Save the Planet: Breastfeed!

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about the environment and breastfeeding. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!

There are so many reasons to breastfeed. We know a lot about how breastfeeding is important for the health of both mother and child. We know about how helpful it is for bonding with and comforting a child and how convenient it is in the middle of the night, but have you ever thought of the environmental impact of breastfeeding?

If you haven’t, don’t feel too bad. There really isn’t much environmental impact to breastfeeding. That’s the way it should be. After all, environmentalism isn’t really as much about doing things to make the Earth work better. It’s about living in a way to minimize our impact on the environment, to use natural resources in ways that are sustainable so that they will still be available for others who come after us. If we exploit the environment, consuming resources, we are really exploiting future generations who will not have access to those resources. If we pollute our environment, we are polluting the air that our children and grandchildren will breathe, the water they will drink, and the soil that will grow their food.

In order to breastfeed, the mother needs some more calories and nutrients, but a lot of the calories that go into breast milk, at least at first, are the calories the mother built up in her pregnancy fat stores, and honestly, I can’t think of a single woman who is going to count those as lost resources. Of course a mother’s time and energy are valuable resources, and if a mother is low on both (which could be just as true no matter how a baby is fed), that could lead to other actions that may impact the environment, such as the gas used by friends who come to bring home-cooked meals to a new mom, but all things considered, the environmental impact of breastfeeding is pretty close to nothing. In fact, perhaps more than any other time in a person’s life, eating leaves such a small footprint on the environment.

Formula-feeding, on the other hand, leaves a huge footprint on the environment, and if you have never stopped to think about it, please take a few moments to brainstorm with me the extra resources needed just to feed a child formula.

-Food for cows: In most cases, this is primarily grain that could have been fed directly to humans, and the land used to grow the grain could have been better-managed to be more sustainable.

-Energy to cool milk and transport it to a formula manufacturing facility.

-Energy and other resources to process milk into a powdered or liquid formula with other ingredients added to make it as nutritionally complete as is possible synthetically.

-Packaging materials – usually an aluminum can, sometimes lined with plastic that until recently contained BPA and covered in paper. If all the formula cans sold in the US each year were stacked end to end, they would circle the world 1 1/2 times.

-Energy to transport the formula to various retail outlets.

-Energy for consumer to transport formula home.

-Plastic, made from oil, a mostly non-renewable resource, and energy used to make bottles.

-Packaging materials for bottles.

-Energy to transport materials to make and distribute bottles.

-Materials, packaging and transport of accessories used to clean and sterilize bottles.

-Energy to heat water to make formula.

-Energy to clean and sterilize bottles.

-What else can you think of?

If you do use formula, or if your breastfeeding situation involves pumping and bottle-feeding (which has more impact on the environment than nursing at the breast but far less than formula-feeding) some or all of the time, there is a lot that you can do to reduce the environmental impact by choosing products made closer to home, buying from companies that use more ecological methods of farming, recycling packaging materials, combining errands and more. However, it is prudent to be aware of the effect that your actions have on the environment.

People are certainly more important, and if your choice is between accepting the environmental impact of formula feeding or not feeding your baby, please do feed your baby. Don’t feel bad about it either. Just do what you can to minimize the environmental impact in your own situation. Perhaps we could figure out a sustainable method of producing and distributing formula and bottles to the few children who need it (or better yet, develop a system of collecting and distributing donated breast milk that is sustainable, accessible, and affordable), but formula-feeding is not a sustainable way to feed all or even most of the babies in the world. The more we do to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed as much as possible, we are not only assisting with the health and well-being of the mother and child, but we are making a positive impact on the environment by reducing the need for formula and bottles. Every feeding that happens at the breast instead of a bottle and every feeding that uses breast milk instead of formula makes a little difference. It’s like turning out lights, walking or biking, turning off your car when you’re waiting, bringing your own bags, and buying local. Every feed counts.

As for me, when I started breastfeeding, I did not think at all of the impact I was having on the environment because breastfeeding has so little impact on the environment. However, my choice to use cloth diapers and elimination communication instead of contributing to filling landfills with disposable diapers… that’s another story for another day. What parenting choices are you making that reduce the mark that you leave on the environment, ensuring that resources will be available for future generations?

Today’s guest post is from Jeana Jones. Jeana is the mother of one two-year-old girl and one tiny embryo due to be born in March.  For this year’s Breastfeeding Cafe, she is the Library Liason and is coordinating Salt Lake City’s part in the Big Latch On world record event on August 6th.  See the calendar or stop by the Cafe for more details.


Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

1 Comment

Filed under Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival

One response to “Save the Planet: Breastfeed!

  1. theadventuresoflactatinggirl

    I’ll be the first to admit that the environment wasn’t the first thing I was thinking of when I became determined to breastfeed, but even though it’s a small reduction in my carbon footprint, I’m still happy that I’m helping. 😀

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