Breastfeeding for longer could help save environment from damage caused by infant formula
Experts at Imperial College London have for the first time calculated the harm to the planet from infant formula.
They found that not only does it produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas due to the in creates for dairy cows, but it also depletes water and electricity, as well as producing waste.
Health leaders encourage mothers to breastfeed for at least the first six months after birth because it supplies all necessary nutrients in exactly the right quantities, protecting babies from disease.
Britain’s breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the world, however, with just 34 per cent of babies still receiving any breast milk at this stage.
The Imperial team calculated that breastfeeding for six months would save up between 95 and 153 KG of carbon dioxide per baby.
This means that if all mothers in the United Kingdom (UK) followed the guidelines it would equate to taking up to 77,500 cars of the road each year. Cow milk also has a large water footprint, up to 4,700 litres per kilogramme of powder. In addition, powdered infant formula has to be heated to at least 70C during production, an energy use equivalent to charging 200 million smartphones a year.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the authors said: “The production of unnecessary infant and toddler formulas exacerbates environmental damage and should be a matter of increasing global concern. We need to acknowledge that our house is on fire and that the next generation requires us to act quickly to reduce carbon footprints in every sphere of life.
“Breastfeeding is a part of this jigsaw, and urgent investment is needed across the sector.”
Other costs to the environment include paper use, plastic waste, and transportation at multiple stages in the production, marketing, and sale of breastmilk substitutes.
Moreover, as powdered cows’ milk is nutritionally inadequate for a developing infant, the formula is supplemented with additives such as palm, coconut, rapeseed, and sunflower oils, as well as fungal, algal, and fish oils.
Globally, only 41 per cent of the 141 million babies born annually is exclusively breastfed until six months.
Last month academics called for mothers to be offered financial rewards for breastfeeding, after a trial costing the taxpayer £460,000 showed a modest improvement among women given £40 vouchers.