This year, World Breastfeeding Week’s theme is the impact of infant feeding on the environment/climate change, and the imperative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for the health of the planet and its people. In honor of this important event, here is an article that we hope will stir you to enjoy breastfeeding in nature, even if just from a patio or deck!
By Jenny Pérez-Genge
Let us imagine there is no longer a lockdown for COVID-19 precaution in your area. You are in a natural setting, one you deeply enjoy. It may be a lush forest where you can walk and smell the fresh scent of wood, or an open valley where the sun just poked through the clouds. You can hear the birds chirping in the distance and leaves rustling in a soft breeze. Or maybe you find yourself contemplating the gentle waves of the ocean by the shore. Any of these places can stir a sense of calm and peace deep within you.
Now, imagine that you are holding your baby, who is as content as you are. Both of you feel at peace taking in the beauty that surrounds you. You walk a little bit and find a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the moment with your baby. Your baby turns to look at you and wants a little snack, so you lift your blouse and give her breastmilk. Both of you are in the flow.
The benefits of spending time in nature or green spaces, such as a forest or even your backyard while quarantined, are multiple. Through my reading (see references below) and personal exploration, I have found they may include: strengthening the immune system, reducing stress and depression, improving sleep, and the ability to recover from illness or surgery.
During the first weeks after a baby is born, considering breastfeeding in nature could be too much for a mother who is recovering from a long labor or a cesarean delivery. She may not be ready for an adventure with the natural elements. Yet, it is possible to enjoy the beauty of breastfeeding and nature even while staying home. Psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, in their 1989 book The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective, share results of their research on “restorative environments.” Their findings affirmed that with just a glimpse of nature from a window, the viewer feels closer to nature.
No matter what phase you are on in your breastfeeding journey, if you feel ready to breastfeed your baby in a natural environment, then give it a try! Here are four compelling reasons to do so.
- Breastfeeding in nature makes us realize our deep connection with the natural world.
Being in nature helps calm our body and mind. It is the reason why we feel refreshed and relaxed after taking a walk in the woods, or watching a sunset. Nursing our babies in a natural environment — even if just from your backyard or deck, if your area is still in lockdown for COVID-19 precautions as you read this — is a reminder that we are part of the beautiful natural world around us, that our bodies generally know what they need to know, and that we are simply releasing that wisdom inside us when we become parents.
- Nature helps you to slow down, relax, and get in the flow with your baby.
Feeling relaxed, while breastfeeding in a beautiful natural setting, may help milk let-down. When a baby nurses, sensory impulses travel from the nipple to the pituitary gland located in the brain, where the “milk hormones” prolactin and oxytocin are secreted, calming the breastfeeding parent as well.
Prolactin is the hormone responsible for making breastmilk, while oxytocin will send signals to the milk ducts to eject the milk, as well as provide a sense of calm and peace that you and your baby will feel. The result is a happy baby dozing off to sleep, while you enjoy a precious moment, breathing clean air and contemplating your surroundings.
- Breastfeeding in nature reminds us that breastfeeding produces zero waste.
As breastmilk is produced by the human body itself, water and nutrient intake, through food that the mother consumes, are the only resources really needed. Human milk is not manufactured. Your carbon footprint as a breastfeeding mother is negligible.
- Breastfeeding in public is a normal social act.
Breastfeeding in a public space is simply another place to feed your baby. Breastfeeding should not be a reason for a mother and baby to stay home, unless, of course, COVID-19 precautions still apply to your area and you desire to be home.
So mama, the next time you have the opportunity to step out of your home and visit a natural setting, enjoy the moment. Experience breastfeeding your baby outdoors, and celebrate your personal connection with the natural world. Honor your body; it is doing what it is meant to do. Remind yourself that you and your baby are helping preserve the planet while also normalizing a very human act.
For everyone else, let us do everything that is possible to support mothers and their babies to go outside and enjoy the beauty of nature while breastfeeding, even if simply in your own little oasis of your porch or patio!
A mother to two teenagers, Jenny became a La Leche League Leader in 2007 while living in Bolivia, and has been an Assistant Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (ACLA) in Thailand and Chile. She writes a blog in Spanish that recounts some of her family’s adventures in nature, inspiring families to go outdoors and connect daily with nature.
Tell Me More About World Breastfeeding Week!
In many areas of the world, World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) takes place the first week of August, while other parts of the world—such as Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Belgium and France—celebrate in October. Check with your local La Leche League Leader to learn if any WBW events are happening soon near you, or visit your La Leche League area website to find out. To obtain your local La Leche League Leader’s contact information, visit llli.org
Did You Know These GHG Facts?
According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), at https://worldbreastfeedingweek.org:
- Formula production and consumption generates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which accelerate global warming.
- 720,450 tonnes of milk formula sold annually in six Asian countries generated almost 2.9 million tonnes of GHG. This is equivalent to nearly 7000 million miles driven by an average passenger vehicle or 1.03 million tonnes of waste sent to landfill sites.
- It is estimated that more than 4000 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kg of breastmilk substitute powder!
Kaplan R. Kaplan S. The Experience of Nature: A Psychological Perspective. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press. 1989.
Smith, J.P. A commentary on the carbon footprint of milk formula: Harms to planetary health and policy implications. International Breastfeeding Journal 2019; 14(49). https://internationalbreastfeedingjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13006-019-0243-8
Wilson Edward. Biophilia: The Human Bond with other Species. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard University Press. 1984.