The Positive Economic Impact of Breastfeeding
A new cost analysis published in the journal Pediatrics has found that if 90% of women in the United States would breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, billions of dollars could be saved in healthcare costs each year. And even better – so will the lives of about 911 babies.
Current estimates suggest that about 43% of US mothers breastfeed at least part-time during the first six months, but only 12% do so exclusively – meaning no other nutritional source, including water, infant food, juice, formula, cow’s milk (not recommended until after the age of 1 anyway) or “sugar water”.
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School analyzed the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also evaluated the costs of treating those diseases and the level of disease protection that other studies have linked to the practice of breastfeeding. The findings all suggest that hundreds of deaths and many more costly illnesses each year would be prevented, including stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and possibly childhood leukemia.
If 90% of all American mothers chose to breastfeed exclusively in the first six months, the study estimates that $13 billion per year can be saved. The costs include both direct and indirect costs of medical care for those afflicted and costs of missed time away from work for the mother. The estimation also includes a calculation that estimates lost potential lifetime wages of $10.56 million per death of each Sudden Infant Death Syndrome child.
Broken down, 90% compliance with exclusive breastfeeding could save $4.7 billion and 447 excess deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome and $2.6 billion and 249 excess deaths related to necrotizing enterocolitis. The painful childhood conditions of otitis media (ear infections) and atopic dermatitis (eczema) may also be avoided, saving $908 million and $601 million respectively. It is also one of the primary methods recommended early to prevent childhood obesity, which may save $592 million each year.
Of course, this is just an estimate and the overall “savings” could be much more. Few of the estimates were based on exclusive breastfeeding for six months and most erred on the conservative side. The studies also did not take into account Mom’s benefits and potential health care savings from the practice of breastfeeding, including her own ability to lose pregnancy weight and avoid type 2 diabetes.
A recent Australian study from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Medicine found that women who do not breastfeed at all after childbirth had a 50% increased risk of diabetes.
“The magnitude of health benefits linked to breastfeeding is vastly underappreciated,” said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick.
One of the more positive motions put forth in the new health care reform package recently signed into law by President Obama is that large employers would be required to provide private places for working mothers to pump breast milk.
In addition, the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals across the country, enacted a provision which began April 1st to evaluate hospitals on their efforts to ensure that newborns of women who choose to breastfeed are fed only breast milk before they are sent home. Hospitals often offer to formula-feed newborns even to mothers who have chosen to breastfeed in an effort to help the mother rest and recover after the delivery.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other medical associations, recently urged Congress to appropriate $15 million per year to support breastfeeding in the United States.
Bartick M, Reinhold A "The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis" Pediatrics 2010; 125: e1048–e1056.