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?

Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded in 1995. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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