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Breastfeeding Helps Protect the Environment

Breastmilk is a precious under-appreciated resource. As well as its health benefits, it has significant and often overlooked environmental and economic advantages. It is a unique food made with no waste and no contribution to CO2 emissions.


What's in breastmilk?

Breastmilk contains fats, proteins, carbohydrates and essential nutrients (eg folate, vitamins, calcium) that are constantly adjusted and tailored to the needs of the baby. Just as the placenta provides constant adapting nourishment in the womb, the breasts produce milk that varies according to the age and nutritional requirements of the child. It is such a complex food that even today researchers have not identified every constituent.

Colostrum, produced in late pregnancy and for the first few days after birth, is rich in immunoglobulins (antibodies) that boost the baby’s immune system. The mother continues to pass immunoglobulins in breastmilk throughout breastfeeding, protecting her child from illness. Breastfed babies are less likely to have infections such as gastroenteritis than formula-fed babies.

Health benefits for baby

Breastmilk is always tailored perfectly to your baby’s needs, both in quantity and quality. There is no possibility for mistakes with preparation, temperature or quantity.

Breastfeeding confers immune protection by transferring antibodies from mother to child. There is a reduced risk of gastroenteritis (diarrhoea), middle ear infections, eczema, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and childhood leukaemias. Breastfed babies also have less likelihood of constipation, tooth decay, SIDS, obesity and urinary tract infections. They tend to have a slightly higher IQ. In breastfed premature infants, there is less risk of necrotizing enterocolitis and upper respiratory tract infection.

Health benefits for mum

Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial (uterus) cancer. Breastfeeding aids in contraction of the uterus and helps hasten the return to pre-pregnancy weight.

Breastfeeding results in delayed menstruation and is a form of natural contraception. (Please note that breastfeeding alone is not a fail-safe method of contraception.)

Environmental impact of formula feeding

Breastmilk is a renewable resource that produces no waste. The energy is derived from the mother’s body and she requires little extra nutrition to breastfeed. Breastmilk production is tailored exactly to the baby’s demand and needs. It can be produced, packaged and delivered with no environmental impact at all.

Artificial infant formula, on the other hand, requires energy input at every stage of production, packaging, delivery, consumption and disposal. This consumption of resources adds to CO2 emissions.

Whether formula is made from cow’s milk, soya or other crops, land area is required for production. With a growing world population, more and more land is being cleared for farming. Parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil have been cleared to make way for soya crops. Cows require water and pasture and produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

During the manufacturing process, cow’s milk is filtered, heated, homogenised, cooled then heated again to form powdered formula. Additional nutrients are then added. A similar process is used for soya and other types of formula. These processes all require energy, usually derived from power stations consuming fossil fuels, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Formula is distributed in tin containers. Energy is consumed in mining, manufacturing and transportation. Formula feeding requires bottles, teats and sterilizers usually made from petroleum-based plastics. Energy and water are required to heat, wash and sterilize bottles and teats. Formula has also recently become available in ready-to-drink cartons, intended to be used once only. This type of container is difficult to recycle due to the difficulty of separating the material constituents.

Another reason to promote breastfeeding

Breastfeeding confers not only health benefits to mother and child, but helps our planet to stay healthy too. Breastfeeding advocacy and support is the responsibility of all of us.

Please visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website at

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