Breast feed

Last updated Tuesday 1 July 2008

A natural choice for climate-conscious mums

Breastfeeding is widely known to be healthier for babies and cheaper for you. But did you know it could also be better for the planet?

For the first six months, babies need only breast milk, but more than a third of mothers stop breastfeeding within the first six weeks. There's no debate over what's best for your baby: breast milk boosts the baby's health and resistance to infection, unlike formula milk, and for nine out of ten babies, it even boosts their IQs by seven points.

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Photo: Breast feed

Saves up to 130 kg of CO2 a year

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What difference will it make?

Pub Fact

  • In England and Wales 77% of mothers start to breast-feed. A week into parenthood this figure falls to 55%
  • Breastfeeding helps protect your baby against ear infections gastro-intestinal infections, chest infections, urine infections, childhood diabetes, eczema and asthma
  • Breastfeeding for a year will also save around £280 in formula milk costs, and 127kg of CO2
  • There's none of the packaging associated with formula milk, which comes in tins
  • Formula milk has to be processed, with proteins, vitamins and minerals added to make it more like breast milk
  • Bottles and other equipment have to be sterilised, which means heating water. (Mums who pump breast milk because of work schedules, for example, will still have equipment to clean though)
  • Breast milk isn't wasted - the mother produces the amount the baby needs
  • Formula milk is made from cow's milk and the dairy industry is one of the most energy-intense there is, using pesticides and fertilisers to grow the cow's food. Dairy is thought to account for a whopping 23% of UK food emissions
  • The burps of dairy cows contain methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2

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What's the debate?

Breastfeeding mothers need an extra 500 calories a day, which means eating more food, which means more emissions. But even allowing for this, it should still work out as a CO2 saving overall.

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How do I do it?

Many women struggle to breastfeed, but there are organisations that offer help and support:

  • See the NHS website for a detailed guide on how to breastfeed
  • Both The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0844 20 909 20) and NCT (0300 330 0771) offer advice on breastfeeding

Ultimately, breastfeeding does not suit everyone. For an all-round survey of the merits of the different ways of feeding your baby, try this BBC Parenting article.

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Comments

Caroline, Kirkcaldy, Scotland 2009-11-23

I breastfed my baby until he decided to stop at 14 months. I found it became second nature and was very convenient.
In response to other comments, you won't be half dressed (unless you want to be). Baby won't produce that much more at the other end it will just be runnier (at least they won't be constipated). You should change baby's nappy frequently when they are small anyway. Why not use cloth nappies to lessen your environmental impact. I never leaked when I was feeding but if you do, wear washable breast pads and change frequently. You probably will need to wash your clothes frequently when you have a new baby as baby will sick up. That goes for formula fed too. It’s part of being a new parent. You can get lovely breastfeeding tops and dresses but I found a button up shirt or simply a shawl allowed me to feed discretely outside.

Chips, Tokyo 2009-02-17

OK but...
1. You'll need to keep your house a good bit warmer, because you'll be half-dressed a lot of the time (at least early on).
2. You'll use more nappies because babies produce more from the other end if breastfed.
3. You'll have to wash your clothes more often because you will leak on them (unless you want to smell like a goat, that is...). Don't plan to wear anything more than once before washing, including night clothes.
4. You'll need to buy clothes that can accommodate your extra couple of inches and which will allow you to feed discreetly outside.

Kathryn Such, Wigan 2009-02-11

I am a breastfeeding helper with the Breastfeeding Network and urge you to visit the website: www.bestbeginnings.info of the charity Best Beginnings:

"Best Beginnings was set up as a charity in 2006 as a catalyst for change, using innovative approaches to break down inequalities in child health in the UK".

"The initial focus of Best Beginnings is breastfeeding as a powerful tool to break down health inequalities in children".

I also urge you to visit the www.breastfeedingmanifesto.org.uk where you can 'sign' the manifesto and send an email to your MP and urge him/her to do the same. You will find loads of information about the Manifesto which "was produced in 2006 in consultation with over twenty UK organisations working to improve awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding and its role in reducing health inequalities".

Encourage your friends to do the same xxx

grayster, United Kingdom 2008-11-09

...and you'll find the weight falls off when you breastfeed! xxx

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Emissions
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
Methane
Methane is a hydrocarbon, the main component of natural gas and among the six greenhouse gases to be curbed under the Kyoto protocol. As a greenhouse gas it is estimated to have a warming effect about 25 times as great as CO2. (Compared to CO2 its effects are greater but last for a shorter period). As a fuel, it is used in electricity generation and in the form of compressed natural gas it can be used as vehicle fuel. Methane is produced during the decomposition of many materials in landfill, while about 16% of methane emissions are caused by livestock's digestive processes.

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