"Lost milk?": Counting the economic value of breast milk in gross domestic product

J Hum Lact. 2013 Nov;29(4):537-46. doi: 10.1177/0890334413494827. Epub 2013 Jul 12.


Background: The contribution of breastfeeding and mothers milk to the economy is invisible in economic statistics.

Objective: This article demonstrates how the economic value of human milk production can be included in economic statistics such as gross domestic product (GDP) and provides estimates for Australia, the United States, and Norway.

Methods: The contribution of human milk and lactation to GDP in these countries is estimated using United Nations (System of National Accounting) guidelines and conventional economic valuation approaches to measuring production in GDP.

Results: In Australia, current human milk production levels exceed $3 billion annually. The United States has the potential to produce human milk worth more than US$110 billion a year, but currently nearly two thirds of this value is lost due to premature weaning. In Norway, production valued at US$907 million annually is 60% of its potential value.

Conclusions: The potential loss of economic value from not protecting women's lactation and milk production from competing market pressures is large. Failure to account for mothers' milk production in GDP and other economic data has important consequences for public policy. The invisibility of human milk reduces the perceived importance of programs and regulations that protect and support women to breastfeed. The value of human milk can be measured using accepted international guidelines for calculating national income and production. It is quantitatively nontrivial and should be counted in GDP.

Keywords: Australia; Norway; United States; breastfeeding; breastfeeding benefits; cost savings; cost–benefit analysis; government policy; milk banking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Breast Feeding / economics*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Gross Domestic Product / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food / economics
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Milk, Human*
  • Models, Economic*
  • Norway
  • United States