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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: More on “The Allegory of the Breast Pump”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More on “The Allegory of the Breast Pump”

In response to “The Allegory of the Breast Pump” anonymous wrote
The purpose of this legislation is to PROMOTE feeding of our future generation with breast milk. Not an easy task when women are often expected to return to work full-time within few weeks after giving birth.

If you are going to write about the economics of providing breast pumps, without out-of-pocket expenses to a woman, please consider all aspects of this topic. Few points you have not considered:

1. Breast milk is rich in antibodies that protect the baby from infections and are not found in commercial formulas. According to WebMD, "Except for wellness baby visits, ear infections are the most common reason for trips to the pediatrician, accounting for approximately 30 million doctor visits a year in the U.S. Today, almost half of all antibiotic prescriptions written for children are for ear infections, and the cost of treating middle ear infections in the U.S. has been estimated at $2 billion a year."

2. Breast milk has the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help the baby grow appropriately. Something to think about while our nation is struggling with morbid obesity and obesity related health care costs. For example, a bariatric surgery for weight loss, performed on adults and children, ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 per procedure.

3.  For most babies and especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than commercial formula made with cow's milk. Take a look at rising incidences of child and adult allergies and gastrointestinal conditions, that may be prevented.

So, "How much better off are we as a country?" The benefits might take time, the time it takes for these breast-milk-fed children to grow up and become healthy, intelligent and productive members of our society.

I thank anonymous for the polite and informative information provided on breast feeding.  I do not wish to argue the value of breast milk to formula; I concede this point.

I explicitly assumed that Molly and other women were informed about the benefits of breast feeding.  I implicitly assumed that Molly and other women consider their welfare and that of their child as one.  Mothers want the best for their children.

I have two problems with the regulatory mandate.  First, I believe that the price elasticity of breast feeding is very inelastic meaning that a large reduction in price of breast feeding will have a small impact on the number of women who choose to breast feed.  Second, health care costs will explode because the price of the breast pump (health care) is separated from the benefit of breast feeding. 

My assumption that women are informed might be wrong.  If so, an educational campaign might be appropriate.  My assumption that women love their babies and care as much or at least almost as much about their baby’s welfare as their own might be wrong.  Heaven help us if they don’t.  Neither additional education nor small subsidies will have much impact on the number of babies who are breast fed.


  1. Breast-pumps, like light-rail are alike, in how many would be demanded without a government subsidy?

  2. I cant say one of the other and the govermment shouldnt have to provide these things and on top of that how much subsidy can we afford?

  3. I think that the government should not be inclined to provide breast pumps. I actually think its obscured to have such a thought. There are way more things that should be on the list before breast pumps. The amount that is given would be way over subsidy given anyways.

  4. I agree with all of the above statements. We really can't afford this, and why should a subsidy be given for something that isn't necessary? Under normal circumstances, women are very capable of breast feeding without pumps, so I don't see the benefit from this at all.

  5. Maybe I am misunderstanding, but these women are still paying their insurance premiums, correct? Or are we only discussing women using government programs like medicaid, WIC, etc? I read the Allegory of the Breast Pump and the way I understand it is that these women are opting for the more expensive product because they are paying less or nothing out of pocket for them. I do think this would help in terms of women who may not have purchased a breast pump if they had to fork over the entire $300 or even $100.

    From an economic standpoint (by NO means an expert opinion) I can see how this would be leave consumers worse off. Would this affect insurance premiums at all? Would this give them another "reason" to increase premiums, despite reported profits?

  6. Laura Ledford1/9/11 9:27 PM

    I agree that breast pumps are not needed for breast feeding. I do know that as a breast feeding mother of three I never used the free breast pump that I got free. I see alot of them at yard sales never used. I did buy me a battery/electric pump that I used myself. I think the government is not responsible for supplying them.

  7. Melissa Bowles1/9/11 10:58 PM

    I recently had a baby, and while in the hospital, I was pushed to use a breast pump by hospital staff, when it was obviously not needed. I was given an expensive model breast pump that was paid for (I assumed by my insurance company) while at the hospital; however, it was very seldom used. Obviously the benefits of breast feeding are known, but to say that expensive model breast pumps should be just handed out is ridiculous. This is especially true if the increase in women breast feeding their children is minimal. I, apparently like most women, was not more inclined to breast feed because I was given a pump. I feel like this is a very poor allocation of the government’s limited resources. I feel that tax dollars have no business being used on something that has virtually no impact.

  8. I completely understand educate women more to help influence their decision to breast feed rather than using formula milk. However, providing expensive breast pumps in the hospital isn't going to sway their decision one way or another, after all this pump cost nothing for them so why would it? For the women that still choose to formula feed, this breast pump was just a waste of government money that could be better allocated somewhere else. If a woman wants to breast feed, which is more beneficial but entirely up to her, it is also her responsibility to buy the pump, whether it be a cheaper version or the high end models.

  9. Brittney Eskew

    I do not see why the government feels it is necessary to provide breast pumps to women. I personally feel that it is a waste of money. We are told the benefits of breast feeding and most women choose not to do it. I do not believe giving breast pumps will change minds, instead these pumps will be thrown away or into the closet and forgotten about.

  10. I think breast pump is the one time investment. Who doesn't want to make their child healthier and smarter.

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