfeeding, although interventions in the childbearing process, both before, during and immediately after birth and throughout the early postpartum weeks definitely affect the ability of the mother to initiate breastfeeding and keep breastfeeding. (View a chart here that I share in my natural birth classes.) Furthermore, there are interventions in the breastfeeding process itself that directly impact breastfeeding success. Just as the natural childbirth movement has been successful in explaining those interventions in the normal birthing process that can result in poor outcomes for the birth, there needs to be a Natural Breastfeeding movement that informs and educates mothers and families about the interventions in breastfeeding that result in poor outcomes for breastfeeding, and more importantly poorer outcomes for babies.
Though the makers of Breastmilk failed to present an alternative to what could be termed “technological” breastfeeding, the reality is that the “natural breastfeeding” model already exists and was described in seven steps over forty years ago: ecological breastfeeding. When Sheila Kippley described what some of its followers call “eco breastfeeding” she must have been considered very radical indeed. In 1971, breastfeeding initiation rates (mothers who nursed at least once before being discharged from the hospital) hit an all-time low of 24%. (1) While breastfeeding initiation rates are much higher today (with 79% of mothers initiating breastfeeding in the United States in 2011) (2), they are still below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 81.9% in all but 17 states. (3)
In the coming weeks, I will explain in detail the seven components ("Standards") of Sheila Kippley’s Ecological Breastfeeding Program, and then conclude with a series of blog posts written for people in positions key to breastfeeding success or failure, providing specific suggestions for things we can do to support breastfeeding mothers and families. I invite all those of goodwill to join with me in promoting Natural Breastfeeding, for the health and well-being of mothers and babies everywhere.
Note to Lake and Epstein: time to start filming More Breastmilk.
Three Things You Can Do to Support Natural Breastfeeding Now
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Feed a Mother and Baby: bring a meal to a breastfeeding mother near you. Include a thank you card.
(1) "Low Breastfeeding Rates and Public Health in the United States," American Journal of Public Health, 2003 December; 93(12)2000
(2) "Breastfeeding Report Card United States 2014" Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2014breastfeedingreportcard.pdf
(3) "Breastfeeding Benefits & Barriers: Breastfeeding Statistics in the United States" Retrieved from: http://www.breastfeedingbasics.org/cgi-bin/deliver.cgi/content/Introduction/sta_us.html
(4) "AAP Reaffirms Breastfeeding Guidelines" Retrieved from: http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Reaffirms-Breastfeeding-Guidelines.aspx
(5) "The World Health Organization's infant feeding recommendation," Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/
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