In the past few weeks much has been said and written about breastfeeding. I totally agree with Peggy O’Mara’s take on this– that this exposure is a sign that we are winning.
From the Time Magazine cover to its SNL spoofs; from the image of women in uniform nursing their babes to Jessica Simpson’s comment that she finds it hard to watch her husband bottle feed– breastfeeding is being discussed by more people than ever. And that can only be a good thing, because the more you shine a light on the act of breastfeeding, the smarter, healthier, more economical, and more ecological it seems.
I am probably unusual in that my commitment to breastfeeding was so very linked to the carbon footprint of feeding my baby the natural way. I had crunched the numbers while I was pregnant. Breastfeeding was going to be lighter on my carbon footprint. Using formula requires milk or soy production, energy for processing, packaging and transport. Breastfeeding, on the other side of the ledger, requires about an extra 500 calories of food intake a day, which for me was mostly extra fruits and vegetables. Breastfeeding was obviously better for the planet. I also loved that it was a natural process, and gave me another connection to the natural world.
While my analysis of the carbon footprint of my breastfeeding was probably unusual, I was not unusual, in that breastfeeding did not come easily for me in the first few days. My son wasn’t gaining back his weight as fast as the doctor would have liked. He was small to begin with, and wasn’t a strong nurser, so at first I had to hand express into his mouth to supplement his feedings. I was in pain, and I was exhausted. People kept offering me formula. I was so worried about his weight that I was brought to tears every day.
Luckily, I found a great support group at the DC Breastfeeding center, and was able to lean on an amazing group of moms I met there. After just a few weeks of their support, breastfeeding was not only easy, but a source of pride, comfort, and joy.
I ended up weaning my son at 14 months. It was bittersweet, but the timing seemed right for us, and the societal pressure to wean was enormous, particularly in the context of working outside the home.
Having breastfed changed me though. It made me an advocate for laws that support breast feeding moms. It gave me empathy for moms who extend their breastfeeding beyond a few years. It also gave me empathy for those who hit insurmountable barriers and could not continue breast feeding. It turned me into a lactivist–I had never even heard of a “nurse in” before I attended one!
Being a lactivist also made me a more passionate climate activist in many ways. I felt more connected to nature than ever, and it gave me new confidence in the ability of moms to overcome adversity.
Every moms who breastfeeds’ story involves some bumps in the road, whether it s unsupportive care givers, formula pushers, blisters, thrush, mastitis, too much milk or too little milk. And yet, so many of us persevere. We plough through, and we become champions for what we do. We do it for our babies, and we do it because we care about their future. We do it because we know that our actions make a difference.
The other community I spend my time in, the climate activist community is really very similar. We plough through adversity, we become greater champions with every passing day, and we do it for our kids.
There’s another key similarity between lactivists and climate activists. Both are good for the planet. By helping to normalize breastfeeding, and by advocating for climate policies, you are advocating for an action that is better for the planet than the alternative.
I know concern for the planet isn’t the primary reason for most moms decision to breastfeed at the start, but I wonder if it is a factor for more people than we know. What about you? Did you think about the planet in the context of your decision to breastfeed?
About Keya Chatterjee
Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya’s writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at www.keyachatterjee.com.