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When it comes to eco-friendly baby food, Mother Nature says thanks for the mammaries



Who knew breast milk was green?

While it's long proven to be the best health benefit for baby, breast-feeding has eco-ammo on its side, too. You can't get much more eco-friendly than Mama's milk: no manufacturing, processing, transportation and energy costs, or worry about recycling and waste.

Leslie Moyer, co-founder of Sustainable Tahlequah and Sustainable Green Country, a chapter of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, champions breast-feeding.

"Just the manufacturing of formula packaging alone is environmentally costly," said Moyer. "Our actions here in the U.S. influence so many around the world. We've been led to believe that breast-feeding is a sacrifice (for mom) or is difficult, but nothing could be further from my reality. It was the easiest parenting act I committed. 

"There were a few rough days here and there, but they amounted to a handful of hours that otherwise made the years I spent breast-feeding much easier than I had not been breast-feeding."

Moyer pointed out the water and energy savings by breast-feeding, including not having to buy bottles and wash them, or using and disposing of plastic bottle liners.

Metro moms like Melissa Robinson breast-fed her daughter in addition to buying organic baby food and making her own. She used cotton cloth breast pads while at home, but found them too lumpy to wear in public.

"Breast-feeding is a completely natural, amazing experience, for both the mother and the child," said Robinson. However, she wishes it were more acceptable in public. "It seems like you never see women doing it. When I do see a woman (breast-feeding), I make sure to flash her a big smile in support."

As a stay-at-home mom, Robinson didn't use a bottle in her daughter's first 15 months, but for situations when bottle-feeding is necessary, Planet Green, a Discovery Channel network, advises new moms to pump their own breast milk as the first choice, followed by a fair-trade organic infant formula.

Oklahoma City mom Julie Riggs remembers a time when breast-feeding was not in vogue. Nearly 20 years ago when she told her family she planned on breast-feeding, they called it "disgusting." She didn't let their opinions deter her.

"I tend to think that what nature intended is logically the best choice," Riggs said. "In a time when people are going out of their way to buy locally grown foods and pay more for organic produce, mother's milk is the ultimate locally grown and organic food for a new baby."

Nursing numbers
Oklahoma PRAMS (Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System) data show that in 2000, 68.1 percent of women with newborns in the state initiated breast-feeding. By 2008, the number had risen to 79 percent, which PRAMS project manager Alicia Lincoln says is a statistically significant increase over that time. 

"The length of time women are breast-feeding is slowly increasing as well. In 2000, 42.5 percent of women breast-fed for eight weeks or more. By 2008, this number had increased to 48.1 percent," said Lincoln.

She noted that due to the time when the PRAMS survey is conducted, eight weeks is the longest duration that can be measured.

"However, breast-feeding rates measured by The Oklahoma Toddler Survey (the follow-up survey to PRAMS) for 2008 show that 30.5 percent of moms in Oklahoma were breast-feeding for six or more months," Lincoln said.

The good news extends across the socioeconomic spectrum. According to Rosanne Smith, breast-feeding coordinator at the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Women, Infants and Children program, more than half of all babies born in Oklahoma are in WIC, due to their financial and nutritional needs.

"We're happy to note that this year we reached the Healthy People 2010 national goal in WIC of 75 percent of our participants breast-feeding," said Smith, who credits hitting the benchmark with increased advocacy and awareness program at WIC clinics around the state, including the popular peer program comprised of paid counselors who either have been or currently are on WIC and breast-fed for at least six months.

Meeting the goal improves the health of thousands of newborns statewide, but also provides a significant savings to the parents and the state program. Smith said the price of a standard, over-the-counter breast-milk substitute is approximately $900 to $1,050 per baby for a six-month supply. If a more specialized formula is used, the formula may cost approximately $1,600 or more for six months. But the price of breast-feeding? Free.

One can imagine that Mother Earth is happy with those statistics, too. "Malena Lott

photo above Canadian County Health Department counselor Keri Reynolds consults with Kasey Flying Out, who feeds her daughter, Lillian.
photo below Rachel Snyder feeds her 9-month-old son, Boston. photos/Shannon Cornman

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