Did you know there is a connection between breastfeeding and planetary health?
In the words of Joffe, Webster & Shenker 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.
Why the fuss about breastfeeding?
The concept of planetary health has been defined as ‘the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends. The interconnected nature of people and the planet requires that we find sustainable solutions that benefit both.
Breastfeeding is one of the best investments for saving infant lives and improving the health, social and economic development of individuals and nations. Creating an enabling environment for optimal infant and young child feeding patterns is a societal imperative.
So, what is needed to create an enabling environment and improve breastfeeding practices?
Breastmilk is the first food that we consume and is a critical part of a sustainable food system. On the other hand, feeding with breastmilk substitutes (BMS) contributes to the problem and is a growing phenomenon. We need to better understand the impact of different feeding methods on planetary health in both normal and emergency situations.
Feeding with baby formula affects the environment and climate due to its production, packaging, distribution and preparation methods. As with most food production that requires energy, if the source of energy is fossil fuels, it will take Mother earth longer to achieve its target. The Paris Agreement on climate change encourages governments and industries to work towards reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy to meet global climate goals. On the other hand, breastmilk production only requires the additional food that a mother needs to consume, therefore using fewer natural resources and resulting in almost no waste.
Scaling up optimal breastfeeding could prevent more than 823, 000 child and 20, 000 maternal deaths each year. Note that breastfeeding is associated with lower intelligence and results in economic losses of about $302 billion annually.
Every mother has the right to be supported by society to breastfeed optimally. Depending on their sociocultural context, support can come from their families, communities, health systems and workplaces. Breastfeeding counselling is a type of support delivered directly to women/parents and infants by health workers and counsellors trained specifically to help them. When breastfeeding counselling is available and accessible to mothers, the duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding is increased.
Breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional and emotional benefits to both children and mothers. And it forms part of a sustainable food system. But while breastfeeding is a natural process, it is not always easy. Mothers need support – both to get started and to sustain breastfeeding.
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