The Economic Value of Breast-feeding in India: A Discussion from the 1990s

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


In 1992, the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act was enacted to counter the declining trend of breastfeeding in India. Mina Swaminathan believes that the policy focuses almost exclusively on the welfare of the child and is unfair to women.

Arun Gupta and Jon E Rohde, in a 1993 article, calculate the economic value of lactation by Indian mothers. Based on their estimates of the capacity of milk production by lactation, they conclude that a move away from mother’s milk entails “expensive costs” on the mother, the family, the national economy and the environment.

Swaminathan replies to Gupta and Rohde, writing that the authors do not take maternal nutrition into account when calculating milk production capacity. Rama Narayanan raises similar doubts over the calculations made by Gupta and Rohde, stressing that the output values do not take into consideration the “nutritional cost” to the lactating mother.

Shanti Ghosh notes that under similar circumstances, undernourished and well-nourished mothers produced the same amount of milk. Replying to Gupta and Rohde, Ghosh also contends that breastfeeding has multiple benefits and thinking in economic terms “reduces the mother to a good milk-yielding cow.”


A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Breast-Feeding: Collage of Danger Signals, Vimal Balasubrahmanyan, 1984
  2. Child Care Services in Tamil Nadu, Mina Swaminathan, 1991
  3. Manipulation by Assistance: Undermining Breastfeeding, Arun Gupta, 2008
  4. The Challenge of Breastfeeding Sensitisation, Nikhil Srivastav, 2018
  5. No Room For Breastfeeding Mothers in India, Prerna Dhoop, 2019


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“Breast-feeding and Economics.”


Curated by Anandita Chandra []

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