mire May 18, 2012 NEWS 3 Comments

By Peggy O’Mara | Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 8:56 AM |



The controversy about breastfeeding would be over 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?


In 1997, nursing professor Jan Riordan calculated a potential US cost savings from breastfeeding of over $1 billion per year. By 2001, the savings was calculated to be $3.1 billion a year.

But this is just cost savings. What if we calculated the value of breastmilk production itself?


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.

A study in 1993 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%; the GDP of Mali 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 is worth $410 million.

In 2010, USA Today reported that US hospitals pay a $3 to $5 an ounce [or $96 to $160 a quart] handling fee for donated milk collected by milk banks.


Here’s my attempt to make sense of these numbers. I would love to hear from an economist who could expand upon them. These numbers give us a window into what we are worth.

Number of US births per year: 4,130,665

Percentage of US mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months: 13.3%

Number of US mothers exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months: 549,378

Average amount of breast milk produced per day between one and six months: 25 ounces.

Average amount of breast milk produced in 6 months: 4500 ounces:140 quarts.

Value of 140 quarts of breast milk at $96 a quart: $13,440.

Value of 549,378 women producing 140 quarts of breast milk at $96 a quart: $7 billion.


In six months, 13.3% 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 yearly economic value of US breast milk would be at least $28 billion.

What do we need to do to add breast milk production to our Gross Domestic Product?

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  1. Oom June 22, 2012 at 3:55 am

    I wouldn’t reecnmomd doing formula breastmilk. At least not until you get breastfeeding going successfully, including your milk supply. I wanted to breastfeed 100%, went to the class, read the books, etc. My son was born 4 weeks early and was 5 lb 14 oz when we brought him home. I was so freaked out about him gaining weight I started supplementing. Big mistake. In the beginning when breastfeeding is tough, just giving the baby formula is SO much easier. But it screws up everything you are doing. My son didn’t want to latch on after sucking a bottle and pumping was so difficult. Every time the baby eats you have to pump. It already takes forever for them to eat, then you are pumping after that and then by the time you are done it is time to start feeding them again! LOL! Just take it from me, I regret it and wish I would have NEVER supplemented. My son ended up having a milk issue anyway and had to go on hypoallergenic. But sometimes I think if I would have stuck to it, he wouldn’t have had to. Just give it a try at least for the first 6 weeks or so. Also, my son didn’t sleep longer than 4 hours at a stretch until 8 months. So it didn’t really matter. He ate every 2-3 hours on formula for the first few months.

    • Nithin September 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      For all of the reasons sttead above; which are valid. PLUS for the guilt those-of-us-who-don’t-have-the-time-to-read-all-of-those-reasons-but-know-they-are-there have. Meaning, yes breast is best…but really, a sane mommy is best. When you have a baby, you immediately know that you would fight a lion for that baby…but sometimes breastfeeding is just that challenging, so when you give up, or are thinking of giving up, the mommy guilt is there not only because of all of the technical reasons why breast is best, but because you gave up fighting the lion.I had a very deep, personal struggle with breastfeeding the first time around that led to depression and sadness. This time, with my daughter, I have made a choice to define my own success. Instead of focusing on failure, I am focusing on what I was able to do to succeed based on my definition of success.So anyway, it isn’t that formula is the devil, or motor oil or whatever, it is more the mommy guilt over not succeeding at something that is ‘best’ that makes people cringe when faced with supplementing and or replacing with formula.

      • Irina November 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

        Like many mom’s out there, I started out all gung-ho about bresatfeeding. I researched, took a class, etc. I was going to breastfeed and there was no other if, and’s, or buts about it. And then my LO came. And that was the worst week of my boob’s life. I tried. I tried hard. I cried and cried and cried. Feeding wasn’t fun for anyone. It wasn’t a bonding experience, it was awful. So finally I switched to formula and I cried some more. I felt so guilty!But now my LO is 4 months old and so healthy. I get awful migraines and my hubby is able to take over and feed her when I’m in bed in pain, and I don’t have to worry about waking up to pump or anything. And really, my hubby wasn’t breastfed for a second and he has way more smarts than I ever will. I think bresatfeeding is awesome. If I could do it, I would. I’ll try again when I have another baby. But I’ll also try not to be so hard on myself if I can’t.