Why Breastfeeding is the Eco-Friendly Choice

Since the introduction of formula in 1867, the breast vs formula argument has raged on. While there are undoubtedly many health and emotional benefits to breastfed babies, there are also lots of environmental benefits too.

Breast Milk Causes No Waste and Uses No Energy

Breast milk does not require the farming of cattle or the clearance of forest land for grazing cattle. It does not use heating that is needed during the pasteurisation of cows milk or refrigeration. It does not have to be packaged or transported to shops, so petrol is not required, reducing 'greenhouse gas' emissions.

Francis and Mulford said in 2000,

"“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.”

This makes breastfeeding the obvious choice for environmentally conscious mums.

Breastfeeding Reduces the Use of Plastics

No plastic bottles are required. This reduces the burden on landfill sites, protects wildlife and protects babies from harmful chemicals associated with plastic. These harmful chemicals are hormone disruptors and can result in immune system damage and changes in the developing brain.  While BPA was banned in baby bottles in the UK in 2011 after it was discovered it could leach into the baby's body, and the U.S followed suit a year later, its replacement, BPS, is just as harmful. It also leaches into the body and has been found in urine samples. Even tiny amounts of the chemical can trigger asthma, obesity and cancer.

While unsuspecting mothers think their BPA-free bottles are eco-friendly, they don't realise the substitute BPS is just as bad.

Glass bottles are an improvement, but the soundest environmental choice is breastfeeding.

Breastfed Babies Use Less Water

Water is necessary for life but it is not always abundant in all areas of the world. Breastfed babies don't need water for at least the first six months of their lives. This is because breast milk contains water and is both a drink and food.  Water used to prepare formula contains pesticide residues due to run-off and contamination via soil. Pesticide exposure in infancy is known to cause cognitive problems. 

Breastfeeding Delays Menstruation and Reduces the Need for Disposable Sanitary Wear  

The average time a breastfeeding woman resumes menstruation after childbirth is 14 months. This reduces the number of sanitary packets she has to buy. Disposable sanitary wear is up to 90% plastic and as harmful to the planet as disposable nappies. This effect also helps with family spacing. If an exclusively breastfeeding mother feeds during the night, doesn't introduce solid food and doesn't use pacifiers, it may help prevent pregnancy. Appropriate family spacing reduces burdens caused by over-population.

Breastfeeding Doesn't Support Animal Cruelty

Intensive dairy farming requires that calves are killed on the first day of life so that farmers can use their milk for human consumption, including formula milk. Mother cows are very maternal animals and find this very distressing. Over-milking is common due to the amount of milk humans consume and hormones are often given to increase yield. Grossly swollen or blocked udders are a painful and common problem. Farmers will also give antibiotics to prevent infection from these practices. Trace amounts of these antibiotics end up in their milk and in the powdered infant formula.

Breastfeeding Takes Power Away from Major Corporations 

When women decide to breastfeed, they take their power back from major multi-national corporations that make formula milk. Corporations have historically made decisions based on company profit, rather than public good (think Vioxx and GM foods). Breastfeeding is the ultimate in eating locally and enables families to take charge of their own food and live more sustainably.

Sources:

Formula for Disaster Report, Accessed 12th August 2019.

BPA-Free Plastic Containers May be Just as Hazardous, Scientific American, 11th August 2014.

Dairy's Dirty Secret: It's Still Cheaper to Kill Male Calves than Raise Them, The Guardian, 26th March 2018.

 

Eco Mum Shop sells clothing that makes it easier to breastfeed discreetly, breast pads and other breastfeeding supplies in support of nursing mothers.