Besides Benefitting Mom and Baby – How Breastfeeding Impacts the Environment and Economy

August 4, 2020

New and expecting moms are often shown the many short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. Risks of serious illness and even death are reduced greatly for both mom and baby when breastfeeding; on top of this, studies have supported that skin-to-skin contact promotes a strong emotional bond and strengthens a child’s psychosocial development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other health officials, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months largely because of these benefits. However, more and more experts are realizing that breastfeeding also has a positive impact on our economy and environment. This is why the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), led by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), is supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet.

How does breastfeeding and formula feeding impact the planet?

Breastfeeding is the simplest and most sustainable way to feed your baby, says Jefferson Health Lactation Consultant Susan (Suzi) Ryan. “Making formula requires a lot of energy and resources, and it results in a lot of garbage. With breastfeeding, there’s no waste – all it takes is around 500 extra calories to be consumed by the mom.”

Saying so is not meant to shame mothers who did not/have not chosen to breastfeed, says Suzi –who has been in the field for 20 years – but rather to educate them on how truly advantageous breastfeeding can be.

The production, packaging, and distribution of formula – including the use of cow’s milk in production – all leave behind a significant carbon and water footprint, which contribute to pollution and climate change.

Researchers estimate that the industry depletes nearly 4,700 liters of water and 32 million kilowatts of electricity each year. Additionally, an average of 150 million cans of formula are required every two years, worldwide – if not recycled, they can end up in landfills and oceans.

Formula feeding can also indirectly impact the economy through health bills, as it increases the risk for serious conditions, including diarrheal disease; respiratory infections; and ear infections, adds Suzi. According to the CDC, this results in around $3 billion a year in medical expenses.

Also, the cost of formula alone can be a hefty price to pay, says Suzi. “Baseline formula costs around $2,000 per year, per baby. More specialized formulas are likely to cost twice that, and, unfortunately, for those on WIC, they can’t get the full price covered.”

Why don’t more moms breastfeed?

In the U.S., more than 80 percent of new moms start out breastfeeding, but around half stop earlier than expected. This typically isn’t out of personal preference, but because of a lack of education and support within their health system, workplace, and community. For example, if you’re maternity/parental work leave is limited, it can make it much more challenging to stick to breastfeeding practices.

While some women are truly unable to produce enough breast milk – due to physical and hormonal complications – others are often under the misconception that they are, explains Suzi. “It is okay to not be able to breastfeed. You shouldn’t feel guilty because of it – however, you should be made aware of all your options.”

Suzi, herself, had to be placed on medicinal treatment in order to produce enough milk, and she’s glad she did it. While there is an increased risk for postpartum depression on such medications, it’s not guaranteed.

Other women, Suzi continues, may be uncomfortable with the practice due to a history of sexual abuse or a strong perception that the act is “gross,” in part to harmful stigmas.

One of the biggest downfalls, however, is that some healthcare professionals are still not trained properly to have an encouraging and informative conversation on all breastfeeding options – some even provide false information.  

What kind of breastfeeding support does Jefferson offer?

Three clinical lactation consultants work week-long in the Women’s & Children’s Department, located out of Jefferson Washington Township Hospital. Everyone who gives birth will have the opportunity to work with one of us, says Suzi.

Breastfeeding support groups are offered weekly, each Monday (these are currently on hold due COVID-19 gathering restrictions); during these, the lactation consultants are able to conduct pre- and post-feed weighs, with a special clinical scale, on babies to help determine whether or not moms are producing enough milk.

FREE prenatal education classes are also offered (these in-person sessions are also currently on hold). Various virtual options have been made available for new and expecting moms during the pandemic – click HERE to learn more.  

For more information on Women’s & Children’s services offered at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, click HERE or call 856-582-3098.