27 August 2008

Ecological Breastfeeding: A Concordian Critique

Abstract: Ecological Breastfeeding will not happen naturally for all (perhaps many or most) babies. It is a learned behavior that must be taught by mothers.

Way back when I got my CCL book to learn about NFP, I was mystified by the ecological breastfeeding business. Sure, I was planning on nursing my baby, but this was certainly the first I'd heard about pacifiers being pure, unadulterated evil. I finished the chapter convinced and horrified that I would have a baby at a minimum of every 15 months if I didn't follow the Seven Rules. As I've mentioned, breastfeeding turned out to be a lot more complicated than I anticipated and it wasn't long before the Seven Rules were nothing more than Seven Sources of Endless Guilt. And what do you know? I don't ecologically breastfeed by the Kippley rules, but none of my kids have ever had a drop of formula, they've all been nursed the requisite year, and the shortest interval between any two of them is 18.5 months. It's on the tight side, but I've lived to blog about it.

Here's a little rundown of the rules and my impious thoughts for the curious.
  • Breastfeeding must be the infant's only source of nutrition – no formula, no pumping, and (if the infant is less than six months old) no solids.
Got no problem here, although I will say that I'm not going to start throwing stones at anyone who expresses for an evening out now or then. Maybe I'll try it again one of these years (we attempted it on Baby 3; she wouldn't take the bottle and we had to come home early).
  • The infant must be pacified at the breast, not with pacifiers or bottles
Not one of my kids has ever been interested in nursing to kill time. There have been times when I've wished they would be pacified by nursing, but no, they want to be hauled aimlessly around the house, perhaps while plugged into a sinful, sinful dummy. And until we get the nursing in church thing figured out, the Divine Service is ground zero for pacifier use. As for bottles, back in the Boob Hell days, bottles were the only way for my daughter to get breastmilk. I was sure glad they existed, since I couldn't afford a wet nurse.
  • The infant must be breastfed often. The standards for LAM are a bare minimum; more frequency is better. Scheduling of feedings should be avoided.
The bit about scheduling can be misleading to new moms. With all my nursing trouble, I felt like a complete failure for committing to feed the baby every two hours, come Tartarus or torrent. The truth is, she was a decent sized lass and didn't need to be fed that often. The schedule was for me, not her. It kept me operational when I so wanted to quit by attrition (oh, what do you know! I never fed the baby all morning!).
  • Mothers must sleep with their infants – in the same room, if not in the same bed.
I'd rather just say mothers must sleep and leave it at that. Blessed are you, saintly women who can sleep with a baby in the same bed or room. I, after a month or two, do a very good job of walking seven steps down the hall into the room next door when the snuffling gets loud enough to indicate that it's for real, and I'm not kept up the rest of the night by low-grade sleep-snorting.
  • Mothers must not be separated from their infants for more than three hours a day.
Really? Even three hours and eleven minutes? What if the shopping takes 2.5 hours plus 45 minute drive time without the baby (happily at home with Dad and sibling friends), or 4.75 hours with the (very unhappy) baby? Sheesh.
  • Mothers must take daily naps with their infants.
Oh my. I couldn't even make this work when I only had one kid.
  • The woman must not have had a period after 56 days post-partum (bleeding prior to 56 days post-partum can be ignored).
And woe betide that woman who shamefully did!

Here's how ecological breastfeeding really works, and please note that I'm not putting a value judgment on it: it purposely creates breastfeeding super-dependency. If your baby is used to waking up next to the deli counter and grabbing a sandwich every time, before long he isn't going to be able to just roll over and go back to sleep when he smells salami.

But I don't see a problem (biological, ethical, or otherwise) with not conditioning your child in this way if that's not your bag. If I have a baby who sleeps well on his own and puts in an 8- or 9-hour stretch overnight, there is no way I'm going to stop in on my way to bed to wake him up and feed him, and then set my alarm for an encore at 3 to make sure that we're all sufficiently ecological.

Frankly, not going the route of deliberately making your child an every-half-hour-feeder (and again, I have yet to own a baby who would be so obliging) has its advantages for those who have an earlier return of fertility. Many women breastfeed while pregnant. I've done it myself, but only of necessity for the older child. I've been pregnant again by that time at least twice (maybe three times), and nursing and pregnancy is a bad combination for me. But since my kids' worlds haven't revolved around breastfeeding day, night, dawn, dusk, and in the twilight zone, they've all signed off gradually with zero evidence of trauma, purely by my switching to a don't offer, don't refuse policy once the candle is blown out. I've been very thankful that when my children have reached their first birthdays, we've weaned without weeping and gnashing of teeth. Especially the latter.

And, tautology hunters, I always nurse on demand (which usually means by our mutually satisfactory, de facto schedule) until the baby turns one, start solids late, and never push them beyond the baby's interest, even when I am pregnant and very unhappy about nursing. Some girls just get back in the game early, and I'm one of them. The difference is that I don't deliberately inflate demand. So, no, I don't ecologically breastfeed by the Seven Rules. If I did, I'd definitely feel too exhausted for another baby right now. Moreover, for someone who doesn't follow the Seven Rules, I "should" have an earlier return of fertility than I did with babies 2 and 3. Tautology yourself!

(And if you really have lots of time on your hands and are interested further reading, I ran into this while I was working on this post.)

15 comments:

Polly said...

Ecological Breastfeeding is one of my all time favorite books - one of those tomes I wish everyone would read.

For me, mothering this way isn't more guilt and work. I call it the lazy mother's way to success! It allowed me to read and nap in the recliner, to get sleep every night, to enjoy months without a period. No bottles to wash, no pacifiers to drop on the floor, no baby buckets to carry.

As for how my NFP babies are spaced - they are now 18, 15, 12, 5 and "in the oven."

utahrainbow said...

I read Eco. Breastfeeding more, as Polly said, as the lazy mother's perfect book of excuses. It was fresh air to me because I was given the Babywise Rules (this is the way you must do it or you're ruining your life with a rotten kid) by many well meaning friends in my early days of parenting.

I never noticed those 7 things being rules, more like guidelines, maybe because I skimmed or something. I've never followed them, like you, Rebekah, with any religiousity. And I've had about a year amenorrhea each time give or take.

But I think your point a valid one. Whenever we take a system like this and make it such mothering Law, its a real drag, not a joy, and really, I end up just wanting to rebel. Be free and mother boldly, I say...now, to follow my own advice...

A book I've always found interesting in its span and treatment of breastfeeding is "The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning" by Kathleen Higgins. It has a great section breastfeeding history, and provides some great perspective in a fair and reasonable tone.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Oh my goodness!!! CONGRATS Polly!!!!

I've heard Sheila Kippley speak on parenting, and I really think they come across much better in person. We all have our areas where we balk under to much Law. I found a lot of comfort in NFP when I first found it because it was clearly showing me that something wrong was going on with my body...which I found much more oppressive than anything else.

When it is in the sense of "thou shalt not" rather than "this is what you need to do to space your children" then it will seem very oppressive. Then it becomes a decision constantly of "how much does this matter to me" and a choice can be made.

The Kippleys tend to be rather stringent in their specifications in NFP and in natural child spacing because they are fighting so hard against the idea that all of this is bunk, that they want to make sure that it works. They can be like that.

There are other ways of doing NFP that are more relaxed, and still just as effective, and many women (though not all) can space their children without killing themselves over these seven steps. Using temperature AND mucus AND cervical position combined with mathematical formulas and really long checks to determine if ovulation took place makes it more likely to work. Using all of these steps to make sure fertility doesn't return is the same thing.

I emailed John Kippley once to see where he got the Luther quote he uses in their NFP book. He hadn't referenced it well in the book, and he didn't have a record of it now. He answered other questions very effectively, but on this one, he wanted me to stop worrying about it and simply "come home to Rome"

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Please pardon me for this observation, but I thought this was the blog of the "Concordian Sisters of Perpetual Parturition" - not the "Sisters of Naturally Spaced Parturition."

What, really, is the difference in the heart of the individual whether so-called "natural" means of spacing or so-called "unnatural" means of spacing are used?

If you don't want another baby and you take action to prevent and/or delay conception, you are engaging in an act "against conception" - i.e. an act of "contraception."

Exclusive breastfeeding on demand is what our Creator designed to be psychologically and nutritionally best for babies - at least through age one. But if you are doing this with the purpose (even if this is not the primary purpose) of preventing pregnancy - even if you aren't following the "seven rules" - you are nonetheless engaging in a contraceptive act.

Do we always want another baby? God knows parenthood is a cross. The burden is a punishment for sin, and something we'd all like to avoid. I am tempted with a contraceptive mentality more than I'd like to admit, and I'm quite sure my wife is more tempted than I am. But let's recognize sin for what it is, and not candy-coat it with terms like "natural" or "ecological."

Reb. Mary said...

Erich: As I read it, the gist of this post is not "how to space your babies." Seems to me that this post reflects Rebekah's commitment to bf in the way that's best for her baby, rather than to "deliberately inflate demand" in an attempt to delay the return of fertility. Fearless woman of faith that she is--sounds pretty CSPP to me :)

Reb. Mary said...

Oh, and to sort of echo Polly, Utahrainbow, and RPW: Dogmatically defined eco-bf and Babywise: Can't we have neither?! In their extreme manifestations, they're like flip sides of an evil coin...lose-lose on the toss...

Rebekah said...

Thank you, RM--you are precisely right. If I were really interested in spacing babies, I'd be a lot more interested in following the Seven Rules. NFP was a step we thought we'd take and then never did; in the meantime, the CCL book was very helpful in getting us to that point and otherwise educating us. Someday I'll post my draft about that.

So ease up, everybody. I'm not a spacer (in case the ages of my kids weren't enough of a tip-off) and that's just another reason I'm not Kippleyan on either NFP or 7-Rule-EB. Frankly, I'm surprised the Kippleys don't recognize how crass it sounds to use one baby to prevent another, particularly given that their breastfeeding program is, as I've learned and attempted to demonstrate here, not strictly natural.

Thanks, all, for your thoughts, and especially to utahrainbow for the book recommendation. I am on a heretofore endless search for non-politically motivated reading on breastfeeding, so I'll check it out.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Rebekah and RM,

Sorry. My comment wasn't directed at the post, but rather the tenor of the discussion which followed among the broader sisterhood. Perhaps I should have been more explicit in that regard, but I don't desire to pick on individuals. I just wanted to make a general point of clarification - one I believe the CSSP bloggers agree with. :-)

I'm just not so sure the broader sisterhood agrees.

Polly said...

And Erich, you never know who's had multiple miscarriages in between those babies.

Attending to a baby in this way has been the norm throughout history. It's just foreign to our "starts solids at 3 weeks - better living through science" culture. Among native populations, births were much more spaced out than in say royal families of Europe in which wet nurses were employed.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

True, Polly. I'm not picking on any individuals. We've had multiple miscarriages as well, leading to spacing of our live children of up to four years in our case.

I would add that the anti-nursing attitudes of the last century contributed much to the perceived "need" of women to contracept. Not nursing certainly leads to larger families on the whole.

The typical working mother of today cannot nurse on-demand after her maternity leave is up, hence the "need" to contracept in order to keep from having babies like a chain smoker has cigarettes. The natural order has certainly been turned on its head.

Joy said...

Erich, I've got #4 in the oven (miscarried #3), I have no idea how I'm going to handle it all considering #2 is a holy terror, but I AGREE with you. As theologians, we should always ask, "What does this mean?" What does it say to God for me to use NFP? I think it says that I'd rather He operate on MY timing, give me gifts when I say I want them.

You nailed it: of course parenting is a cross to bear! But this is where faith and trust come in. God's timing is always perfect (even when I beg to differ). God always provides (even when I don't see how). He knows His plans for us, knows how to give good gifts to His children, and knows what is best for us.

I certainly don't claim to own the monopoly of truth on this issue, but I think of Mary and the dangers she faced as she carried Jesus. Wow. With her life on the line and the threat of social abandonment, I'm surprised she didn't give Gabriel the finger and tell him he had the wrong virgin. If only all Christians displayed such complete and perfect trust.

Joy said...

P.S. I'm not making a judgment call here, and I didn't read one from Erich either. I'm saying let's call a spade a spade. Contraception (and by that I mean a prevention of fertilization, not a pre-implantation abortifacient) isn't a black-and-white issue. Back in November, I had about a dozen x-rays taken on my back and pelvis, which obviously exposed my ovaries to radiation. I also had an important concert on Life Sunday in January for which I did not want to be nauseated, so we used condoms November and December. I don't feel guilty, and I don't think God took it as a slap in His face or a lack of trust. We conceived in January and it was the pleasant surprise that every baby should be.

Rebekah said...

>>Contraception (and by that I mean a prevention of fertilization, not a pre-implantation abortifacient) isn't a black-and-white issue.

I think you can get all the discussion you've ever dreamed of on this topic at Lutherans and Procreation. Over here we take the nausea as it comes and post about it later.

Joy said...

But are you "taking the nausea as it comes" if you're trying to prevent it with NFP? I totally agree--using one baby to prevent another is a bit twisted. And if we truly "nursed on demand" we'd be reduced to human pacifiers (which is exactly what I was with #2 who refused the paci.) There IS a balance, and I'd really like to know what it is.

Theophil Jones said...

Late joiner here but all I have to say is, BWAHAHAHAA!

Oy. If we'd followed the above rules I'd be the father of one, rather than the daddy of five under five. Those kind of rules would have broken the brilliant Mrs. Jones quick-fast. Oh well, God protect us all from our Pietism.