Breastfeeding is an Environmental Issue

I chose to exclusively breastfeed my two daughters during their first six months of life, as it was the most natural and obvious way to provide them with the nourishment they needed to thrive. I was also admittedly, lazy. Mama’s milk is always at the right temperature, always nutritionally complete, never needs to be sterilized and always readily available.  It made no sense to me why any mother would want to get up in the middle of the night, go to the kitchen and prepare a bottle of infant formula when we are all endowed with our own lovely milky way cafes that merely require a half-awake strategic repositioning near our baby’s rooting rosebud mouths —  while still dreaming of Tahiti. Okay, I admit I was also addicted to oxytocin and prolactin, those yummy mommy hormones (released while breastfeeding) that make you all warm and fuzzy inside, but love hormones aside, breastfeeding just felt so right.

It wasn’t until my second daughter came along that I contemplated the environmental impact of this choice.  One balmy afternoon, while nursing my babe under a weeping willow tree and reading Paul Hawkin’s book, Natural Capital, it dawned on me that breastmilk is not only an invaluable renewable resource but it is also the most environmentally sound food source available and this is why: breastmilk is produced and delivered to the consumer (baby) with a nearly zero ecological and carbon footprint.

In sharp contrast, artificial baby formula production, distribution and consumption pollutes our land, air, and water and sucks up substantial natural resources – and as a result has a HUGE ecological and carbon footprint. For example, every year in the US, over half a million women formula feed their babies from birth.  If just these mothers breastfed for a full year (with solids introduced after six months), these resources would be saved:

  • 2.5 million pounds of paper
  • 25 million pounds of metal
  • 27 million gallons of milk, requiring 465 million pounds of dairy feed to produce
  • 6 million gallons of oil for production, transportation and refrigeration
  • 135 million pounds of carbon dioxide produced by the use of those 6 million gallons of oil

If those statistics are not eye-popping, try these:

  • The 550 million containers of artificial baby formula sold each year to the U.S. alone, stacked end to end, would circle the earth one and a half times.
  • If every child in America were bottle-fed, almost 86,000 tons of tin would be needed to produced 550 million cans wrapped in 1,230 tons of paper labels for just one year’s worth of formula.
  • If every mother in the U.K. breastfed, 3,000 tons of paper would be saved in one year  – and that would be just for the labels.
  • Breastfeeding delays menstruation on average by 14 months. In Great Britain, this delay in menstruation translates to 3,000 tons of paper saved just from unused sanitary protection products!  In addition to saving trees, packaging materials and fuel would be saved, and less items sent to landfills.
  • Landfills rise unnecessarily with every formula fed baby. Plastic feeding bottles, nipples, and pacifiers take 200 to 450 years to break down.
  • Milk comes from cows or soybeans, both of which require vast amounts of land, water and fertilizers. Nitrate fertilizers used to grow feed for dairy cows contaminates rivers and ground water as does the cow dung itself; cows also produce more than their share of of methane thus adding to global warming.
  • To substitute the breastmilk of all the women in India, 135 million lactating cows, requiring 43% of India’s landmass, would be needed.

 

Few mothers understand or even contemplate the environmental impact when breastmilk is substituted with formula. I know I didn’t with my first baby. The choice to breastfeed seemed an entirely personal decision. But, now in light of the huge environmental cost of not breastfeeding, I realize that my decision to breastfeed my babies was not just a personal decision, but also a planetary decision.

So, all you breastfeeding mamas rejoice knowing you are making one of the best ecological decisions as a parent — even if no one gives you a gold star for your effort!

—-

Thank you to the following sources which were used to write this article:

Baumslag, N. and Michels, D., Milk, Money & Madness: The Culture and Politics of Breastfeeding. Bergin & Garvey, Westport, CT, 1995.
Correa, Wendy.  “Eco-Mama,” Mothering Magazine. Issue no. 95, July/Aug. 1999.

http://www.ewg.org/reports/infantformula

 

Related:
Why Breastfeeding in Public is Still Controversial
My 5 Favorite Breastfeeding Tips

125 comments

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa1 years ago

Thank you

Margriet Myngheer

breastfeeding almost 17 months now and 14 months of cloth diapers and wipes, also on the road(all in one type and wetbag). So happy we can do this. It feels natural and we would not want it any other way. I hope I will never need formula. First month of breastfeeding was like hell, all the problems you can think of, and I was pushed in the way to the formula solution. I pulled through and we survived the hard days. I can understand some women won't, so I'm thankfull we had the power to keep on going. After a few months, breastfeeding was the easiest way to go, always ready, my golden card we call it(nightmares, pain, flue,... it was always the quick solution in our case). I hope we can go on like this, my son really enjoys his milkies :D

Samantha Martin
Samantha Martin2 years ago

Lady, you are a complete fool! As if you would think a mother would want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on Baby Formula and also want to harm the environment. As many other said, mothers don't switch to formula for fun, because it sure as hell wouldn't be fun. You are quite uneducated on the everyday parent, especially nowadays as many mothers have no choice but to feed their baby formula to sustain them as not everyones breast milk can.
You enrage me and I hope that everyone sees how absolutely absurd your post is.

That's all. Get a life and do some research on parenthood, not just the environment for heavens sake.

Amira R.
Amira R.2 years ago

Nice to know you've spent this much time finding numbers on the internet but haven't mentioned with one word that pretty much everyone who ends up bottle feeding has a valid reason for it. I don't know a single mother who does it because she wants to do the worst possible thing for her baby.

Believe it or not, for some people it hurts unbelievably FAR beyond those golden two weeks. So much in fact that you end up not even wanting to look at the baby because you're so frustrated. Some don't have enough milk for the baby and, go figure, think it's better that their child is full and happy than if people have a sore butts about environmental issues. There are many reasons for not breastfeeding but not caring about your child or the environment aren't included.

The vast majority of women who can breastfeed, breastfeed. I'd bet my left arm on that.

Instead of joining the breastfeeding mafia you should just be happy that you're one of those who CAN breastfeed, who enjoy it instead of crying with pain every time.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

my son was breastfed until he was 11 months old (I breastfed exclusively until he started solids, and pumped and saved any I could) my milk dried up and i was able to feed him what I'd saved for almost a month, meanwhile pumping and going to a nutritionist in an attempt to get milk to continue. In the end 11 months was all my body could give. I am 6 months pregnant and will be breastfeeding again. period. I loved it. We also switched to cloth diapers for this one, and will be using cloth wipes at home. I am sure we will still use regular diapers and wipes on the road, but in the end it will be better for the world and for our new addition. I am actually extremely excited! Great article. As for the women dissing other women for doing with our breasts what nature intended? Bugger off you hate filled bigots! If you want to withhold this advantage from children, that is your choice. DO NOT think your close minded opinions of us matter, they don't they never have, and they never will. As for the moms who weren't able to breastfeed, my heart aches for you, esp if it was what you wanted to do. I wish you had been able to give that gift. As for the mothers who choose not to, to each their own but read up and educate and learn, and hopefully you will realize the benefits you can give your child are ENDLESS

Franck Rio
Frank R.2 years ago

Thanks for Sharing

Alexandra Hayward

I never thought of it that way when I breast fed my children and I wonder why more on this is not talked about? It seems that breast is best in more ways than we first think!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Athena Milios
Athena Milios3 years ago

This is a great idea! Thing is it would be difficult to put into action, because it is a private decision new mothers make...

Susan C.
Susan Clay3 years ago

Good info!