Breastfeed to save the planet!

This summer I enjoyed running a few stalls at various local fairs and festivals to raise awareness of everything breastfeeding. 

One of them was at the brilliant Barnet Medieval Festival where re-enactors brought the battle of Barnet to life, in full gear, true to life weapons, in all their authenticity. I was able to support a ‘medieval family’ for the first time in my life! See, even medieval mothers need help sometimes… 

But when I was asked to run one at an ECO Show and Tell Sustainability Fair, I got truly excited!

Even as an avid breastfeeding supporter since 2013 (or shall we say 2010 when my firstborn first latched onto me), it is not an angle I consider very regularly. 

We talk about the cost of formula feeding in monetary terms. My colleague Sophie Burrows IBCLC has worked out exactly this. Be prepared to be amazed:

But that is not the point of this article, although well worth noting. 

I am here to talk about the environmental cost of NOT breastfeeding or, to flip it on its head, the positive impact breastfeeding to a greater degree would make to the planet, sustainability and the prevention of climate change. 

I will have a list of further resources at the end of this article that I am quoting from, so you can dig deeper into the number crunching, but here is a summary for ease:

  1. Breastfeeding saves energy

Breastfeeding is a completely sustainable source of nourishment: it’s local, no packaging involved, while formula demands around the world require millions of containers that get shipped around for hundreds of miles, expelling tonnes of fossil fuels in the process. 

Breastmilk is the perfect temperature so there is no need to use energy to heat it.

  1. Breastfeeding decreases packaging waste

Feeding one million babies with formula for 2 years requires an average of 150 million cans. Metal formula cans, if not recycled, end up in landfill sites while plastic, aluminium and paper formula packaging often ends up in our oceans. Breastfeeding requires, at most, a reusable pump and recyclable bottles.

  1. Breastfeeding prevents habitat loss

The main ingredient in formula is cow’s milk. In just 25 years, forests the size of India have been cleared to accommodate expanded pastures and feed for livestock production. Unsustainable dairy production creates further pollution to our soil, water and air in surrounding areas.

  1. Breastfeeding reduces the release of methane

The increase in greenhouse gas emission is one of the two main factors in global warming and dairy farming is the major culprit. The 1.4 billion (!) cattle in the world contribute about 40% of all human produced methane annually. (Methane is about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth.)

  1. Breastfeeding saves water

It takes 144 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of milk and then the preparation of formula from powder requires extra water. 

By contrast, a breastfeeding parent requires about 8-10 cups of water per day, according The Journal of Perinatal Education. 


The associated infant and maternal health outcomes produce healthier populations that use fewer healthcare resources. Breastfed babies have 15% fewer GP consultations in teh first 6 months than babies fed on formula, and they are 5 times less likely to be hospitalised with gastroenteritis.

The production of unnecessary infant and toddler formulas exacerbates environmental damage and should be a matter of increasing global concern. 

Interesting fact:

An Australian doctor, Karleen Gribble, has written a report on infant feeding in emergencies. An emergency preparedness kit for formula-fed infants is recommended to include 100 nappies and 200 nappy wipes, two 900g tins of powdered infant formula, 170 litres of drinking water, a storage container, large cooking pot with lid, kettle, gas stove, box of matches, liquid petroleum gas, measuring container, metal knife, metal tongs, feeding cup/bottles and teats/paper towels and detergent. The cost of this in Australia would be around $250 (2019).

A breastfeeding mother needs no equipment to feed her baby and her only cost would be for nappies and wipes.

Although we may think of emergencies as things which happen in other countries, the recent flooding experiences in GB and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic show that an emergency can happen anywhere.

As in my other articles such as Are you a ‘breastfeeding mum’ or a ‘formula feeding mum’? I would like to emphasise, I am not against the use of formula WHEN it’s necessary. 

In the same way as if a person is celiac, it’s absolutely brilliant to have gluten free options available in supermarkets.

There are MASSIVE issues with formula marketing though (see Lucy Ruddle’s little rant here:

and how it’s become a 21st century lifestyle choice while those who truly need it sometimes have to resort to stealing it as prices are so astronomical!

The answer?

ALWAYS: better support for families, from pregnancy to weaning, from family, friends, society and health professionals. 

How is it done? Nobody says it more powerfully than Prof Amy Brown:

Happy breastfeeding now knowing that you’re contributing, not only to the well-being of your baby and yourself but also to the planet!

And if you wish to figure out how much you are contributing EXACTLY, check out this amazing mothers’ milk tool calculator:

(Apparently I single handedly saved about £100 000 to the UK economy… Now that IS something to make you sleep better at night!)






Gribble, K.D. and Berry, N.J. Emergency preparedness for those who care for infants in developed country contexts. International Breastfeeding Journal, 2011, 6,16. Available at


UNICEF UK. Preventing Disease and Saving Resources,


NHS. Infant Feeding Survey – 2005.

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