Health & Environmental Impactson Infant and Young Child Feeding

Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding for a sustainable future for the children of Africa

 Greenhouse gases emitted by industrial activity are causing climate crisis: climate change is leading to the warming of our planet. In Africa, frequent droughts alternating with disastrous floods threaten lives and livelihoods. These threaten the most vulnerable populations, and the health and future of Africa’s children.

Breastmilk is a renewable natural resource that contributes to sustainable food security, to the prevention of environmental degradation and to the mitigation of the impact of climate change caused by global warming.

In 2016, the respected medical journal The Lancet (5) published a series on breastfeeding in the 21st century. The Lancet examined the cogent reasons for investing in breastfeeding, and for the first time, included its environmental impact (6) : “Why invest, and what will it take to improve breastfeeding practices?”  https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01044-2/fulltext


“Although not yet quantifiable in monetary terms, environmental costs are also associated with not breastfeeding. Breastmilk is a ‘natural, renewable food’ that is environmentally safe and produced and delivered to the consumer without pollution, unnecessary packaging, or waste.

By contrast, breastmilk substitutes leave an ecological footprint and need energy to manufacture materials for packaging, fuel for transport distribution, and water, fuel, and cleaning agents for daily preparation and use, and numerous pollutants are generated across this pathway. More than 4000 liters of water are estimated to be needed along the production pathway to produce just 1 kilo of breastmilk substitute powder. In the USA, 550 million cans, 86 000 tons of metal, and 364 000 tons of paper, annually used to package the product, end up in landfills.” https://www.thelancet.com/series/breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding contributes to the prevention of global warming, protects biodiversity and conserves natural resources.

Breastfeeding is the most economical and environmentally friendly way to feed an infant and young child, producing zero garbage, minimal greenhouse gases (GHG), and tiny water footprint. The extra calories needed by a breastfeeding mother may be provided by many different foods and have a smaller carbon footprint when these are produced locally by sustainable agriculture. The few extra liters of water required by a breastfeeding mother are negligible compared to the amounts of water for formula production and preparation.

Unlike breastfeeding, factory-produced baby milks and milk-based foods place a heavy burden on our planet and on its environment and ecosystems, as well as on our health and our economy. This burden is caused by industrial dairy farming for milk production, milk processing and formula manufacturing, transport and packaging. These ultra-processed products leave a large carbon footprint, a large water footprint and a huge pile of waste for disposal. Plastic packaging and feeding equipment are rarely recycled and end up in landfill sites.


After six months of exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by WHO, continued breastfeeding or infant formula feeding is complemented by the addition of adequate amounts of safe and nutritious solid or semi-solid foods. Sustainable local agriculture provides foods that are biodiverse, reliable, and culturally appropriate. Families should be empowered to make feeding decisions free from commercial pressures and supported to make home-prepared foods for babies, toddlers and young children that are minimally processed.


These family foods contrast with industrially produced and ultra-processed foods, with high levels of sugar and fats and some toxic chemicals. All such processed, packaged and transported foods are unsustainable, but all of them are heavily promoted by advertising and marketing methods which can undermine optimal and sustainable breastfeeding and complementary feeding. Community support can be undermined by marketing and promotion of these ultra-processed foods.


Ref. Green Feeding Europe and Worldwide 2019 in English, 21 pages (Dec 4, 2019)