Whether you are still pregnant and considering all your baby feeding options, or busy breastfeeding your baby and wondering how long to continue, here is another angle that we can almost guarantee you have not thought about.
World Breastfeeding Week 2020 took place from 1-7 August, this year with the theme ‘Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet’. In recent decades, the havoc that humanity has wrecked on our planet has escalated to a point where even the most uninformed and uncaring amongst us should start feeling concerned. The extent of problems like our dirty oceans and the hole in the ozone layer is so extensive that most people feel powerless. But the truth is that every small change makes a difference. And by breastfeeding your baby you can make a BIG difference.
But first, understand the purpose of this article
This article’s aim is not to blame or shame any mom who chose to or had to formula feed her baby. As with any other decision one must make, there are pro’s and con’s, and risks and benefits to consider. You must choose what is best for your baby and your family. In some cases, this is formula feeding and it is fantastic that there are many formulas available to provide in this need. One should also note that there are many other practices also harmful to the environment, like disposable nappies. These are still used.
READ MORE: How to boost your milk supply
But it can also not be ignored that the formula feeding industry is a 70 billion-dollar industry and that most certainly there is corporate interest at stake. And sadly this industry will obviously push their products, and not only to babies who truly need it. In South Africa, our Infant Feeding Act prohibits the marketing of formula milk, but this is not the case internationally.
Raising awareness over the environmental concerns of formula feeding manufacturing is important because this will prompt decision-makers to force companies to implement better practices. Because the issue is currently mostly ignored, very little research is being done on it and no effort at all is made to regulate the industry so that the environmental impact can be minimalised.
Breast milk – the most environmentally friendly food available
You probably have not thought about it this way, but breastfeeding your baby is about as green as it gets. It produces no waste products and emits no greenhouse gasses. It is not farmed, processed, pasteurized or genetically modified. No electricity is needed to heat and prepare it, and it does not need to be transported or packaged for use. It is 100% sustainable. Breastmilk leaves a zero-carbon footprint.
The same cannot be said for formula milk. A 2015 report carefully examines the environmental impact of formula manufacturing and makes an interesting read.
Formula milk comes from cows
With the exception of a few soy-based formulas (which should only be used if medically indicated as there are other concerns around soy formulas), most baby formulas are made from cows’ milk. Now, as you may know, cows may look innocent, but they are environmental culprits. Their digestive processes produce the powerful greenhouse gas methane, a heat-trapping gas that is far more potent than CO2. In fact, livestock farming is responsible for around 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Nearly half of the formulas sold are toddler formulas or formulas for babies over a year. And most mothers do not know this, but health experts do not even recommend formula over one year. It does not contain significantly more nutrients than normal full cream cows milk and it contains more sugar which predisposes them to problems like obesity later in life. By only stopping baby formula at a year and moving over to cows’ milk, one can already significantly reduce the environmental impact.
It uses water
Lots and lots of water. Experts estimated that every kilogram of powdered formula milk requires up to 4 700 litres of water to produce.
It uses electricity
The water used to produce formula needs to be heated to at least 70 degrees Celsius, using massive amounts of electricity. This does not even reckon in the electricity used at home to boil water and sterilise bottles for prepping baby’s milk.
It generates waste
A 2009 study showed that 550 million infant formula cans, comprising 86,000 tons of metal and 364,000 tons of paper are added to landfills every year.
It uses other ingredients
As cows’ milk on its own does not contain all that a baby needs to grow formula is supplemented with various ingredients like palm, coconut and sunflower oils. Fungal, algae and fish oils are also used as well as vitamins and minerals. All these need to be harvested, manufactured and transported, and each produces waste products… you get the picture. The truth is that there is no research done and we have no idea on the impact of this part of the process.
The take-home message
The environmental impact of formula feeding is huge, and part of its growth is because the financial gain motivates industry in a way that the complete lack of financial gain from promoting breastfeeding just cannot do.
It is in mothers’ own hands to support breastfeeding initiatives, to find professionals who are breastfeeding friendly and to rally for breastfeeding in their workplace environments. This is a big task, but with a global positive effect that will help to preserve this earth for this same baby that you are raising now.