Valuing breastfeeding through the Mothers' Milk Tool


Money, milk and the ‘Mothers' Milk Tool’

An important aim of recent Future Fellowship research has been to develop a reliable measure of the economic value of human milk suitable for incorporation in economic statistics such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Money is the language of policymakers. An economic approach in this research has been aimed at assisting better decision-making on resource allocation at various levels. To help make this a reality, the Australian National University and Alive and Thrive South East Asia have partnered to advance development of a tool to quantify the volume of breastmilk and value of breastfeeding at national, regional, and global levels.

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Please check out the many resources on the event page ‘Measuring and Valuing Women's Productivity: The Mothers' Milk Tool‘
We envisage this will make the economic value of breastfeeding more visible to policymakers and society everywhere. Alive and Thrive South East Asia have already created an online ‘Cost of Not Breastfeeding’ tool, which shows that each year, $340 billion in unnecessary healthcare costs and cognitive losses, as well as 700,000 lives of mothers and infants are lost due to inadequate breastfeeding. The tool highlights the need for scaling up financing and implementation of policies, programs and interventions worldwide to create enabling environments that support mothers to breastfeed their infants. This involves resourcing and implementing policies such as maternity entitlements, more ‘breastfeeding friendly’ healthcare, workplace and childcare environments, and mother to mother breastfeeding support networks.
This project will advance methodologies for measuring and valuing breastfeeding, and provide new evidence of how this measurement can assist strategic communication for policy advocacy. A user-friendly and open access tool is being developed to help measure progress toward national and global breastfeeding targets, and inform updating of national policies, programmes and investments plans.
It will show how much is lost when breastfeeding declines. As the classic Joni Mitchell song lyric goes “… you don't know what you've got ‘til it's gone.”
By helping to mobilize action and motivate upscaling of investments, the tool will help ensure greater investments and resources are allocated towards enabling women and children to realise their human rights, including to breastfeeding.

The problem of ‘lost milk’

BreastfeedingBreastfeeding is important for population health and has important economic values. Yet this value is poorly recognised in economic and food production statistics. Breastfeeding has already been displaced by commercial breastmilk substitutes in many countries.
Visibility is important for policy attention and resourcing. What is measured matters most.  When countries do not count breastfeeding and human milk in production statistics, the extent of women’s productivity and contributions to society goes unnoticed. Invisibility makes it harder to make an investment case for policies and programs to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Priority is instead given to supporting the more visible and vocal commercial food producers.
Counting human milk is a way to value and recognize how women contribute to the food system, economy, and society through breastfeeding and care of infants and young children. The value of breastfeeding is far beyond its monetary aspects, but data and knowledge of its economic value can better acknowledge this unique contribution, inform public policy, and emphasize the importance of breastfeeding.

The feminist economics of breastfeeding

Research by Dr Julie Smith at the Australian National University since 2004 has brought economic and feminist perspectives to the problem of addressing barriers to breastfeeding. This research has innovatively applied economic and market techniques to thinking about women’s infant feeding decisions and policy.
This research provided new and relevant information on parental time use, ‘willingness to pay’, and economic values of breastfeeding including through the Time Use Survey of New Mothers (TUSNM). It highlighted the economic value of the time women invest in breastfeeding and care of infants and young children. It showed the need for governments and employers to also invest in breastfeeding such as through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding friendly workplace environments.

Acknowledgements and team members for the Mothers’ Milk Tool

This Tool was commissioned by the Innovation Incubator at FHI Solution. FHI Solutions is a subsidiary of FHI 360 and an international nonprofit supported by three Centres of Excellence including Alive & Thrive, Intake and 1,000 Days. We would also like to acknowledge research funding support from the Australian Research Council (FT140101260).

Research and Development Team Members

Australian National University

  1. Julie Smith, Honorary Associate Professor, College of Health and Medicine.
  2. Alessandro Iellamo, Independent Consultant, United Kingdom.
  3. Rene R. Raya, Programmer, Action for Economic Reforms (AER). 
  4. Rose Ann L. Batuigas, Support Programmer, Social Watch Philippines (SWP).

Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia

  1. Nguyen Thanh Tuan, Regional Technical Advisor, Measurement, Learning and Evaluation, Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.
  2. Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, Regional Program Officer, Knowledge Management, Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.
  3. Roger Mathisen, Regional Director, Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia.