An Important Note
Before we dive into how breastfeeding helps our environment, it is important to me to acknowledge that fed babies are healthy babies. WE face many barriers that can prevent us from nursing, and it is our right as mothers to choose how we feed our children.

My hope here is to draw attention to the far-reaching benefits of breastfeeding and also the impact systems, structures, and policies have on climate change when they do not support breastfeeding mothers. These include disparities in access to quality healthcare, breastfeeding education, and paid parental leave, gender-based violence, poverty, destabilization of communities, and lack of societal and familial support for nursing.


{ Mariam in the Eleanor Nursing Dress }

Our Connection with Mother Earth

As we breastfeed, we nurture a deep connection with our children. The physical act draws us near to them, centering and quieting us both for a moment.

Breastfeeding is sacred.

As mothers, we are connected to Mother Earth when we breastfeed. Not in a mystical or spiritual sense, though some may experience this, but in a tangible way. The scientific community continues to find ways in which breastfeeding protects our planet. When you and I nurse our children, we are also caring for our Earth. We mamas do take care of everyone, don't we?

If I am honest with you, I did not know going into this article that breastfeeding my children was for the betterment of the environment, but here we are and the evidence to the fact is eye-opening.

1. Breastfeeding Reduces Greenhouse Emissions

It doesn’t get more locally grown than breastmilk. You, my friend, are the manufacturer, processor, and transportation logistics team for your baby’s breastmilk rolled into one. Although, when my baby cluster feeds, I wish he had to travel or put in a bit more effort to get my milk. You know, meet me halfway.

When we nurse, we cut out the greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, processing, and transportation of breastmilk substitutes. Joffe, Webster, and Shenker found that breastfeeding an infant for six months saves 95-153 kg of CO2 annually. They went on to explain that this level of CO2 reduction in the United Kingdom alone would be the equivalent of annually eliminating 50,000 - 77,500 cars from the road. They also reported that powdered infant formula can only be safely assembled with water heated to at least 70°C, which annually requires an amount of energy equivalent to what it takes to charge 200 million phones each year. While nursing, I usually only think about my lack of sleep, since I am the only food source for my little one. I had not thought about the fact that you and I also help solve traffic problems and global warming.

{ Mariam in the Ella Nursing Dress } 

2. Breastmilk Saves Water

For communities across the world, access to clean water is a daily struggle, and the industries involved in formula production contribute to the reduction of clean water. Formula production leaves a large water footprint, because of the water required in dairy and soybean production, as well as the water needed to mix with formula. Joffe, Webster, and Shenker found that cow milk has a water footprint of up to 4,700 liters per kilogram of powder. The fertilizers and pesticides used for dairy and soybean production can also lead to water pollution, reducing the amount of accessible clean water for surrounding communities.

Breastfeeding can also be a protective factor for families in times of crisis. My family survived a natural disaster in which we did not have access to clean water or electricity when the temperature was dramatically below freezing. I felt overwhelmed and stressed because I had a baby at the time, and I worried about how I could care for him with no access to clean water or electricity? The only positive thought I had during the disaster was that I was nursing, so I did not have to worry about my infant becoming dehydrated or going hungry.

3. Breastfeeding Protects Land

When I drive past the cattle farms near my home, my thoughts go to (at least in the summer) “oh it’s so hot. If I were a cow right now, I would stand in that pond out there all day.” Cattle farms take up quite a bit of land where I live, so I end up having this thought a lot.

Raising cows requires a lot of land. It is common knowledge within the dairy industry that each cow requires 1.5 to 2 acres of land, which does not include the land needed to generate supplemental food for the cow. Land clearing and deforestation for dairy farms have led to the destruction of ecosystems and subsequent mass grazing by the cows living on the land. Cow milk-based formula contributes to this enormous land use by the dairy industry. Soy-derived formula also impacts the environment due to deforestation in regions around the world.

The additives in formulas such as palm oil also generate large amounts of rainforest destruction. The eradication of natural ecosystems often leads to water pollution and soil erosion, both of which will impact our children in the long run. We also know that deforestation can cause the displacement of indigenous communities, which creates barriers to breastfeeding for those mothers and their children.

The interconnectedness of lands is also evident to me when I think of my own home. I live near a flood plain, and our community knows that any development or changes to the surrounding land can put families in our neighborhood at greater risk. When you and I breastfeed, we are taking part in this interconnectedness of our planet. You reduce the amount of land needed for dairy, soy, and palm oil production over time. You are protecting ecosystems and subsequently our planet as a whole. Remember that next time you question the impact you have on those around you. Not only are you feeding your child life-giving sustenance, but you are helping ensure that they have a beautiful and thriving planet to call home in their future.

4. Breastfeeding Limits Material Waste

When you have kids, it is natural for it to seem like your household produces a lot of trash. Maybe it also feels this way because you are often the one to pick it all up. Breastfeeding can at least cut down on some of the excess waste for your home and subsequently your community landfill. Formula packaging production requires metal, paper, and plastic that continue to fill our landfills. Plastic jugs of distilled water used to mix formula, silicone nipples, and plastic bottles also contribute to the growing amount of waste. Joffe, Webster, and Shenker reported that back in 2009, 550 million infant formula cans, including 364,000 tons of paper and 86,000 tons of metal ended up in landfills annually.

Formula transportation and advertising generate additional waste. As do the dairy and soybean industries (e.g. cow manure, runoff fertilizers, and pesticides). While you and I may use milk storage bags, pump parts, and bottles for our breastmilk, the amount of waste generated in connection to pumping and storing breastmilk is significantly less than formula production.

{ Mariam in the Estelle Nursing Dress } 

5. Breastfeeding Reduces Healthcare Stays

COVID-19 has been stressful for communities and families across the world. It has dramatically changed my family's life by altering my partner's career, childcare for my children, being able to see friends and family, and daily routines. You are not alone in feeling the stress and change that occurred in the past two years. Healthcare systems across the globe have been under tremendous strain for resources due to COVID-19. Thankfully, you and I breastfeeding contributes in a meaningful way to support each of our local healthcare systems.

Our collective understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding has grown over time. Breastfed babies often have:

  • Less gastrointestinal issues
  • Fewer occurrences of respiratory illnesses and ear infections
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower rates of hospitalization
  • Lower rates of infant mortality

Nursing mothers often experience:

  • Less postpartum bleeding
  • Fewer urinary tract infections
  • Lower risk of anemia, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis

The benefits for mother and baby lead to fewer hospitalizations overall which help on an individual and societal level. Fewer hospital stays mean less of a financial burden on families. It also means a reduction in the strain on local healthcare systems because of a lower need for staff and resources that hospitals require to care for patients (e.g. water, energy, supplies).

Fewer hospital stays also lead to a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transportation to and from the hospital.

A Way Forward

Understanding how breastfeeding benefits our environment further convinces me of its sacredness. It also gives me hope that organizations are working to support breastfeeding and our environment.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective is one entity working to improve accessibility and support of breastfeeding. They state their vision is a “world where all mothers have the financial, emotional, technical, and public support they need to start breastfeeding within an hour of a child’s birth, breastfeed exclusively for six months, and continue breastfeeding (with adequate, age-appropriate, and safe complementary foods) for two years or beyond.”

Possible actions for communities and governments that you and I can also support:

  • Breastfeeding education at the individual and societal levels
  • Policies that support breastfeeding mothers
  • Regulation and support of milk donor programs for children who need supplemental milk

At Ellie and Becca, we are part of this movement to support accessibility to nursing for all mothers by producing nursing friendly clothing. We also work to contribute to our collective well-being by using sustainable practices in our production process.

We honor your part in helping to protect our planet, mama. I bet you didn’t realize you were helping to save the ozone layer when you woke up this morning.


Naomi Joffe, Flic Webster, Natalie Shenker. Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative. BMJ, 2019; l5646 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.l5646

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