#WBW2020 #SupportBreastfeedingforaHealthierPlanet #SDGs #GreenFeeding

The year 2020 has seen us facing unprecedented multiple crises and emergencies:

· COVID19

· The Climate Emergency

· A crisis propelling equity, racial and social justice to the forefront through #BlackLivesMatter

The global theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2020, “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet,” is a focus on the Climate Emergency, and the impact of infant feeding on our environment and the planet.

#SupportBreastfeedingforaHealthierPlanet

We can all think of so many ways that breastfeeding is good for the planet – no food miles at all, no pollution or litter from manufacturing or distribution, a very small carbon footprint to feed a breastfeeding mother rather than a herd of cows! Most mothers in the UK want to breastfeed, and mothers are already doing the best they can. It is really our governments and policy makers who need to wake up to this, and they who should provide the policies and programmes that families need to breastfeed. And it is our governments who have the responsibility to plan a “green recovery” from COVID19, so that we can return to a healthier world for everyone.

“Overall, breastfeeding for six months saves an estimated 95-153kg of CO2 equivalent per baby”. This comes from an 2019 BMJ editorial by Joffe, Webster and Shenker called Support for Breastfeeding is an environmental imperative. Yet only 1% of babies in the UK are exclusively breastfed for six months (PHE).

Most formula is based on cows’ milk, and dairy farming has a significant burden of greenhouse gases, both carbon and methane. (GreenFeeding). Processed, powdered formula milk has a large water footprint as well – up to 4700 litres for every kg of milk powder! (IBFAN)

Bottle feeding also requires multiple plastic bottles and teats, as well as fuel to boil water, sterilise equipment, and store formula safely. Bottle feeding in hospitals creates waste, as described by Becker and Ryan-Fogarty in the BMJ.

One example of a government policy that could support families and reduce the need for these would be breastfeeding breaks at work, and childcare close by. This would enable mothers to feed their children themselves, without the additional burden of expressing and storing their milk. Going back to work was cited as one of the main reasons that women stopped breastfeeding early.

There will always be a need for formula and bottles for those babies who cannot be breastfed. But most mothers in the UK do want to breastfeed, and it is the responsibility of our government, of our health system, and our local authorities, to provide the policies and programmes to enable women to continue breastfeeding as long as they want to.

Further reading:

Philippa Pearson blog: https://breastfeeding.support/breast-milk-is-environmentally-friendly/

Joffe Naomi, Webster Flic, Shenker Natalie. Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative BMJ 2019; 367 :l5646 https://www.bmj.com/content/367/bmj.l5646

#GreenFeeding: set of advocacy and policy briefs and resources from IBFAN GIFA https://www.ibfan.org/infant-and-young-child-feeding-health-and-environmental-impacts/

Further #GreenFeeding and other resources here: https://www.gifa.org/international/green-feeding/

Author: Helen Gray

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