The Sustainability of Breastfeeding: Protecting Both Babies and Mother Earth
It has become widely recognized that breastfeeding is the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development. In addition to containing all of the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs, breast milk supports your baby’s immune system and brain development. However, breastfeeding is also a cornerstone for something just as important but something we don’t generally think about—a healthy planet.
Breast milk is a naturally renewable resource, leaves zero ecological footprint, and provides long-term environmental advantages:
- Breastfeeding is the clean energy choice. Breastmilk is not industrially manufactured or transported, so it generates zero greenhouse gas emissions or other pollutants. In addition, there is no need to heat up breast milk prior to feeding.
- Breastfeeding saves scarce water resources. Breastfeeding has a zero water footprint because no water is required to prepare breast milk or sanitize feeding bottles (if exclusively feeding at the breast). All that a baby needs for the first 6 months of life is breast milk.
- Breastfeeding has zero waste. Breastfeeding is biodegradable and does not produce waste from packaging processes or from plastic feeding bottles. In addition, mothers who exclusively breastfeed have delayed menstruation, thereby reducing the number of feminine hygiene products and their plastic wrappers from ending up in the landfill.
Francis and Mulford (2000) sum up the sustainability of breastfeeding quite nicely:
“Human milk is not skimmed, processed, pasteurized, stored, transported, repackaged, dried, reconstituted, sterilized, or wasted…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).