What if we counted breast milk production as part of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the same way that we count formula production? The $4 billion a year in US formula sales is part of the good news of our economy because of the distorted way that we count things: we don’t count the health savings from breastfeeding or the actual value of breast milk production in our GDP. What would it look like if we did?
HEALTH CARE SAVINGS FROM BREASTFEEDING
In 1997, nursing professor Jan Riordan calculated a potential US health cost savings from breastfeeding of over $1 billion per year. By 2001, the health savings were calculated to be $3.1 billion a year. But this is just cost savings. What if we calculated the value of breastmilk production itself?
THE VALUE OF BREAST MILK PRODUCTION INTERNATIONALLY
A study in the 1980s calculated that the one billion liters of breastmilk produced annually by Indonesian mothers would cost $400 million to replace with formula.
In 1993 it was estimated that if the 51% of Indian women then exclusively breastfeeding stopped it would cost $2.3 billion to replace their breastmilk with formula.
Here are some surprising numbers from a 1999 study by Arun Gupta and Kuldeep Khanna:
- The net value of breastmilk produced in Ghana if breastfeeding were optimal would be $165 million.
- If the value of breastmilk were included, the GDP of Zimbabwe would increase by 1%
- If the value of breastmilk were included, the GDP of Mali would increase by 6%.
- In Iran, when exclusive breastfeeding increased from 10% in 1991 to 53% in 1996, the cost of importing breastmilk substitutes declined by $50 million.
- In Norway, hospitals paid $50 for each litre of breast milk in 1992. The 8.2 million litres of breastmilk that Norway produced that year was worth $410 million.
THE VALUE OF US BREAST MILK PRODUCTION
What is the value of breast milk production in the United States? I’m basing the value of breast milk on costs associated with human milk donations to milk banks. While the guidelines of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America (HMBANA) stipulate that human milk donors not be paid for their milk, the milk banks do incur costs for the collection, processing and distribution of human milk. These costs may be from $3.00 to $5.00 an ounce and are born by hospitals, insurance companies, and recipients.
Using $3 an ounce, or $96 a quart (32 ounces=1 quart) as the value of breast milk for our purposes here, this is what I come up with:
- According to the CDC, there were 3,932,181 babies born in 2013.
- The 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card shows 16.4% of mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months.
- The number of US mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months in 2013: 644,878.
- The average amount of breast milk produced per day for the first six months: 25 ounces.
- The value of the average amount of breast milk produced each day: $75
- The average amount of breast milk produced in 6 months: 4500 ounces or 140 quarts.
- Value of each woman’s 140 quarts of breast milk at $96 a quart: $13,440.
- Value of 644,878 women producing 140 quarts of breast milk in a six-month period: $9,667,160,320.
This is more than twice as much as the revenue for the sale of infant formula for this same period.
BREAST MILK PRODUCTION EXCEEDS THE VALUE OF FORMULA
In six months, 16.4% of US women produce breast milk of equal economic value to nearly two years of formula sales. If 50% of moms were exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Healthy People 2010 recommend, the total economic value of US breast milk production would be more than $30 billion a year. What do we need to do to add breast milk production to our Gross Domestic Product?
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.