The 2016 World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) theme is Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development. Join International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) and World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) in observing WBW 1-7 August 2016. To find out more about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and available #WBW2016 resources, read this Lactation Matters post.
At the World Breastfeeding Week website, WABA explains how breastfeeding is linked to each of the SDGs along four thematic areas. Throughout the week, ILCA will highlight each of these themes to help you better understand the SDGs and learn how to connect your critical local efforts to these larger international goals.
WBW Theme #3: Environment and Climate Change
Breastfeeding plays an important role in clean water and sanitation (SDG 6); the use of affordable, clean energy (SDG 7); developing safe, sustainable communities (SDG 11); encouraging responsible consumption and production (SDG 12); taking action on climate change (SDG 13); and caring for seas and marine life (SDG 14), as well as our terrestrial environment and its inhabitants (SDG 15).
Breastfeeding is the first practical step we can take to protect not only the health of babies and mothers, but also the health of our planet. It is the most vulnerable populations that are most affected by more-violent and less-predictable natural disasters resulting from climate change. Finding ways to encourage continued breastfeeding and (when necessary) relactation can help safeguard children’s health and the health of the environment, while comforting traumatized families.
Although not yet quantifiable in monetary terms, there are clear environmental costs associated with not breastfeeding babies. Artificial feeding is a contributing factor to global warming, which is causing climate change. Breastmilk is a “natural, renewable food” that is environmentally safe and produced and delivered to the consumer “without pollution, packaging, or waste.”
Formula production and use generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which accelerate global warming and produce pollution and toxic emissions upon disposal. 720,450 tons of milk formula sold annually in six Asian countries generated almost 2.9 million tons of GHG. This is equivalent to nearly 7000 million miles driven by an average passenger vehicle or 1.03 million tons of waste sent to landfill sites.
Breastfeeding helps the transition to a low-carbon economy from one based on fossil fuels. No electricity is needed to produce breastmilk, and it requires no fuel for transport. This reduces overall emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, and enables greater economic autonomy for individuals and communities.
Many places already suffer from a lack of consistent, clean water sources. Amidst the devastation caused by this increase in the amount and nature of natural disasters, artificial feeding is even more risky, as an increased lack of clean water and infrastructure make it difficult to ensure the safe preparation of baby food. And this is no small concern. It is estimated that more than 4000 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kg of breastmilk substitute powder.
What can you say to people in YOUR community about breastfeeding and the environment?
- Encourage your government to include improvement of breastfeeding practices as part of their work for achieving the SDGs.
- Encourage researchers to quantify the carbon footprint of formula feeding in your country.
- Use this data to lobby your governments to allocate a budget for policies and programs to increase breastfeeding alongside those allocated to reduce pollution.
- Demand the inclusion of breastfeeding in any list of actions to reduce our carbon and water footprint and in discussions about climate change.
For the most up-to-date information about WBW 2016 and to download and purchase promotional materials, please visit the World Breastfeeding Week website by clicking here.