Friday, August 15, 2008

Wanna Go Green? Breastfeed!

This article has an interesting spin on additional benefits of breastfeeding - its good for the environment. No packaging, no resources used to make or deliver it, no waste. I like that!

Ask Eartha Steward: Mammaries for the planet

High Country Conservation Center

Dear Eartha,
In honor of National Breastfeeding Week Aug. 1-7, can you tell me why breastfeeding is good for the environment?
— Elyse Jones

Thanks for your question, Elyse. It was really interesting to learn just how important breastfeeding is, and provided the perfect opportunity to re-emphasize something that babies have known since the beginning of existence: mama’s milk is awesome!
There are plenty of medical reasons why breastfeeding is recommended for most mothers and babies. It helps strengthen a baby’s immune system and fight off sickness, and it can help reduce allergies. And for new moms, breastfeeding helps shed those extra baby pounds.

On top of that, breastfeeding is the ultimate example of an ecologically sound food — it comes to us from the most local source available, is delivered to its consumer without any pollution, and is the first step in a baby’s understanding of nature’s interconnectedness.

Only 16 percent of all women that gave birth in the United States 10 years ago breastfed for the entire first year. And although goals are set to get that percentage to 25 percent by 2010 in the United States, it is still only a small percentage. With even 25 percent of mothers breastfeeding by 2010, that still leaves 75 percent of babies being fed formula, and this means a pretty big impact on the planet.

Bottle feeding pollutes our air, water and land, wastes resources, and creates disposal problems. When a baby is bottle-fed, their tiny feet leave a huge carbon footprint.

In their first year, a baby on formula consumes an estimated average of 14,500 ounces of formula. That divides out to more than 60 canisters that are thrown away in a year by a single baby (well, by mom and dad, at least). Those canisters are made of packaging that includes tin, paper, and plastic, all materials that are resource-intensive in their production.

Then we get to the feeding bottles and nipples, which are made of plastics, glass, rubber and silicone. In the U.S., most formula-fed babies have at least six bottles each, meaning that in the U.S. alone, there are more than 20 million plastic feeding bottles sold each year. Bottles and teats must be sterilized before every use.

This uses water and energy, and while those seem to be readily available, we all know that’s not necessarily the case here in the arid West. And unfortunately, when baby finally makes the big move to grown-up food, many of those bottles are not recycled, so they either end up in landfills or incinerators, where they create more pollution.

Baby formulas are the end product of some pretty destructive industrial processes which require a tremendous use of energy and natural resources, and that’s before you consider the energy that goes into packaging and transportation. Most baby formula, before it reaches those adorable little mouths, travels thousands of miles.

It’s always fascinating to me that some of the best things we can do to help the planet are often the simplest, and that it often takes us an inordinately long time to realize what’s been under our noses (or in this case, under a stylish maternity blouse) all along.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural processes in the world. It produces no waste, and it produces exactly what a new baby needs. Mothers need only a small amount of energy to provide milk for their babies, and this often comes from extra body fat. Breastmilk requires no extra packaging, comes out at exactly the right temperature, doesn’t need to be shipped around the world (yet, conveniently enough, mothers have a ready supply wherever they are), and provides a boost to a baby’s immune system.

It’s almost as if nature planned this whole thing out!

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Jennifer Kirkpatrick and Heather Dodd Christie, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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