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Ecologico Experiences: Is Breastfeeding Zero Waste?

When I found out I was pregnant with Squishy, the first big decision we made about how we would parent is that I really wanted to breastfeed. I have successfully fed my children breastmilk (and currently still do). I know it's not for everyone, I know it's not always easy and I know that fed is best (or at least informed is best). I'm not here to open a debate on how we should feed our babies, but I do want to talk about breastfeeding from a waste perspective. In my opinion, breastfeeding is a valuable natural resource that leaves almost no environmental footprint in terms of carbon or water, it doesn't come packaged in plastic and it creates no pollution from manufacturing and transport. However, I, like a lot of people, was under the common misconception that breastfeeding would be totally free and environmentally friendly. Breastfeeding in its truest form is zero waste but what about in reality? Again, I feel I can only use my feeding experiences to highlight my, and a lot of people's, experience of feeding in the UK and what we did to lessen the environmental impact.

Nursing Clothes

Firstly, against all advice, I didn't buy specific nursing clothes; they were pricy, they had a short shelf-life and I didn't even know if I would be successful with feeding. Three years on I have a couple of stretchy vests and a 'feeding cardigan' for when we're out and use the 'One Up, One Down' method (actually after 3 years it's more like the 'Lob it Out' method) or wear wrap/button front tops and dresses and a pashmina/scarf for modesty. But if you do want specific maternity/nursing clothes could you buy secondhand? 'Can I Breastfeed In It?' is an amazing Facebook community with a dedicated selling page and you'll often find in other Facebook groups such as "Scandily Clad Ladies", people posting or searching for 'feeding friendly', 'preloved' or you could even try your local NCT Nearly New sales or social media pages.

Breastpads I also used reusable breastpads with both of my children; I won't go into the details of why these are necessary but if you know then you know! The set I have I was actually given by someone who had a short breastfeeding journey and they were SO much better (both for me and the environment) than the soggy, uncomfortable, excessively wrapped disposables I used at first with Squishy. You can pick reusable breastpads up very reasonably, even in Asda (or from us😉) and they're very easy to use and wash. You can even make your own if you're feeling crafty! Once your breastfeeding journey is over you can pass them on or even repurpose them as facewipes if you really wanted to, but I guarantee they will outlive your breastfeeding journey.

Equipment So, there was a lot of extra stuff that I didnt know was associated with breastfeeding before I started: shields, shells, pumps... The list goes on. I did need nipple shields with Squishy, not something I was prepared for, and I only needed them for a few weeks. Honestly, without them I wouldn't be writing a blog about breastfeeding today. They were a lifesaver! I was unsure what to do with them when I'd finished with them though and it seemed so wasteful to throw them away, so I posted in a local breastfeeding group, unsure what the response would be, and found another Mama more than happy to take them (sterilised obviously) and give them a try. Then comes the pump and all its' paraphernalia! I used a Hakaa to collect milk but I did (unsuccessfully) try to pump using an electric pump I borrowed from a friend. You can buy pumps secondhand too but just make sure you follow the official guidance on this:

Storage One thing that shocked me was the ‘must have’ single use milk storage bags that just create so much waste. New mum guilt meant I assumed disposable was safer for my precious newborn. But is that true? You can use multiple use items; some people even use recycling food jars for short term storage; plastic storage bottles, glass jars (not in the freezer) and even a sterile ice cube trays perfectly safely, so don't be lulled into the single-use is better trick. I was so determined (read stubborn) to breastfeed we didn't make the ‘just in case’ purchases of bottles, sterilisers etc. etc. but with the number of babies born in the UK every year imagine how much unnecessary spend that equates to! If you do find you need extra things for either your breastfeeding or bottlefeeding journey you will often find you can get them secondhand, lightly used and with plenty of life left in them, at a fraction of the retail cost. If I were to give advice to expectant mums on any part of getting ready for their baby it would be not buying before you need it, not being sucked in by the insane marketing of baby goods and not be afraid to buy preloved.

Beyond Babyhood

Red is 2 and won't take a bottle easily, but she can drink successfully from an open cup; again a much greener alternative to a bottle. Research suggests many babies over 6 months can go straight to using spouted cups & skip bottles all together. My last reflection comes with a warning; feeding beyond babyhood. Continuing to breastfeed along side the introduction of food can reduce the carbon footprint of infant feeding even more. Contrary to popular belief 2.5 to 7 years of nursing is what our children have been designed to expect and a child of Red's age still receives 29% of energy, 43% of protein, 36% of calcium, 75% of vitamin A, 76% of folates, 94% of vitamin B12, 60% of vitamin C requirements from each 448ml of breast milk. How amazing is that? So in my experience, although for me breastfeeding was NOT totally zero waste it is still a very worthwhile experience and something I am proud to do.

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