Fifth CNML Principle:
Ecological breastfeeding - the form of mothering which tends to delay the return of fertility after the birth of a baby - benefits the nursing child, and enhances the mother's health and well-being. Its natural child spacing effect is a moral and healthy form of natural birth regulation and should be supported and encouraged by families, society and the Church.
Commentary on the Fifth CNML Principle by CNML Board Member, Andrea Nease
There are two sides to ecological breastfeeding. The first is recognizing that eco-breastfeeding is a type of mothering, and looks very different in practice than other styles of breastfeeding. Formula feeding, while necessary at times, has heavily influenced our society’s views on breastfeeding, and subsequently how mothers practice it. It is common for breastfeeding to be thought of as simply a way to feed your baby and meet the nutritional requirements for your baby. Ecological breastfeeding, however, embraces and helps facilitate the bonding aspect of breastfeeding by encouraging mother-baby togetherness (frequent nursing, avoiding separation) and a response to emotional needs through comfort nursing. How do you bond with someone? By spending time with that person, communicating with each other, and meeting each other’s needs. I’ve had many mothers comment to me, while I’m nursing my [sometimes older] children, how they miss having that “break” while nursing. These mothers who have commented that to me have weaned at or before a year old and practiced cultural breastfeeding. This leads me to believe, for them, it is common to not make as much time for their babies after they have weaned. On the other hand, there are many women who have been unable to breastfeed who are able to closely mimic the natural mothering style in spite of supplementing with formula or donated milk.
Eco-breastfeeding draws both people closer together, strengthening the “One Body of Christ” through interdependence. This is very different from typical cultural ideas that leans heavily towards independence. As Catholics, we don’t believe we can go it alone. We rely on God and allow God to work through us. We ask for help from the Saints and other members of our parish, our spouse, family, and friends. We value generosity and charity, helping each other grow in virtue. These values are modeled at the breast when mothers, in their own special way, sacrifice their body (breasts) and blood (breastmilk made from blood). It’s okay for a baby to need his or her mother (or father)!
The second part of this principle is recognizing the benefits of natural infertility and child spacing that ecological breastfeeding provides. Most women who fully practice ecological breastfeeding will average 14.5 months of infertility (1). Research has shown that tribal cultures usually experience approximately three years of infertility (2). Recent studies have said the optimal birth spacing, for health of mother and child, is 27-60 months apart (3). I think it is interesting how this closely resembles God’s natural infertility and child spacing through ecological breastfeeding. While ecological breastfeeding can sometimes be a tall order, it is advantageous. It helps build our relationship with our children, and gives the average mother a short break between births, which provides all sorts of advantages for the entire family. I, personally, have struggled over the years using other forms of systematic natural family planning. In the past, ecological breastfeeding has really been a life saver for spacing my own kids.