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What Every Priest Should Know about Ecological Breastfeeding


By John F. Kippley | October 2019
John F. Kippley is President of NFP International and can be contacted at www.nfpandmore.org. He and his wife, Sheila, have been active in the Humanae Vitae apostolate since the encyclical was published in 1968.

“Why should I, as a priest, be interested in breastfeeding?” That was the response we received from a well-known priest to whom my wife, Sheila, wanted to give her book Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood (2005). We were astonished by this reply, even dumbfounded. Neither one of us had a ready response.

The most basic answer, however, comes from the heart of Christian discipleship: “Because, Father, you are called to love mothers and babies. Once you learn about the health benefits of breastfeeding, you will want mothers and babies to enjoy all that God provides in this natural form of baby care. You also ought to know that frequent nursing is God’s own plan for spacing babies without periodic abstinence. Many women do not know these things, so you, Father, as a leader and teacher, can help them.”

All of this was completely foreign to me and Sheila when we married. Neither of us came from breastfeeding families. Our interest in breastfeeding started when Sheila was pregnant with our first baby, and her childbirth instructor strongly urged her to breastfeed. She also encouraged her attendance at the breastfeeding support meetings of La Leche League (LLL). About the same time, we read an article about the natural spacing effects of breastfeeding, which LLL also taught.

At the local LLL meetings, the mothers noted that there was a significant difference in the duration of breastfeeding amenorrhea (the absence of periods due to breastfeeding) among those in attendance. One of the moms encouraged Sheila to research the reasons for this difference, and Sheila accepted the challenge. The result was her first book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing (1969). It included a survey for breastfeeding mothers. As the completed surveys came in, we analyzed them and published the findings in the Journal of the Nurses Association of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (Nov.-Dec. 1972). We repeated the survey with a larger sample almost two decades later and published our findings in the International Review of Natural Family Planning (Spring/Summer 1989). The results were almost identical and showed that mothers who followed the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding experienced, on average, 14.5 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea. Add nine months of pregnancy, and that yields about two years between babies without the need for abstinence from the marital act.

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