ecological breastfeeding as birth control - Mothering Forums
Family Planning > ecological breastfeeding as birth control
ursusarctos's Avatar ursusarctos 08:26 AM 12-04-2011

Did it work for you? Not work? Did you follow all the "directions"? When did you get AF back, or did you get pregnant first? I am doing everything you are supposed to do except taking a nap with DD, but we have a long night (cosleeping) and her naps during the day are not very long. I am thinking we might give this a try, was curious about others' experiences.


Here's an article detailing the method:

Gina Peterson's Avatar Gina Peterson 01:24 PM 12-04-2011
So nice to see the page on ecological breastfeeding! There is a also an organization devoted to Catholic breastfeeding mothers, the Catholic Nursing Mothers League, that promotes the practice of ecological breastfeeding. Here is the address:

I, personally, have practiced ecological breastfeeding very successfully with anywhere from 21 months to 29 months before a return to cycling. I followed all the standards except for taking a daily nap nursing.

ursusarctos's Avatar ursusarctos 03:34 PM 12-04-2011

Thanks for posting Gina! I am reading the articles linked on the site you posted and they are great!

JMJ's Avatar JMJ 04:56 PM 12-04-2011

I used ecological breastfeeding and had my first PPAF at almost 21 months postpartum and my first fertile cycle at 25.5 months postpartum and got pregnant successfully the next cycle after that using systematic NFP charting. I followed all the standards for the most part, though my first postpartum ovulation was during a period of time that I was slacking on the nap. I think the nap was a pretty important part for me. I had dismissed it as unimportant until I experienced spotting at just over 4 months postpartum. I added the nap back in almost all the time, and I had no more spotting until almost 20 months postpartum, about a month before my first real PPAF.

blessedwithboys's Avatar blessedwithboys 05:28 PM 12-04-2011

I followed all of those principals.  Ds1 was a sleepy newborn and I struggled to wake him for feeds.  I got AF at 5mos.  Ds2 was very alert and never needed to be woken to nurse.  He had an unusually high need for sucking.  I got AF at 11mos.

ursusarctos's Avatar ursusarctos 05:06 AM 12-05-2011

Oh wow ok, so it sounds like that extra sucking during/instead of sleep really is important. Hmm, will have to consider that. The problem is that if I nap during the day I can't sleep at night. And it's so nice to have a couple uninterrupted hours to just hang out without the baby. She does nurse very often the rest of the day though (at least every 2 hours, usually more often). And at night she doesn't go more than 4 hours without a feed.

JMJ's Avatar JMJ 08:41 AM 12-05-2011

If you read Sheila Kippley's newer book, The Seven Standards, she goes into more details about what constitutes a "nap." A 30 minute rest where you really relax but don't actually fall asleep counts. Nursing the baby to sleep in bed and then sneaking off as soon as the baby falls asleep doesn't count. There are a lot of people who experience extended amenorrhea without a daily nap, but in the cases where there is an extraordinarily early return to fertility, often, the mother has not been getting a daily nap. The nap ensures some extra sucking and that the mother is getting enough rest. Any reduced sucking or an exhausted mother can cause an earlier return of fertility.

*MamaJen*'s Avatar *MamaJen* 07:40 PM 12-05-2011

I followed all those principles and I got my period back at 8 weeks. Fun times. 

katelove's Avatar katelove 03:48 AM 12-06-2011

I did all of those things except that, during the day, she would often sleep on my lap rather than us both lying in bed. So, not sure whether that counts or not but my periods returned at 12 weeks.

ursusarctos's Avatar ursusarctos 05:43 AM 12-06-2011

Whoa, MamaJen and katelove! That sucks! Also definitely food for thought that you got your period back so soon. Do you have any idea if you were ovulating? I've read that the earlier you get your cycles back the less likely they are to be ovulatory. I guess my main goal is not even to avoid getting my cycle back but to avoid getting pregnant before I get it back, so that I can then begin charting (assuming it comes back earlier than a year or so).


JMJ, that is interesting about the naps. I am definitely not sleep-deprived and do nurse DD 2 or more times during her naps when she wakes up, even though I sneak away in between. So maybe that would meet the criteria anyway. I did not know that about exhaustion though. It actually explains a lot - my mom got her cycle back at 6 months despite me nursing constantly. I was very high needs and didn't let her sleep very much, even for naps.

*MamaJen*'s Avatar *MamaJen* 07:11 AM 12-06-2011

I wasn't temping, so I'm not sure if I was ovulatory or not before I got that first period. I should ask my mom and sister when they got their periods back, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was basically genetic. I was pretty pissed, lol. My cycle was just back and totally regular by three months, even though I was nursing around the clock and had my baby with me (he came with me to the office full time for six months, and part time for a year). I didn't sleep with him during the day (we coslept at night), but for the first three months he took a lot of naps on my lap while I worked on the computer. I'm not sure if it would have been different if I had been actually napping with him. 

If I really needed to not get pregnant, especially given my own history of super early return to fertility, I wouldn't trust ecological breastfeeding alone. I look at it like the withdrawal method: it's a lot better than nothing at all.

JMJ's Avatar JMJ 10:53 AM 12-06-2011

There are a lot more factors than those listed in the standards for ecological breastfeeding that affect the return of fertility, and some of the standards are a little bit vague, beginning with feeding "on demand," for most breastfeeding experts warn us that if we wait until the baby "demands it," we've waited too long, that crying is a late indicator of hunger, and when you read Sheila Kippley's books, she emphasizes that non-nutritive sucking is very important for delaying the return of fertility and gives examples of traditional cultures who nursed multiple times in an hour.  Factors such as genetics, BMI, milk volume, length of feedings, time between feedings, total time feeding in a 24 hour period, intensity of suck, time between birth and first feeding, mother's return to employment, medications, cigarettes, frequency of night feedings, and many other factors can have an effect on the return of fertility.  Not all the factors are really fully understood, how 2 mothers with similar body types and breastfeeding practices can experience a return to fertility over a year apart.  The Couple to Couple League estimates that a woman's own previous experience with the return to fertility is the best predictor for the return to fertility the next time, given similar breastfeeding practices.  They also note that usually, a woman who is exclusively breastfeeding will experience mucus patches for approximately 2 months before the return of fertility, however, this is not always the case.


However, statistically, ecological breastfeeding is very effective in delaying the return of fertility.  It is important to note that there are outliers.  There are outliers whose fertility returns quite early, and there are outliers whose fertility returns quite late.  I have a friend who has a 4 year old, and last I checked (a few months ago), she had not returned to menstruation, even though she wouldn't count as "ecological breastfeeding" anymore since she goes places without her child, though it was a very slow and natural progression.  You're always playing with statistics, and somebody has to be in that 1%.  Overall, though, most women experience a significant period of amenorrhea with ecological breastfeeding, and ecological breastfeeding provides a number of benefits to both mother and child, even if there is an early return of menstruation.


It is also important to note that even if there is an early return to menstruation, it is even more unusual that a woman would get pregnant before the first early menstruation.  About 1/3 of women (regardless of type of breastfeeding) will not ovulate before their first menstruation-like bleed (even more will have spotting before menstruation).  Approximately another 1/3 will ovulate but have an inadequate LP, and the last 1/3 or so will have fertile cycles the first time, but with random intercourse, they will only have about a 25% chance of getting pregnant.  This matches nicely with the Kippleys' estimate that you have a 6% chance of ending up pregnant before your first postpartum period.  These statistics are slightly misleading, though, since the sooner fertility returns, the more likely you are to be in the first or second third, and the later your fertility returns, the more likely you are to be fertile.  Also, many women experience a sudden increase in libido around the time of their first postpartum ovulation, which could increase the likelihood of getting pregnant.  Various studies have estimated that 5-10% of breastfeeding women (again, regardless of type of breastfeeding, so the statistics could be somewhat different than for ecological breastfeeding) will get pregnant before their first postpartum period.


I personally have met (either online or in person) many people who have discussed their breastfeeding and fertility.  I have met a handful of women who have had a very early return to menstruation while practicing ecological breastfeeding, between 8 weeks and 6 months, and despite the fact that they will all tell me about how ineffective ecological breastfeeding was for them, not one of them ended up pregnant from before that first period, though a couple got pregnant very shortly thereafter.  The only woman I know who got pregnant at 3 months, before her first postpartum period, was not breastfeeding ecologically (did not even qualify for LAM), and was also using hormonal contraception.  I have, however, met several ecological (or similar) breastfeeding moms who got pregnant before their first postpartum period around 9 months or longer postpartum.  For some reason, most LLL leaders that I know (The LLL philosophy is not ecological breastfeeding, but it meshes quite well with it to the point that many people who get really involved with the LLL do ecological breastfeeding or something very similar without even knowing it) got their periods back around 1 year.  Additionally, if you spend any time in the trying to conceive forum, you'll find lots of people who have done ecological breastfeeding or something similar and are ready to have another child but don't have their period back yet or are still dealing with inadequate LP's.


I would be very careful about declaring for another mother what is effective enough for her own situation.  I absolutely love ecological breastfeeding and think that it is an excellent way of life for mother and child, and for me, it (almost entirely alone) gave me almost 3 year spacing between my children, certainly plenty for my situation.  In encouraging ecological breastfeeding, though, I think it is important to let mothers make their own assessments of how likely their fertility is to return, how important it is to delay another pregnancy at that time, and whether to depend to ecological breastfeeding alone or combine it with other methods of charting, etc.  Ecological breastfeeding is certainly not "nothing."  It is a quite reasonably effective method of parenting and family planning and can be combined with traditional systematic NFP charting for even greater effectiveness.  If there is a serious need to postpone another pregnancy, I wouldn't ignore any obvious signs that fertility is returning, but I wouldn't discourage a mother from relying on ecological breastfeeding alone if that is what she feels is adequate.  Personally, I was absolutely dry almost every single day until my daughter was over 18 months old.  I wouldn't have ignored fertility signs earlier if they came surprisingly early (We abstained, and I charted for a while after my surprise spotting at just over 4 months), but there was no need for me to obsessively take my temperature and chart a nice "D" on my chart day after day for a year and a half.  That is an entire 14 page book of charts wasted with nothing happening!  Charting is for when something is happening, not for when it is so obviously not, and using withdrawl or any other contraception is against my religious beliefs and distasteful in my opinion.  There's no way I would want to go an entire year and a half without completing a sexual act with my own husband.

katelove's Avatar katelove 03:38 PM 12-06-2011

Originally Posted by ursusarctos View Post

Whoa, MamaJen and katelove! That sucks! Also definitely food for thought that you got your period back so soon. Do you have any idea if you were ovulating? 

I can't remember for the first couple but I'm pretty sure I started ovulating again fairly early. I don't do temps but I had other signs. 

ursusarctos's Avatar ursusarctos 04:46 AM 12-07-2011

JMJ, thank you for the interesting and informative post. I also don't want to chart when there is obviously nothing going on, especially because I have to temp as CM is not reliable for me. And I also really dislike withdrawal, and other methods are out too for various reasons. So basically, since I am already doing almost everything to qualify for ecological breastfeeding, it feels like I might as well consider the child spacing "side effect" of it too. It sounds like the book has a lot more info in it - I might buy it now. Personally I am ok with getting pregnant earlier than we plan, it's more a matter of convincing DH that it is reliable enough. It does sound like, based on your contact with other mamas and the experiences of katelove and MamaJen, that it is unlikely to get pregnant before your first cycle if it shows up that early.

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