Breastfeeding for six months saves an estimated 95-154kg CO2 per baby compared to formula feeding, according to Dr. Natalie Shenker and colleagues from Imperial College London (ICL).
The ICL scientists have written a paper for the BMJ which highlights how most milk formulas are based on powdered cow’s milk, which in production contributes around 30% of global greenhouse gases.
They also note that methane from livestock is a powerful and significant greenhouse gas and cows milk has a water footprint of up to 4,700 litres per kg of powder.
Powdered formula can also only be made safely with water that has been heated to at least 70 , giving it an energy use equivalent of charging 200 million smartphones a year, they explain.
Other costs to the environment include plastic waste, paper use, transportation at multiple stages in production.
A 2009 study showed that 550 million infant formula cans, comprising 86 000 tons of metal and 364 000 tons of paper are added to landfills every year. The formula industry has more than doubled since then.
In contrast, breastfeeding uses few resources and produces zero waste, they write.
According to government statistics, globally only 41% of the 141 million babies born annually are exclusively breastfed until 6 months.
The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and one of the highest uses of formula per capita.
In the UK alone, carbon emissions savings gained by supporting mothers to breastfeed would equate to taking between 50,000 and 77,5000 cars off the road each year, they explain.
Shenker and colleagues are calling for urgent action by governments to support breastfeeding as part of a global commitment to reduce carbon footprints in every sphere of life.
They argue for a multi-targeted approach, including improved support for mothers, better access to donor milk and an increased number of specialist lactation consultants across the country.
‘This is a societal responsibility to which we can all contribute,’ say Shenker and colleagues.
Photo Credit – Pixabay