Breastfeeding and climate change: What’s the connection?
Click through the slides below to learn how these two topics relate.
Breastfeeding and climate change
What's the connection?
Breastfeeding builds climate resilience and supports long-lasting sustainable food practices
In addition to improving short- and long-term health and wellbeing outcomes for infants and adults, there is growing recognition of the positive impact breastfeeding has on climate change and food security, with many calling it a public health and climate justice issue of global concern.
Research shows that breastfeeding influences energy demands associated with breastmilk substitutes and helps to lessen the environmental impact of food alternatives, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Long, 2021). Breastfeeding also requires less water and natural resources than infant formula and emits a lower carbon footprint (Binns, 2021).
“Given how crucial breastfeeding is for child health and development, it is imperative that it is protected and supported during climate-related events…It is crucial to transform the current failing food systems into healthy and sustainable food systems that support breastfeeding and access to affordable healthy foods and beverages preconceptionally and during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood.”
Women, infants, and children are strongly vulnerable to climate change for several reasons. Climate change events create conditions that make it difficult for infants to breastfeed in both low- and high- income settings.
“Moving forward, it is key that breastfeeding is supported during climate change-related humanitarian emergencies as well as during normal circumstances. This is because breastfeeding improvements can help mitigate climate change as it is a “green” infant feeding practice.”
“Infant and toddler formulas exacerbate environmental damage and should be a matter of increasing global concern. Breastfeeding uses fewer resources, produces minimal or zero waste and is associated with infant and maternal health outcomes which produce healthier populations that use fewer healthcare resources.”
Policies, programmes and investments to shift infant and young child diets towards less manufactured milk formula and more breastfeeding are 'Triple Duty Actions' that help improve dietary quality and population health and improve the sustainability of the global food system footprint.
“Recognising barriers to breastfeeding within the food system and breastmilk as a critical first food are important first steps in ensuring that children…receive the food and nutrition needed to grow, survive, and thrive. Stakeholders…are urged to act to ensure women and families have the ability and support to make the best food choices for their children, including breastfeeding.”
“The intersections of climate change and breastfeeding, especially the role of breastfeeding in climate resiliency, can lead to strengthened responses. A political ecological approach views the socially-driven phenomena of human milk substitute production and climate resiliency as intricately related components in a larger political-ecological system.”
Food security for infants and young children is not possible without promoting and achieving high rates of breastfeeding. The health benefits of breastfeeding, both during infancy and throughout life, including the preservation of a healthy microbiome, have been extensively studied and will provide some protection against the effects of climate change.
“Breastfeeding rates will have an influence on the demand for energy services associated with breast-milk substitutes; therefore, this influence needs to be incorporated into energy models…. Positioning access to breastfeeding support as a climate justice issue can mitigate the concern with jeopardising women’s reproductive rights or interfering with their individual choices.”
Breastfeeding and climate change
Breastmilk requires no packaging, shipping or disposal and has a negligible water footprint. It does not create pollution, nor waste scarce resources. It is a free and safe resource uniquely suitable for human babies which helps to minimise environmental impact. Breastfeeding populations are also more resilient in emergencies. No other health behaviour has such a broad-spectrum and long-lasting impact on public health. Breastfeeding protection, support and promotion helps to safeguard planetary and human health by minimising environmental harm.
To keep up with new studies around the environmental impacts of breastfeeding, visit Baby Friendly’s new research page on breastfeeding and climate change. You can also view our case study page and extensive range of resources for health professionals and parents on issues around breastfeeding and caring for babies, their mothers and families.
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