This article has run in a number
of publications, including: Long Island Parenting News, Tidewater
Parent, Parents Express, Potomac Children, L.A. Parent, San Diego
Parent, City Parent [Ontario, Canada], All About Kids, and Bay
Area Parent, Valley Parent, Sydney's Child [Australia], and Melbourne's
Breast is best is a common adage, and most people can tell you that breastfeeding is good for babies. Some people are even aware that breastfeeding is good for mothers, but few folks are aware that breastfeeding is good for the environment. Saving our world's forests, minimizing destruction of the ozone layer, and curtailing contaminants of our soils and seas are common environmental themes, yet when it comes to taking care of Mother Nature, breastfeeding can't be beat.
Breastmilk may look white, but actually, it is as "green" as can be. The ecological consequences of cloth vs. disposable diapers are debated routinely, yet they are small potatoes compared to the consequences of the breast vs. formula decision. Breastmilk is one of the few foodstuffs produced and delivered to the consumer without any pollution, unnecessary packaging or waste, whereas the production, shipping, and preparation of formula and bottles requires large amounts of water, fuel, glass, plastic and rubber -- and produces significant amounts of garbage.
Many people know that breastfeeding is best for babies. Some people
know that breastfeeding offers health benefits to the mother.
But very few people realize the importance of breastfeeding for
Substituting cow's milk (the primary ingredient in infant formula)
for breastmilk destroys the water, land and air. Cow manure and
urine pollute rivers and ground water, while nitrate fertilizers
used to grow feed for dairy cows leach into rivers and water.
Cow flatulence releases methane into the atmosphere and is a major
contributing factor to the destruction of the ozone layer. It
would take 135 million lactating cows just to substitute the breastmilk
of the women of India; that many cows would require 43% of the
surface of India be devoted to pasture. Land used for pastures
often comes from clearing forests, a practice that erodes and
depletes the soil.
If every child in America were bottle-fed, almost 86,000 tons
of tin would be needed to produce 550 million cans for one year's
worth of formula. If every mother in the Great Britain breastfed,
3000 tons of paper (used for formula labels) would be saved in
a year. But the formula is not the only problem. Bottles and nipples
require plastic, glass, rubber, and silicon; production of these
materials can be resource-intensive and often leads to end-products
that are not-recyclable. All these products use natural resources,
cause pollution in their manufacture and distribution, and create
trash in their packaging, promotion, and disposal.
Women who practice total, unrestricted breastfeeding average over
14 months without menstruating. Multiply this by the four million
US births each year to see that over one billion sanitary products
annually could be kept out of our nation's landfills and sewers.
To compound the scenario, because breastmilk is absorbed by babies
more efficiently; breastfed babies excrete less and thus require
fewer diaper changes than formula-fed babies. Manufacturing the
additional diapers, menstrual pads, and tampons involves the need
for fibers, bleaching and other chemical processes, packaging
materials, and fuels.
Breastfeeding is a more effective method of birth control, world-wide,
than all other methods combined -- without taxing the household's
financial resources or endangering a woman's health. Mothers who
breastfeed exclusively (that is, frequently, on demand, including
during the night, and with no supplementation) generally enjoy
a significant period of natural birth control. Lactation-induced
infertility serves to increase the spacing between births. This
is important since children born less than two years apart are
almost twice as likely to die as those born more than two years
Breastfeeding not only decreases deaths by limiting fertility,
the immunizing agents in breastmilk produce healthier babies.
Formula-fed babies get sick more often, get sicker, and have higher
death rates than breastfed babies. And the health benefits of
breastfeeding can be seen throughout life, not just in infancy.
Women have more babies when the chances of their children living
long enough to care for them in old age is small -- more babies
are an insurance strategy. When parents can reasonably expect
their children to live into adulthood, they choose to have fewer
Two years ago, President Clinton, joining an unprecedented worldwide consensus, voted to impose restrictions on the advertising and promotion of infant formula. His vote demonstrates a new American commitment to breastfeeding.
Infant formula represents the case where a superior product is
being discarded at significant expense -- to the baby, the mother,
and the environment. We need to promote and protect our natural
resources, whether they grow in a forest, swim in the sea, or
come from our bodies. Let's add breastfeeding to the ways we can
honor and cherish the most incredible mother of all -- Mother
Dia L. Michels