Living Mindfully Through Breastfeeding November 21, 2012 00:00
As many concepts related to parenting, green living is an ideal that often gets tossed out the window once the baby arrives. Staying sane on only an hour of sleep while taking care of a demanding infant and remembering basics like getting your teeth brushed on a daily basis can be hard enough, much less living mindfully and in an environmentally friendly manner. However, incorporating green living into your daily life as a parent can start with something as simple as how you feed your infant.
One of the most ways a new mother can live mindfully and be green at the same time is to breastfeed her baby. While of course this is not possible for all mothers, nursing can be an incredible way to foster emotional bonding between a mother and child and may offer important health benefits such as increased immunity. Breast milk is also free, which can substantially lower overall costs compared to purchasing baby bottles and formula. According to the website KidSource.com, the yearly cost of baby formula can range between $1275.00 and over $3000.00, compared to the potential cost of a yearly breastpump rental, which costs less than $500.00 a year.
The creation of baby bottles, nipples, and formula containers has an environmental cost as well as a financial one, since natural and energy resources must be used to manufacture and distribute these items. Such objects are also less likely to be recycled and may take up to 400 years to disintegrate once left in a landfill. Moreover, there may be an environmental risk to using bottles and nipples, as plastic baby bottles and some nipples may contain biphenyl-A (BPA), which a chemical commonly used in the production of plastic items. BPA is also found in the metal lining of several types of infant formula cans, including Enfamil and Similac. The U.S. Environmental Working Group (EWG) has shown that exposure to BPA, even in low doses, may result in early puberty, cancer, behavior and brain disorders. According to MomsandPOPsProject.org, infants who are bottle-fed are the highest population group to face high levels of BPA exposure, which can be reduced through the simple act of breastfeeding.
Many parents think that using filtered water to mix their baby formula is a healthier choice than tap water and in many instances that may be true. However, water is also used to manufacture the bottles, formula and nipples used to feed these babies and this water may not be filtered. This increases the potential risk for contamination of cadmium, aluminum, lead, pesticide and other hazardous chemicals. Dangers with the water used to mix baby formula often continue at home as well. The hot water that parents frequently use to make baby formula in order to warm the formula before feeding it to their baby can also dissolve potential contaminants into the water faster than cold water, which only increases the overall risk of the infant’s exposure to potential chemical contamination.
For all the environmental, health and financial reasons to breastfeed your baby, there is no denying that there is an environmental risk in breastmilk as well. Pollutants that the mother is exposed to or ingests through what she eats or drinks can pass into the breastmilk, including heavy metals, pesticides and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs can include a variety of chemicals, including DDT and other bioactive substances that can pose a health risk to humans. While this may make parents despair that nothing is safe for babies, not even human milk, the U.S. National Institutes of Health concludes that there is little evidence that the chemical agents in breastmilk are strongly linked to morbidity in infants and any potential health risk is lower than any potential health benefit to breastfeeding.
Not all mothers can breastfeed and if this is true for you, consult with your pediatrician about the best type of baby formula to use. If you do use baby formula, look for baby bottles, nipples and formula marked “BPA Free” and remember to clean and recycle the items when you are done with them. Moms who can nurse should consider doing so, due in no small part to the emotional, physical and environmental benefits. But don’t forget that nursing comes with a responsibility as well and carries a risk that may be reduced by eating organic foods whenever possible, choosing meat and dairy items marked “Hormone Free” and consuming a healthy diet. Doing so is a good choice for your mind and body, not to mention your baby and the environment.