Considerable attention has been given to the countless health reasons for breastfeeding, but have you ever considered breastfeeding as an environmental issue?
Besides protecting the health of mothers and babies, breastfeeding is an important way of protecting the health of our planet as a whole. Here are just a few of the important ways that breastfeeding helps Mother Earth.
No Greenhouse Emissions Did you know that livestock is responsible for nearly 20% of greenhouse emissions? Cows produce considerable methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, making infant formula one of the most emissions-intensive foods. Breast milk, in contrast, is produced efficiently through a mother’s fat stores, making it a carbon-neutral food source.
Energy and Land Conservation Every dairy cow producing milk for infant formula requires about one hectare of land in addition to the land needed to produce cattle feed. Dairy farming contributes to land and water pollution, deforestation as well as soil erosion. Some infant formula is made from soybeans, which require significant pesticides and chemicals for fertilization. Soy farming is also a huge contributor to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Zero “Food Miles” Breastfeeding requires zero transportation or factory processing, making it the ultimate in eating local. In contrast, infant formula requires the shipment of cow’s milk to multiple factories for processing, packaging and distribution thousands of miles away. The entire manufacturing and distribution process consumes significant fuel and energy. In contrast to breast milk, which always comes out at exactly the right temperature, infant formula also requires energy and water for proper heating, preparation and sterilization of bottles.
Green Packaging While breast milk comes in the most eco-friendly packaging imaginable, the packaging and production of infant formula consumes significant resources and contributes to our growing landfills. If every baby in the US were fed infant formula from birth, the packaging alone would require over 100,000 tons of metal and nearly 1,500 tons of paper! The manufacturing of plastic feeding bottles also consumes significant petroleum, and it takes hundreds of years for these bottles to break down in landfills.
Reduced Chemical and Toxin Exposure While there have been a few recent headlines about environmental contaminants detected in breast milk, research shows that the risks of not breastfeeding outweigh the concerns. There is a far greater risk of contamination of infant formula, which has been subject to numerous recalls over the last decade. Formula packaging and bottles can also contain toxic chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) that can leach into milk and harm the environment.
With increasing societal awareness of the importance of conservation, it’s surprising that breastfeeding doesn’t get more attention as an environmental issue and one of our most valuable natural resources. As advocates of greener living, protecting and supporting breastfeeding is one of the best ways we can contribute to a healthier planet and society.
Kate Gulbransen is a Certified Lactation Educator who is passionate about supporting moms meet their breastfeeding goals. Kate works for Hygeia, a breast pump company, where she manages social media and assists moms with questions about pumping and breastfeeding. You can find Kate on Twitter as @hygeiakate or on the Hygeia blog.