The Rising Price of Breast Milk
By Elisabeth Dale
Two studies this week brought more news of the value of breastfeeding. The first was research showing that exclusively breastfed babies, when compared to those fed formula, received an extra boost to their brains. The second found that increased rates of breastfeeding led to millions of dollars saved in health care costs, from reducing the incidence of breast cancer, hypertension, and heart disease. These stories emphasized the medicinal properties of breast milk, how well it can protect and enhance not just the health and well being of mother and baby, but society at large.
Then I read about a new breast milk flavored lollipop. There’s no actual breast milk involved in the making of this candy. It simply attempts to replicate the taste of mother’s milk. Created by Lollyphile (makers of Wasabi-Ginger, Chocolate Bacon, and a host of other liquor inspired flavors), the idea was to provide a toddler with a soothing and familiar taste. After all, if breast milk can stop a baby’s cries, why shouldn’t an all vegan substitute have the same effect? Breast milk flavored lollipops are priced at $10 for a set of four pops.
How does the cost of breast milk compare to this artificial confection? A year’s supply of human milk could run you $35,000. Formula companies spend millions of dollars attempting to replicate the qualities, not just the flavor, of breast milk. It’s a poorer substitute, but a cheaper and acceptable alternative. A year’s supply of powdered formula can add $1500 to $2000 to your family’s food budget. When you factor in other hidden costs of breastfeeding, such as lost wages from work, the price may be even cheaper.
Maybe we’ve made breastfeeding too expensive. That could be why new moms begin with good intentions but inevitably fall short of fulfilling the six-month recommended goal. Media reports underscore the benefits of breast milk, yet new mothers are offered little tangible support to help them succeed. Maternal leaves are brief, private rooms or paid break times to pump milk during work are rare, lactation specialist services expensive, and efficient electric breast pump rentals pricey. There’s even an emotional cost in shaming publicly breastfeeding mothers. Women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Do we value breast milk? Not really. We value it in a superficial kind of way, as if it were a confection like the breast milk lollipop. Not as the prescription medicine it represents. (Imagine an equivalent Viagra flavored lollipop.) This fact isn’t lost in formula company advertisements and promotions, either. We’ve just made it easier and cheaper to feed babies the artificial stuff.
We don’t want to pay the real price of breast milk: the breastfeeding part of the equation. We don’t even want to pay women to pump breast milk. Instead we blame new mothers for “choosing” not to breastfeed. And we don’t appreciate the efforts of those mothers that do nurse, criticizing them for doing it too long, not long enough, or too openly.
The irony is that breast milk is far more valuable to the human race than any man made compound. Ignoring that fact may cost more than anyone imagined.
What’s your view? Should women receive more tangible or even intangible (emotional) support for breastfeeding? Does it matter?