“Undervalued” breastfeeding

Researchers are warning that the ‘invisible’ work of caring for a baby is not considered by health or work polices or government statistics.

According to Julie Smith from  The Australian National University (ANU), it takes mother 40-hours each week to care for a new-born baby, 18 hours of which are taken up by breastfeeding.

However, the time and cost of feeding and caring for babies is often under-valued.

The cost of feeding and caring for babies is taken for granted

“Having a baby or toddler is amazingly time intensive, yet official statistics ignore this investment.”

“Most industrialised countries have sufficient paid maternity leave so mothers can exclusively breastfed for six months, in line with the World Health Organization (WHO),” says Smith.

Smith points out that breastfeeding should be documented.

“Women’s time is not free. If we don’t document the cost of feeding and caring for babies and young children, it is taken for granted by policymakers.”

Smith also points out that breastfeeding is worth at least $3.6 billion to the economy. However, as breast milk isn’t measured in national food statistics, it is often undervalued.

“Australian women produce more than 40 million litres of milk for our infants and young children each year, though this value is not counted in our national food statistics, or noticed in the national budget,” says Smith.

“Because we don’t measure it, we don’t appreciate its value, and governments fail to invest in programs and services that support it.”

A higher value should be placed on breast milk

Smith warns that mother-to-baby feeding will be displaced if breastfeeding support is not prioritised by health services and governments.

This leads Smith to suggesting that breast milk should be counted as a part of the national food supply.

“Norway counts breast milk as part of its national food statistics and we should too.”

“Failure to help mothers with breastfeeding cost the nation almost $4 billion in lost baby milk production, and hundreds of millions of dollars in preventable health costs.”

Along with breast milk being recognised in national food supply, Smith also says that there is an urgent need for tough regulation with the newly emerging markets in human milk.

“Expanding Australia’s human milk banking system will save lives and save on health costs. With pasteurised donor milk for Neonatal intensive care units (NICU) now selling at around $300 a litre internationally, companies are keen to generate new markets,” says Smith.

“It is only a matter of time before Australian parents will see ultra-high-temperature (UHT) human milk promoted alongside formula in the shopping aisles.”

This article was first published on Australia’s Science Channel, the original news platform of The Royal Institution of Australia.

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