By Dia L. Michels
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 the environment.
- Dairy production destroys land and pollutes air and
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.
- Artificial feeding causes waste and uses valuable
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.
- Artificial feeding means more tampons, more diapers
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 lessens infant mortality
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 apart.
- Breastfeeding reduces over-population
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 children.
- Breastfeeding - a valuable natural resource
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
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 Nature.