NFP and breastfeeding

by Daniel Ellis

I would like to add to the NFP conversation by discussing breastfeeding as an integral part of “normative” Catholic family life (though I whole-heartedly agree that we must take care to avoid judging individual families.)

There is a way that a couple can be “providentialist” (in the sense of “letting God decide” how many children they will have) and still know that their children will probably be spaced far enough apart that adequate emotional, spiritual and physical resources will be available for each new infant who arrives. Breastfeeding is the key.

Breastfeeding affects the return of fertility after birth. A mother often is consumed with the care and nurturing of her new infant, and cannot adequately care for another in just nine months. By God’s beautiful design, her fertility will not return for perhaps a few months. But consistent breastfeeding can suppress the return of fertility for 1-3 years. The more the child nurses, the more likely fertility is postponed. This means that the needy, fussy, colicky infant who wishes to nurse often will tend to delay his mother’s return to fertility longer than the content, comfortable infant who nurses less and may wean earlier. In a sense, the infant tells his mother when it is okay for her to have another, and he is most likely right.

More could be said about the benefits of nursing (e.g. nutrition, bonding, security), but my point here is that “natural family planning” involves more than using the Sympto-Thermal Method for fertility awareness. Breastfeeding can be used to space children in a way that naturally incorporates the unique needs of each child. A couple could conceivably (pun intended) throw their fertility charts out the window after the first child, and let the mother/infant nursing relationship determine when fertility (and the chance of conception) will return to the family.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful physical, emotional and physiological act between a mother and her child, and it is Very Natural Family Planning.

Daniel Ellis, Class of ‘88