Personal Finance: Positioning Breastfeeding on Family Balance Sheet

Young beautiful mother, breastfeeding her newborn baby boy at night, dim light. Mom breastfeeding infant

By Sa’idu Sulaiman

This paper argues that most of the benefits of breastfeeding enhance the financial well-being of a child bearing family which is an asset appearing on its balance sheet. It then recommends that gender roles such as breastfeeding and child care need not to be valued in monetary terms only.

There are three types of finance; public finance for government and its institutions, corporate finance for businesses, and personal finance for groups and individuals. As the concern of this paper is personal finance, it is pertinent to define it and mention its scope.

Personal finance refers to the financial decisions which an individual or a group of individuals such as a family must make to plan for a prosperous future. The decisions border on sourcing, investing, spending money as well as budgeting. These constitute the scope of personal finance. Sourcing money for personal use may involve savings from wages and salaries, taking loans, obtaining financial assistance from relatives, friends, charities, etc. The sourced funds can be invested in several ways such as personal development through pursuit of education, enhancement of a healthy living among family members, venturing into farming, horticulture, etc. Spending money would involve expenditure on food, shelter, and on means of transport and entertainment facilities for one’s family, among others. Personal budget entails forecast about the income that would be received by an individual or a family and the expenditures to be made in a specified period, which can be a week, a month or a year.

Family finance, which could be another name for personal finance, covers all income, expenses, and financial accounts related to the maintenance and upkeep of an entire family household. Its scope covers sources of income to the family which includes wages, investments, savings accounts, trusts, etc, while the expenses include mortgage or lease payments, car payments, utility bills, clothing, education, taxes, grocery bills, retirement plan contributions and other sundry purchases.1

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In the process of making financial decisions, one is expected to take into account various financial risks and future life events that may affect current and projected income level, and plan for them.2 Life events for a family that bear children must include venturing into breastfeeding or resorting to its alternatives. Each choice made has implications for family finance because there are costs and benefits in both short and long run. Put in another way, breastfeeding and its alternatives must appear on the lists of family assets and or liabilities, and subsequently, of family balance sheet.  In corporate finance, the balance sheet is financial statement indicating the position of a company’s assets acquired by using its capital and liabilities as at a given date in its life.

This paper aims to shed light on where to put breastfeeding on the balance sheet of a child-bearing family. Doing this is an attempt to provide an answer to the question “is breastfeeding an asset or liability to a child-bearing family?”

 

Benefits of Breastfeeding

A document provided by the World Health Organization says breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. Exclusive breastfeeding, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, is feeding of infants with breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water, during the first six months of their lives. Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infants need for the first months of life, and continues to meet half more of their nutritional needs during the second half of their first year. During the second year of infants’ life, one-third of their nutritional needs come from breast milk. The document further reveals that breast milk promotes infant’s sensory and cognitive development, and protects it against infectious and chronic diseases. The advantages of exclusive breastfeeding include reducing infant mortality caused by diseases such as diarrhea or pneumonia, and facilitating quicker recovery during illness. For mothers, breastfeeding contributes to their health and well-being and reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Other benefits of breastfeeding are that it helps to space children, increases family and national resources, etc.3 Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for a baby, lasting right into adulthood. Breastfeeding reduces baby’s risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood and the longer a mother breastfeeds her baby, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits. Breastfeeding lowers the mother’s risk of osteoporosis (weak bones), obesity, etc.4   

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also states that breastfed children have lower rates of childhood cancers, including leukaemia and lymphoma, and are less vulnerable to pneumonia, asthma, allergies, childhood diabetes, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections that affect their hearing. Another benefit of breastfeeding is that it saves money as it eliminates the expense of infant formula and other costs in money, time, energy and sufferings related to illness and death caused by artificial feeding. Most families in developing nations cannot afford the cost of substitutes to breast milk. In Vietnam, for instance, a year’s supply of breast milk substitute costs $257, which is high when compared to the country’s per capita gross national product (GNP) of only $320.5

The advantages of exclusive breastfeeding include reducing infant mortality caused by diseases such as diarrhea or pneumonia, and facilitating quicker recovery during illness.

Motee and Jeewon report that several studies have highlighted innumerable benefits of breastfeeding for infants, for mothers and the society; they include lowered risk of otitis media, gastroenteritis, respiratory illness, sudden infant death syndrome, necrotising enterocolitis, obesity, hypertension in infants; and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression among mothers who breastfeed and their babies. Benefits that accrue to the society that embraces breastfeeding include decrease health care related costs and fewer absences from work.6

 

Disadvantages of Breastfeeding

Every coin has two sides. Breastfeeding has some disadvantages or problems. These include breast engorgement, sore nipples, milk insufficiency, and societal barriers such as employment, length of maternity leave and medical complications such as mastitis and breast abscess.7 Other problems associated with breastfeeding are that it requires an ample time commitment from mothers, especially when babies feed very often, it brings discomfort to mothers at the initial stage, it requires mothers to be aware of what they eat and drink because what they consume can be passed on to their babies through the breast milk. Lastly, medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS and consumptions of certain medicines can make breastfeeding unsafe. Although experts believe that breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants, breastfeeding may not be possible for all women; as such the decision by certain mothers to breastfeed or to resort to alternatives to breastfeeding can depend on their lifestyle, conformability and medical situations.8

Most of what that has been said about the benefits and disadvantages of breastfeeding have financial implication for family finance, and therefore, can be used as basis for regarding breastfeeding practice among child-bearing families either an asset or a liability. The fact that the breastmilk becomes freely available when a child is born means that it is a blessing and gift from God. A blessing cannot at the same time be a liability, in fact the liability comes when a couple has to be buying cow milk or infant formula for their baby for several months when its mother dies or is incapable of breasting the baby due to certain illnesses.

On account of being a money-saving practice, breastfeeding enhances the financial condition of the families that embrace the practice because they do not have to spend money on infant formula and other substitutes to breast milk.

 

Positioning of Breastfeeding on the Balance Sheet of a Child-bearing Family

On account of being a money-saving practice, breastfeeding enhances the financial condition of the families that embrace the practice because they do not have to spend money on infant formula and other substitutes to breast milk. On account of its power in reducing risks of contracting diseases by babies and their mothers, breastfeeding reduces family spending on medical services and medications. In addition, a healthy family can also be a wealthy family because an improved health condition of a family or a community forms part of its human capital. The micro evidences from a study by Hoyt Bleakley also show that childhood health is an input in producing other forms of human capital.9  One can, therefore, justify the positioning of breastfeeding practice by a child-bearing family or couple on the same place with other assets appearing on its balance sheet.

As for the mentioned disadvantages or problems of breastfeeding, it needs to be stated that every human undertaking that brings income or other benefits also entails some problems. Working in a bank, for instance, has its own disadvantages which differ from the problems of going into farming or joining military service. Moreover, every chosen action has an opportunity cost. When an individual chooses to incur a given cost from available alternatives, the Ricardian principle of comparative cost advantage should be observed.10 This principle is applicable to gender roles in a family. A child-bearing family should, for example, compare costs associated with abstaining from breastfeeding because of the office work done by a mother with the cost of employing another person to do the work. Firms employing women should also compare the options of allowing mothers to go on long vacation (at least six months for exclusive breastfeeding) or of employed men who, by their nature, are not fit for breastfeeding of babies. Gender differences are real and they greatly determine gender roles. Despite being a woman academic and philosopher, Helena Cronic debunks the notion that gender differences are merely social constructs, saying:

Men and women look unalike, walk unalike, talk unalike. They differ on who is more competitive, single minded and risk taking; who is more likely to climb Everest, drive too fast, become President of the United States, commit murder, or win a Nobel prize… 11

These and similar differences, she adds, transcend religion, culture, politics, education, social class and ethnicity. They are universal.

In conclusion, it suffices to say that most of the benefits of breastfeeding enhance the financial wellbeing of a child-bearing family, and therefore, constitute an asset that can be added to the family balance sheet. So, there is the need for the continuous enlightenment of people getting married on the benefits of breastfeeding to supplement the activities of the annual World Breastfeeding Week observed in the month of August of every year. Gender roles should be assigned to male and female members of families in line with their biological characteristics, approved values and cultural norms with a view of enhancing their health status and financial position. Finally, individuals, governments and organisations should value the contributions made by women to societal development through breastfeeding, child care and other domestic services, in their own right, instead of attacking value to monetary rewards attached to paid jobs done by women. 

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About the Author

Sa’idu Sulaiman is a Chief Lecturer of Economics at the Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education, Kano, Nigeria. He is also an author of books such as 12 Facts about Protectionism and the Global Economy, 9 Requirements for Quality Research and Academic Papers, Unforgettable Experiences in Abuja, Manchester and London, and two recent novels, The Desperate Migrant and What Matters Most.

References

1.“Family Finance”, retrieved on August 27, 2017 from http://www.investorwords.com/19074/family_finances.html

2.Refer to “What is Finance? Meaning, Definition and Features of Finance”, retrieved on August 27, 2017 from http://www.technofunc.com/index.php/domain-knowledge/finance-domain/item/what-is-finance-meaning-definition-features-of-finance

3.WHO (2017). Exclusive Breastfeeding, retrieved on August 27, 2017 from http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/

4.“Benefits of breastfeeding” (reviewed on 28/02/2017) retrieved on August 27, 2017 from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/benefits-breastfeeding.aspx 

5.For details, refer to the UNICEF’s brochure entitled Breastfeeding: Foundation For a Healthy Future. Retrieved on August 28, 2017 from https://www.unicef.org › pub_brochure_en     

6.Motee A, Jeewon R. “Importance of Exclusive Breastfeeding and Complementary Feeding among Infants”. Curr Res Nutr Food Sci 2014;2(2). Available from  http://www.foodandnutritionjournal.org/?p=814 doi : http://dx.doi.org/10.12944/CRNFSJ.2.2.02

7.ibid.

8.See  the article “Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding” reviewed in February 2015 by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD. The Nemours Foundation. Retrieved on August 28, 2017 from http://m.kidshealth.org/en/parents/breast-bottle-feeding.html?WT.ac=

9. See Bleakly, Hoyt (2010).  “Health, Human Capital and Development” Annual Review of Economics, 2010;283-310.  Doi: 10.1146/annurev.economics.102308.124436. Retrieved on August 30, 2017 from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3800109/

10.David Ricardo, a renowned British economist, argues that there would be gains from trade if each nation specializes in the production of the commodity in which it has a comparative cost advantage in producing and then buys the other commodity from the other nation. 

11.For details refer to Cronin, Helena (2006). “Darwinian Insights into Sex and Gender”, Microsoft Encarta 2006. Microsoft Corporation.