Body-feeding as Environmental Sustainability

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Body-feeding creates a healthier planet!

We’re celebrating body-feeding all month long, first with World Breastfeeding Week, then National Breastfeeding Month, and concluding August with Black Breastfeeding Week August 25-31. Although we all enjoy a good celebration, we also want to recognize the importance of the work organizations around the world are contributing in order to ensure lactating parents are provided accurate information, the opportunity to initiate body-feeding immediately following birth, and access to continued support in order to successfully body-feed their child.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action is focusing their efforts on the ways in which body-feeding creates a healthier planet, specifically fighting climate change and enhancing the environment. Many people are familiar with the benefits of body-feeding for both the birthing parent and the baby; however, I would bet not quite as many of us have considered body-feeding specifically in regards to enacting environmental sustainability. 

A colleague and I were talking recently about work, motherhood, our own professional interests and areas of study and she reminded me that the early years of parenting are taxing, they are hard, and we may not always feel that we are able to engage socially and politically in the ways that we may desire. As I reflect on my own identities of a mother, social worker, partner, friend, community member, woman raised in Alabama I have recently been feeling as if I’m not able to be present in my community to actively bring about social change. Through our conversation, I was encouraged that breastfeeding my baby is activism and I am daily participating in positive climate change.  

Body-feeding is free and eliminates both packaging and shipping effectively becoming the most environmentally friendly option for feeding your babe. World Health Organization (WHO) recommends body-feeding until the age of two in large part to prevent children in areas with unclean water from contracting disease and to support hydration. Consider even after one year of age many physicians recommend cow’s milk as an alternative to human milk. A study by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found the dairy and meat industry could use up to 80% of the world’s GHG emissions budget by 2050. The US among several other regions account for “43% of the global emissions from meat and dairy production even though they are home to only 15% of the world’s population” ( Emissions Impossible). The longer you body-feed your baby the greater your impact on environmental sustainability.

Formula is the only alternative to human milk for our babies, and although it is sometimes necessary, it is contributing to climate change. Globally, Breast-Milk Substitutes (BMS) are being marketed to people, governments, and health care professionals at rates that are simply not being matched by body-feeding education and support from governments. The World Health Organization drafted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes in Geneva 1981 to monitor the strong pull BMS companies had with new parents. Piwoz and Huffman (2015) found that among other things marketing from BMS companies “undermines breastfeeding confidence among women”  leading to decreased body-feeding rates. I’ve seen more posts than I can count on Facebook from parents researching formula and polling friends to have a “backup” or alternate plan if needed. All of this is born from the desire and need to continue to sustain our babies. That doubt comes from ads, the shared experiences of friends who were not able to body-feed, unsupportive healthcare providers, or partners and family who have little to no experience with body-feeding and do not know how to provide the support you and your baby need. 

In the same manner that environmental change is a slow and intentional process, body-feeding is a developed skill among the parent-baby dyad that needs continued nurturing. I’d like to suggest an alternative prep plan as you continue or anticipate your body-feeding journey. World Alliance of Breastfeeding Action (WABA) calls for a Warm Chain of Support for Breastfeeding for all lactating parent-baby dyads for 1000 days. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m on day 469 and I’m both amazed by that number and happily overwhelmed that we may just be nearing the halfway point. Despite all of the benefits to myself, my baby, and the earth, breastfeeding has been incredibly challenging physically and mentally. I recently had a family member who jokingly asked if I was going to breastfeed my baby until she starts kindergarten, unable to see the daily connection, nourishment, and rest it brings me and my newly walking one year old. I urge you to consider the following questions:

Who will be a part of your Warm Chain of Support?

What do you need from your partner, family, workplace, and care provider?

Is there someone you do not currently have access to that you want to add to your chain?

If these questions leave you feeling uneasy, I will encourage you to find a doula, lactation consultant, baby carrying consultant, or call Natural Resources to find a trusted link in your chain who can help you build stronger links so that your own feeding journey is sustainable.

The number of tasks and ideas that seem impossible to tackle as a new parent may seem insurmountable. There are simply not enough hours in the day to always be our full selves in every complete 24-hour cycle, not to mention including the actual full-time job of body-feeding your little one. Take courage, your labor does not go unseen or unrecognized. The act of nourishing your baby with your body is actually changing our world {and creating a more sustainable future for your baby.}. Each feeding session eliminates the use of plastic, travel, cardboard, fuel, and marketing campaigns in favor of formula. Keep up the good work. 

For all of the parents reading today’s post: You are the expert on your child. You know your child best and make the best decisions you know how with the information you have. May nothing in this post discourage the work you are doing as a parent and change maker.


Written by Hannah Rigg, MSW, a first-time mama and a member of our Natural Resources team. Hannah supports families through the introduction of baby carriers into everyday living to create an easeful transition into parenthood.

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