I got a question from a reader about a month ago asking what’s green about breastfeeding, especially past age 2. While it’s easy to say it’s better for the environment to breastfeed an infant than to formula feed, it’s harder to say what’s so great about it as your child gets older.
I have to admit, I don’t really think of extended breastfeeding as a specifically environmental issue. It’s certainly popular among eco friendly moms, but others do it as well. A lot of research shows that it’s good for the child and the mother.
The early benefits of breastfeeding are simple. Breastfeeding means you don’t have to buy formula and all the supplies to go along with formula feeding. The only thing you must have is you. That’s less waste right there. The breast pump and other supplies are nice if you want to let others feed baby sometimes, but not an absolute must. The fewer supplies you buy, the more eco friendly it’s going to be in those early days.
The greatest benefits of breastfeeding, both for the normal duration and extended, may be emotional. There’s no bond quite the same. The bond between a formula fed baby and mother is still utterly amazing, but it’s a different sort of intimacy from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has an emotional impact on mother and child, especially when it’s enjoyed by both. If it’s not still being enjoyed by both parties, I’m a firm believer in saying that it’s just fine to call it quits. You still love your baby and will still be loved by your baby.
Health Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
Extended breastfeeding has proven health benefits. It cuts down on the odds of ear infections, diabetes, heart disease, and other health disorders. It also has health benefits for the mother.
This may not seem like a “green” issue at first glance, but one’s use of modern medicine can most certainly have an ecological effect. Too many medications make it into the water supply either through improper disposal or by its presence in urine or feces after you’ve taken the medicine.
Fewer medications making their way into the water supply may not be specifically about breastfeeding, but it’s something to think about.
Having just dealt with a still breastfeeding nearly two year old with a really bad cold, I can also state that extended breastfeeding is wonderful when a child gets sick. There’s no greater comfort food.
Eco Benefits to Extended Breastfeeding?
Beyond simply cutting down on the odds of needing medications to treat a sick child, there’s one very basic ecological benefit to continuing to breastfeed an older toddler: You’re using less cow’s milk.
Most cows are not kept in an ecologically sensitive way. You can improve matters by buying organic milk from grass fed cows, but your own milk is still the best. It doesn’t have to be transported from a distance. It doesn’t have to be stored in any containers. You don’t have to give it in a cup or wash the cup after. It’s there when your child needs it.
Overall, I have to say that extended breastfeeding really isn’t about being green. It has some benefits that can be described as being eco friendly, but that’s not the main benefit at all. It has much more to do with the health of the mother and child, with potential long term health benefits. That’s what makes it so popular with “green” moms. Extended breastfeeding is one more way to try to do the best things for our families. That it’s not bad for the environment is just a little plus.