The tide is turning. Literally, the tide is turning up plastic waste, and figuratively, there’s a turn of the tide in infant feeding messaging.
June 5 marked World Environment Day and yesterday we celebrated World Oceans Day (and every day is Earth Day!), so it’s appropriate timing to think about how infant feeding methods impact the Earth and how maternal child health and global health advocates take action and convey these messages.
As detailed in IBFAN and bpni’s report Formula for Disaster Weighing the Impact of Formula Feeding Vs Breastfeeding on Environment and their subsequent report on Carbon Footprint due to Milk Formula, “formula feeding is unsustainable and leaves a large, heavy ecological footprint.”
Formula production uses scarce water resources, raw materials and energy sources for packaging, emits excessive greenhouse gases, contributes to toxic chemical waste and garbage and generally has a negative impact on human health and wellbeing.
By contrast, “Breastfeeding is a renewable, natural resource and therefore a sustainable feeding option…[that]…requires no expensive resources like plastic or metal packing, fuel for distribution, sterilisation method and plastic feeding apparatus.”
These finding are echoed in The carbon footprint of breastmilk substitutes in comparison with breastfeeding: “The results obtained in this study indicate that breastfeeding has a consistently lower carbon footprint than using BMS.”
“How the world’s babies are fed is of great significance to our collective future,” in the words of Carol Bartle, RN, RM, IBCLC, PGDip (Child Advocacy), MHSc.
When we frame by contrast the environmental impacts of formula feeding versus breastfeeding, it has the potential to further a divide among mothers (note here that infant feeding isn’t a “one or the other” choice anyways.) Still, it opens the door for an assumption that ‘formula feeders must not care about the planet’ and ‘breastfeeders must be Earth-loving do gooders.’ Be clear, this is not the intention of these reports and other science that draws distinctions between infant feeding methods, but corporate interest might spin it otherwise.
While we all must take responsibility for protecting our planet on an individual level, in the infant feeding realm, blame must be shifted from the individual “choice” to putting pressure on policy makers and dismantling corporations that prey on families trying to feed their babies one way or another or another.
At the EAT-Lancet Commission London Launch, Patti Rundall, Policy Director Baby Milk Action, Global Advocacy IBFAN noted that bringing in legislation to stop companies from misleading parents is paramount to a sustainable future.
In gloomy but realist vision, Rob Nixon’s review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, he writes “In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die.”
Breastfeeding offers a shift in power by granting food sovereignty to families and communities which puts the individuals who produce, distribute and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the corporations and market institutions that currently dominate the global food system, the authors of Formula for Disaster explain. At the same time, exclusive breastfeeding leaves zero ecological footprint.
EAT Lancet Commissioner Corinna Hawkes shared during their London Launch that caregivers, often women, are generally responsible for changing children’s diets though.
“We’re asking women to do a lot,” she confirmed.
She went on to say that if every government had a single-minded focus supporting the caregivers of young children, then we’d see great transformation.
UNICEF’s It’s About Time campaign recognizes this potential and calls on governments and businesses to invest in family-friendly policies.
Participants at the EAT event expressed hope for a sustainable future citing a growing population of youth passionate about the environment.
Nixon, too, offers hope in his piece.
“The global climate justice movement is spreading,” he writes and goes on to further detail triumphs by local governments, partnerships between unlikely allies and divestment movements against corporations.
Breastfeeding is linked to each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The SDGs offer a platform to show how infant feeding is multifaceted and how breastfeeding is the keystone to global challenges.
The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) is an essential tool which tracks ten indicators of policy and programs that support women to be successful in breastfeeding and helps countries to report gaps to policy makers. Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell recently presented on the United States’ WBTi results in a USBC webinar. Watch it here.