The Ecological Benefits of Breastfeeding
It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are excited to be celebrating with you. Breastfeeding is about as natural as it gets and we’re going to be talking about how breastfeeding affects nature today. The ecological benefits of breastfeeding is a major aspect of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme, Breastfeeding, a key to sustainable development. From the air, to the land, to the sea, breastfeeding is baby-friendly and planet-friendly. Today we’re getting earthy and examining the ways that breastfeeding reduces your ecological footprint to help sustain the environment.
Making the choice to breastfeed is invaluable to your baby’s health as well as your own. It’s also important for the health of our planet. Truthfully, what’s good for the earth is also good for you and your family – thus the entire story comes full circle. The International Baby Food Action Network’s (IBFAN) resource paper Formula for Disaster Weighing the Impact of Formula Feeding Vs Breastfeeding sums up the environmental argument for breastfeeding beautifully:
“Human milk is not skimmed, processed, pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, stored, transported, repackaged, dried, reconstituted, sterilized or wasted. More important to many people nowadays, it is not genetically modified (GM). It requires no fuel for heating, no refrigeration, and is always ready to serve at the right temperature. In short, it is the most environmentally friendly food available.” (Francis and Mulford 2000)
IBFAN enumerates 6 “S’s” of breastfeeding including “Sovereignty.” This means that families have complete control over the production, distribution and consumption of the phenomenal renewable resource of breast milk. Without corporate or governmental influence over this most valuable source of food, families need not be concerned with contaminants in the food system or how their feeding choices for their babies negatively impact the environment. That’s a pretty powerful scepter to hold.
Breastfeeding can give families of any economic background the choice to respect the environment because breastfeeding has no ecological footprint. Breastfeeding produces “zero waste” in every sense of the term: The air and climate are sparred the impact of manufacturing, processing, distributing and consuming baby food alternatives; no fresh water is wasted or aquatic homes are polluted; and no discarded packaging or chemical byproducts destroy our land.
On the other hand, manufacturing formula produces a tremendous amount of greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. These each have an impact on global warming and climate change. Similarly, the acquisition of ingredients for formula can cause air pollution too. Most formula products are based on cow’s milk. Therefore, formula puts a burden on the farming industry. Cow’s need feed, water and land to survive, all extra resources being consumed. And one of the byproducts of cows is methane gas, another greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
But the ecological footprint of alternatives to breast milk go well beyond just producing formula itself. Packaging, containers, labels and marketing of formula use up resources such as cardboard, paper, aluminum, steel and other metals. The distribution of formula throughout the world via planes, trains, trucks and even the consumer’s car to get to a store add considerable toxic emissions into the air. And then there’s looking beyond formula to bottles and bottle accessories that require even more manufacturing, disseminating and marketing, all of which adds to carbon outputs. And each of these steps also contribute to toxic waste.
Of course there is also the energy cost of each of these aspects of formula too. From operating a food manufacturing plant that produces formula or makes bottles, to transporting, storing and selling formula in stores, an exorbitant amount of energy is wasted in the formula industry. Perhaps if there were no viable alternatives, the environmental impact wouldn’t be so offensive. However that is simply not the case when breastfeeding can eliminate this tremendous toll on our environment.
There are many reasons to breastfeed and respecting the environment to reduce your ecological footprint is a huge consideration. Breastfeeding is a powerful choice for you, your baby and the environment. World Breastfeeding Week spreads awareness for the many benefits of breastfeeding as a means to sustainable development. This certainly includes our most precious planet earth.