The report, which will form the basis of a new statewide breastfeeding policy, lists the health, environmental and economic benefits of breastfeeding. It recommends mothers feed infants only breast milk to the age of six months, and promotes partial breastfeeding until 12 months, one year less than World Health Organisation guidelines.
"Looking at the economics helps support the argument of why we need to encourage and support (breastfeeding)," said Liz Develin, manager of nutrition and physical activity at NSW Health. "It's incredibly expensive to feed babies formula. Then there's the cost of healthcare services that breastfeeding prevents."
Breastfeeding has been proven to protect against illnesses, from ear infections to diabetes and obesity, she said. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain cancers and the long-term risk of hip fractures.
The breastfeeding report relies on economic analyses by Australian National University-based Dr Julie Smith, who calculated Australian mothers produce about 34 million litres of breast milk a year. The milk was then costed based on its market value in "milk banks" in Europe.
Dr Smith estimates the "capital stock value" - the entire present and future worth - of breastfeeding to be $37 billion. If Australian women breastfed according to WHO standards, that value would increase to $100 billion, Dr Smith said.
"Economics is about the efficient use of resources," she said. "At the moment we're wasting resources on producing (formula) milk, and on pediatricians looking after babies made sick by not being breastfed."
Dr Smith said the economic evaluation was a way of demonstrating mothers' work mattered. "We all recognise that breastfeeding is about more than the milk, it's about the transfer of love. But that language doesn't speak to some people."