Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet!

31. July 2020

The first seven days of August are traditionally declared World Breastfeeding Week.

The message of this year's breastfeeding week is ‘Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet!’ to draw attention to the importance of breastfeeding in resolving a number of environmental and cimate change issues.

Over time, humankind has had a widespread impact on the environment. The depletion and destruction of natural resources and increased emissions of greenhouse gases are currently at their highest-ever level in 800,000 years. We must protect our home planet and our health and be responsible with our use of resources such as land, water and energy sources. Breastfeeding is also linked to the sustainable use of resources.

Breast milk is natural, renewable food that is safe for the environment as it is created and delivered without any pollution, packaging or wasting of resources. During the first six months of a child’s life, their mother needs, on average, an additional 500 kcal of food per day to be able to breastfeed.

According to East Tallinn Central Hospital’s midwife-breastfeeding councillor Kärt Maalinn, breastfeeding is an excellent example of the deep connection between people’s health and the natural ecosystem. “By breastfeeding,” says Maalinn, highlighting the message of World Breastfeeding Week, “mothers support the health of the child, themselves and the planet.”

Breast milk is by nature continuously evolving and renewing based on the feeding needs of the child. If mothers receive enough support during their time breastfeeding and are spared from the pressure of society and commercial interests, their milk alone is sufficient to sustain children during their first six months of life.

According to Maalinn, only 2% of women are unable to breastfeed their children. However, a much larger proportion of mothers currently believe otherwise. “Looking at the statistics of the National Institute for Health Development on Estonia,” says breastfeeding councillor Maalinn on children who receive breast milk as their only sustenance, “we can see that in the past couple of years 77-79% of children aged one month have been exclusively breastfed. Among infants aged three months, these figures have already fallen to 63-65% and only 28-23% of six-month-olds receive nothing but breast milk.”

81-83% of children aged three months and 69-71% of children aged six months are partially breastfed. “This means,” explains Maalinn, “that breast milk is supplemented with artificial infant formula during the first four months of life and additional food is given later on.”

Breastfeeding is characteristic of our species and is the best way to feed children. It lays the foundation for a healthy future. The WHO recommends breastfeeding exclusively until children reach six months of age and continued breastfeeding until the child is two years old or older.

The support of the family and the advice given by loved ones, professional breastfeeding councillors and the society all play an important part in reaching those goals.

In 2019, the total market value of infant formulae was around 71 billion USD. The increase in sales was highest in countries with low and average income levels. Data from the WHO show that in addition to infant formulae, sales of follow-on formulae and toddler formulae are also on the rise. Unethical marketing practices of artificial foods continue to have an adverse effect on breastfeeding.

Greenhouse gas emissions produced through the manufacture and use of artificial milk formulae increase global warming. According to estimates, it takes more than 4000 litres of clean water to produce 1 kg of artificial milk formula. It is important to determine whether there is a real need for artificial formulae in order to reduce the use of such products and the associated environmental impact.

Promoting and supporting breastfeeding is a current affair. East Tallinn Central Hospital Women’s Clinic started providing breastfeeding advice 18 years ago and has seen the need for assistance go up.  “We see patients who sometimes work for months on end to reach their breastfeeding goals,” says Maalinn. “We often explain and provide council on the regular norms for a baby as parents often lack such knowledge.”

You can prepare for and obtain knowledge on breastfeeding before the birth of your child by attending the free classes held by the Family School in Estonian, Russian and English. Visit www.itk.ee/perekool.

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