It seems to be a common theme among exclusively breastfeeding mothers that they’re shocked when one of them gets pregnant. Exclusive breastfeeding is supposed to be a natural form of birth control isn’t it? Not quite – turns out there are two ways to breastfeed exclusively. There is the cultural way and there is the ecological way. Only the ecological way naturally suppresses fertility until baby is weaned. What is the difference? Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley is about just that.
The cultural way is what most of us know as exclusive breastfeeding – namely feeding baby only mom’s breastmilk. The problem comes from the culturally encouraged separation of mother and baby and the use of pacifiers and bottles. Ecological breastfeeding also entails an entirely different approach to mothering – natural mothering – that unfortunately is out of reach for many moms who cannot afford to stay home with their babies and, those who can, are socially discouraged from fulfilling their babies needs. The culture became so “I” centered, we’re afraid to care for our children they way they need us to and to think of their needs. Pg 23 sums it up perfectly, “ Perhaps the question these mothers – and dads, too – should ask is, “If I were the baby, wouldn’t I rather be close to my mommy instead of all by myself? If I woke up during the night, wouldn’t I rather be next to my warm mommy who is ready to feed me rather than in a room with nobody else around?”. There is a great response further down the page to those who believe a baby should be taught to “tough it out” as well. The main premise of “natural mothering” is that baby remains close to his mom, having all his needs taken care of by her as nature equipped her to do so.
The Seven Standards are used to classify ecological breastfeeding:
1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months
2. Pacify your baby at your breasts
3. Don’t use bottles and pacifiers
4. Sleep with your baby for night feedings
5. Sleep with your baby for a daily nap-feeding
6. Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules
7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby
Reading those it is easy to see the difference between the two types of mothering. The cultural method requires more work, more stress on mother and baby, and more money (need more things – swaddling gear, cribs, bottles, etc). Pg 72 had a good angle on this calling the cultural mothering “bottle centered”. Women were supposedly liberated with this method but in exchange it produces sicker babies, takes away natural infertility during this time, causes more work, and costs more. Another touchy part of the ability to exclusively breastfeed is women who “can’t”. Described more on pg 77, the truth is that actual inability to nurse is rare. Yes, some women will experience problems and have low supply but in most cases it will be a culturally caused problem (lack of education and support, medications, too much separation from baby, etc).
Finally, another big obstacle for many moms – also cultural – is the doctor. Most moms see doctors often during and after their pregnancy for themselves and their babies. Doctors are their main source of advice and care but “The problem is that breastfeeding is not a disease but a normal and healthy activity. For this reason all too many doctors know all too little about it. It is too natural a process to have occupied much place in their medical training.” (pg 82) In short, a doctor is trained to find and fix problems, usually with medications and supplements, not to support natural functions. Pg 91 gives some suggestions on finding breastfeeding support from birth and proposes you ask “whether you can have your baby with you after childbirth, whether you can have an unmedicated childbirth experience or at least a minimal amount of drugs if needed,…”. It is incredibly sad that we have come so far from what nature intended that a mother needs to ask a doctor if it is ok for her to be with her baby or to give birth in a way she wants (needs) to. That is the difference between allowing nature to work with all its benefits (ecological breastfeeding) and trying to do what is natural within the confines of society (cultural breastfeeding).