Economics of Breastfeeding

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For the most part, the benefits of breastfeeding for the health and development of mothers and babies have been discussed and are now well established. But breastfeeding is rarely seen as an economic problem and remains without financial importance. Keith Hansen of the World Bank once quoted “If breastfeeding didn’t already exist, someone who invented it today would deserve a double Nobel Prize in Medicine and Economics.” This clearly reflects that the benefits of breastfeeding are not just limited to the health benefits for mothers and children, but countries can derive potential economic gains from it. In addition to improving the well-being of mother and child, optimal breastfeeding practices and the improvement of related indicators can have a positive impact on society. Despite the health and economic benefits of breastfeeding, recent data from the 2019-21 National Family Health Survey, with a national average of 41.8% early initiation to breastfeeding and 64% breastfeeding exclusive for the first six months, further illustrate the case of breast-feeding. needs a stronger proposal, political will and significant commitment, and commitment from private actors. We need to translate the benefits of breastfeeding into economic gain for the country.

Various studies have established that optimal breastfeeding is closely associated with higher intelligence quotient and brain building in children. It also results in a smarter and smarter workforce and therefore higher economic results. Investing in breastfeeding promotion not only supports a child’s health and survival, but it is also a smart investment in human capital development. Analysis of the World Bank’s Nutrition Investment Framework establishes that every dollar invested in achieving the breastfeeding goal generates a return of $35 in economic benefits. Interventions to increase breastfeeding rates are the most cost-effective interventions with both health benefits and economic gain.

Increasing breastfeeding rates can not only be an investment in future economic growth, but also support current savings in health expenditures. Out-of-pocket expenditure per capita (which is Rs 2097/- as estimated by National Health Accounts for India, 2017-18) can be further reduced through optimal breastfeeding. Optimal breastfeeding is scientifically proven to have protective effects for newborns and young children against deadly diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, which are the leading cause of infant mortality and hospitalization in India. Higher breastfeeding rates lower health care costs because they reduce the prevalence of several pathogens in breastfed infants and boost immunity many-fold to fight infection. Plus, the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding, to name a few higher intelligence quotients, reduced risk of childhood obesity and diabetes, and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer in the later stages of nursing mothers, it not only produces a productive and healthy workforce, but also reduces absenteeism rates and thus generates more returns in economic terms.

Abundant empirical evidence recommends that policies and initiatives aimed at increasing breastfeeding rates can be implemented at low cost, making them cost-effective in social and economic terms. The 18 out of 36 states with improved rates of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life in NFHS 5, demonstrate how policies and a targeted approach can certainly bring about slow but positive and lasting behavioral changes to breastfeeding practices. breastfeeding in the community.

Given that the last few years have been extremely difficult with continued crises due to Covid and other emergencies, there is a reduction in family incomes, especially for marginalized and vulnerable communities. In such a difficult situation for millions of our babies, breastfeeding has become more critical than ever. At any time, if we miss any of the breastfeeding practices, we leave our newborns and infants more vulnerable to illness, death, and failure to secure our babies’ economic future.

Enabling policies:

With every investment in the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding, a huge return in economic terms is assured. Thus, flagship programs and programs such as “MAA” Mothers Absolute Affection emphasize the support and promotion of breastfeeding. Home-Based Care for Young Children (HBYC) to provide community-based care by ASHA workers with a focus on improving child-rearing practices, nutritional counseling, and breastfeeding promotion until at the 15th month of life. The ambitious Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojna, PMMVY, which is a conditional maternity benefit scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers eligible for the first child and recently extended to the second birth only if it is a girl. Additionally, Jan Aandolan under POSHAN Abhiyan is instrumental in bringing about mass movement and behavior change regarding optimal breastfeeding and IYCF practices.

Optimal breastfeeding practices ensure a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for young children. It also plays a vital role in addressing the double burden of malnutrition while to a large extent addressing food security and inequality.

We must remember that breastfeeding provides both short-term and long-term health, economic and environmental benefits to children, mothers and society. To realize these benefits, all stakeholders, the health system, workplaces and communities must be educated and empowered to provide a sustainable breastfeeding supportive environment for mothers and families.

Under the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week – Intensify Breastfeeding: Educate and Support, let’s not miss or underestimate the economics of breastfeeding.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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