Breastfeeding as an Environmental Movement

I’ve been thinking about breastfeeding quite a bit lately.  Perhaps it’s due to the amount of time Joshua spends nursing…  I’ve been writing this post for a while now, about why environmentalists should support breastfeeding and practices that promote breastfeeding.  I’m not going to tout the health or economic benefits, I think we’ve all heard “Breast is Best” and it’s fair to say there’s scientific consensus there.  This is about the environmental benefits of breastfeeding.

Reducing Carbon Emissions

Breastmilk does not need to be made in a factory, nor does it need to be packaged or shipped around the country to consumers.  The mother’s body produces milk through a biological process without the need for fossil fuels.  There’s no need to heat water to sterilize bottles, so that’s another reduction in carbon emissions.  Of course, if a mother chooses to express milk and bottlefeed, for whatever reason, there’s still the energy savings from lack of production, packaging and shipping.

Waste Reduction

Breastfeeding creates no waste for disposal (with the exception of dirty diapers, which is a topic for another time).  This saves energy from collection and transportation of waste, as well as space in a landfill.

Water Issues

With breastfeeding, water consumption is reduced because there’s no industrial manufacturing process, and there are no bottles to wash.  In addition, in disaster areas or the developing world, breastfeeding infants are protected from contaminated water.

Other Resources

With breastfeeding, there’s no need to use metals or paper to make packages.  There’s no need for coupons or junk mail advertisement.

Overpopulation

Population seems to be an issue that many environmentalists ignore; the so-called “elephant in the room.”  While not a 100% effective form of birth control (though I think there’s a lot to be said about the biology of the lactational amenorrhea method), breastfeeding reduces a woman’s fertility.  This increases the time between pregnancies and ultimately reduces family size.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the reasons why my sleep-deprived mommy brain thinks the environmental movement should be in support of breastfeeding and practices and legislation that promote breastfeeding.  What do you think?

24 Comments

Filed under Food, Living from Scratch, parenting, Sustainable Living

24 responses to “Breastfeeding as an Environmental Movement

  1. Rosa

    I think you’re 100% on this, and I think breastfeeding rights are a place where the “typical” environmentalist – white, middle-class, educated – can reach out to other communities and lend them a hand. For instance, in my city and state, young immigrant women who want to breastfeed are often stymied by terrible work conditions (unless they work for themselves or community businesses). We could help get better legislation to enable them to choose to nurse if they want to.

    • I wonder if the new health care legislation, which has mandatory breaks for women to express milk in a clean, private, non-bathroom area, will help here? I think you make a really good point.

  2. knutty knitter

    I am of the opinion that anyone who chooses to breast feed and/or be at home with their children should be supported in doing so. Make it a paying valuable job (which it is) instead of some sort of pariah job with no value and perhaps this society can rehabilitate its communities.

    A bit utopian in this money oriented world but I still think people are more important than any amount of make work.

    viv in nz

  3. I love that breastfeeding has so many environmental benefits. I would also count the fact that we don’t need to raise cows and plants to manufacture formula as a benefit. Breastfeeding-friendly policies help the earth!

  4. I thought we already were supporting breastfeeding … or do you mean as something SPECIAL instead of “carry your own water bottles, your own bags, recycle, breastfeed …”.

    I still think, though, that (because it’s such a personal thing) it should be the mom’s choice. So, while I might rag a neighbor for not recycling, I wouldn’t comment on a woman’s choice to bottlefeed.

  5. Aunt Sara

    I agree with most of what you have said, and am a believer in the benefits of breastfeeding…though I personally don’t think that it needs to go on until the child is 4 years old. But if that is what the individual wants to do, it really is no one else’s business…especially the governments!

    However, I think you are dancing with disaster if you try to legislate breastfeeding. Some babies are better off with formula ( ie..the babies of drug dependent or alcohol dependent moms, the babies of moms who are physically not well enough to nurse, etc) It is a personal choice, and an informed citizenship will make the best decision for each and every little baby.

    Now I may have read more into this than you intended, but I see well meaning legislatures make laws each year without researching the cost, impact or facts.

    • Rosa

      Nobody’s talking about mandating breastfeeding.

      But we really need to protect women’s right to choose to nurse. And lots of businesses make it really hard. That’s wrong. It’s a workplace rights issue, like getting to take your federally-mandated work breaks and getting paid for overtime if you’re hourly.

  6. I absolutely agree that breastfeeding should be a personal choice. Like Old Novice stated, I would never say something to a woman who chooses to formula-feed her baby. That said, I do believe that legislation should be in place to support each woman in achieving her own personal breastfeeding goals. For example: mandatory breaks for nursing moms so that they can express milk, a clean, non-bathroom place to pump, and adoption of the World Health Organization’s Code of conduct for marketing by formula companies.

    In the developing world, especially in places where there’s not consistent access to clean water, I believe that there needs to be more information about the dangers of using dirty water to mix formula and diluting formula to save money. The WHO Code becomes even more important here.

  7. I like this post, and like others I agree that its a personal choice, but as a mom who breastfed and CD just a few years ago (12) I have seen massive shifts in public acceptance of breastfeeding moms (nursing rooms in public places) that did not exist when I was breastfeeding. When I was nursing and CDing I never saw or met another sole (not to say they didn’t exist) who was doing the same, now I see them everywhere. I think FD is right that we need to make sure that people without access to clean water or who might be watering down formula to save money are aware of the cost effectiveness of nursing.

    Just one aside Abbey – don’t count on nursing as BC – otherwise I wouldn’t be here😉

    • What does CD stand for?

      And although I’m very much interested in the research that shows LAM to be 99.5% effective, I realize that “nature finds a way” to quote Jurassic Park. There are no absolutes in biology, hence the other 0.5%. The only 100% effective form of birth control is of course abstinence. So that’s what I’m using, lol🙂

  8. I just wanted to say that I think you are spot on and to add to the comment about LAM as BC. Michelle Duggar (the reality TV mom with 19 children) has stated that if she cound’t get pregnant while she was breast feeding, most of her children wouldn’t be here. So I guess its one of those things that just depends on the person?

    • I heard Michelle Duggar say she usually begins menstruating 6-8 weeks after giving birth, so she would be considered fertile by the LAM method, since she’s missing the “A” part.

      Of course it doesn’t work for everyone, but in parts of the developing world where women cannot get birth control (lack of access or they’re not allowed by a husband, etc.) breastfeeding is an effective way to space children. It should be exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding for the highest production of the hormones that extend amennorhea.

  9. More great reasons to breastfeed and a fun perspective to look at it from, the environmental one, as we’re so used to touting breastfeeding for health reasons and for natural bonding of mother/child.

    Of course, it’s an intensely personal decision, which has to be right for the mother/child duo and which others cannot and should not pressure others into. Still, it seems that too many doctors today have new mothers believing their babies “can’t latch” or aren’t gaining fast enough, and instead of building up the new mother’s nursing confidence, they make her question her own ability to breastfeed her child. I’ve seen this way too much lately.

    I wouldn’t trade my years of nursing 3 babies/toddlers for the world; and I didn’t even know I was reducing carbon emissions at the time! : )

  10. You could also mention that BF babies tend to have a higher immunity, thus reducing trips to the doctor (carbon emissions) and the need for medicines (a lot has been studied about the contamination of our waterways from OTC and prescription drugs). There is also less worry about toxin contamination (I’m thinking of the BPA in liquid formula containers and melamine in dry formulas made in China). But this is a trade-off, because of course, we mothers are also contaminated with environmental toxins that are sometimes passed on through our milk, which is rather sickening IMO.

    Also, I was to nervous/paranoid to rely on the whole LAM idea. Also went with abstinence – at least for a time.🙂

    But of course, one of my *favorite* things about BFing was related to ME – I could eat more! Not exactly an environmental “plus.”

    PS – You are doing CDing – at least you’re getting ready to: cloth diapering.

  11. I hear you… I had never considered the waste that was involved with formula feeding until I was in the boat. It’s absolute sickening. Now I’m the nut asking people for their formula cans so I can recycle them! I just hope that next time things work out better for me. Great post Abbie!!!

  12. I totally agree with you. Sustainability is so important and we should all consider this on many levels. Since procreation is part of our biology we need to consider the future generations and how our choices effect them. Breastfeeding is just one more way to help. Acceptance and public teaching is going to be the goal in the years to come! Blessings!

    The Birth of Breastfeeding Means Business | Ithaca, NY | Wishing Well http://ow.ly/1MUa7

  13. BF, CD, all the acronyms take on a new meaning with NMs (New Moms), just made that one up myself–I think!

    P.S. I wouldn’t trust LAM, either!

  14. As someone who nursed two for a year, I’m definitely not a believer in the LAM. I was SO tired, and Auschwitz-survivor skinny. It was a conscious effort on our part to have another so quickly, tho. Otherwise, we used a diaphragm. My daughter recently asked me when they stopped prescribing diaphragms, because her doctor told her she had a choice between a pill that wouldn’t interfere with breastfeeding but wasn’t as effective as THE pill, or an IUD and that was all. ????

  15. “I would never say anything against a woman’s choice”…. Uh, huh….. You just did, the moment you played the “guilt” card of how “wonderful” it is.

    People make choices based on what is best for them… not what someone dictates they should do. If that bottle hadn’t dripped… my youngest would have starved since he did not suck – soother, fingers, sippy cup, NADA…. atleast he was able to figure out there was food available and mastered how to get it. With the eldest I felt like a cow and it created post partum… I quit after 4 weeks and it vanished along with the breast feeding. I suspect I was also a horrible person b/c I had 2 c-sections as well….

    I have to laugh at the higher immunity comments as well… but then again I listen to the autism wars on a daily basis and the environmental ones aren’t much different. FWIW my garden is organic b/c children can go into it… the farm is not.

    Breast feeding is allowed in most places… it is a right…. but so is bottle feeding. Your choice doesn’t make you better than I. Just different, and we’re all different, acknowledging that, supporting everyone in their choices…. that is what true “acceptance” is.

    Atleast here… we have a year’s Mat leave.

    • This post is about the environmental benefits of breastfeeding, and you did not dispute any of the benefits listed in my post. I see no place in the post where I pulled a “guilt” card, nor do I see the word “wonderful” anywhere in my post (though I admittedly skimmed it again).

      I agree that there are times when formula is medically necessary, and there are instances when it is the best choice for a mother to use formula. However, that doesn’t change my position that breastfeeding, as a general practice, is better for the environment, and that environmentalists like myself should support practices and legislation that promotes breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding is legal almost everywhere, but just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s “promoting” breastfeeding. As you mention, a year’s mat leave is promoting breasfeeding, as are time/room for a woman to express milk if she chooses to/has to go back to work.

      I don’t think I’m better than anyone else because I breastfeed. I think breastfeeding is better for the environment. That’s not the same thing.

    • Oh my goodness, this comment borders on the rude here. What we have is a new mother who is an environmentalist and who is truly in love with her newborn and is doing what she believes in her heart and soul is best for him.

      Never for a minute do I think that Farmer’s Daughter is judging others nor saying that anyone is a “horrible” person for personal circumstances and decisions that are right for that individual.

      Of course, breastfeeding is a personal choice, and may not always be the best or only choice for all mothers/infants, but I’m sure F.D. is not pushing any agenda on others.

      Now, a year’s maternity leave . . . that sounds wonderful and realistic!

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