A recent new study, aiming to quantify the excess cases of pediatric and maternal disease, death, and costs attributable to suboptimal breastfeeding rates in the United States concluded that breastfeeding has a larger impact on women’s health than previously appreciated.
According to the study, published online in Maternal & Child Nutrition, breastfeeding as recommended (for a total of one year and exclusively for six months) could protect babies and moms from premature death, serious diseases and save the U.S. more than $4.3 billion in health care and related costs.
In the study, researchers created Monte Carlo simulations modeling two groups of women and their children. One group consisted of a majority of mothers who breastfed as recommended. The second group consisted of mothers who breastfed at current US rates, which are less than the recommended guidelines.
Researchers compared these groups using existing research and government data and projected the rates and costs of diseases that breastfeeding is known to reduce, along with the rates and costs of early deaths from those diseases.
The following children’s diseases were evaluated with their associations to breastfeeding compared with formula feeding, as well as projected cost associations:
- acute lymphoblastic leukemia
- ear infections
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- gastrointestinal infections
- lower respiratory tract infections
- necrotizing enterocolitis
The study also evaluated the following maternal diseases with their disease risk associations to breastfeeding and projected cost associations:
- breast cancer
- pre-menopausal ovarian cancer
- heart attacks
Here’s what researchers found:
- 3,340 yearly deaths (maternal and pediatric) were attributable to suboptimal breastfeeding in the U.S.
- Medical costs for this lower rate of breastfeeding is $3 billion, 79% of which is maternal.
- For every 597 women who optimally breastfeed, one maternal or child death is prevented.
Study authors said their findings underscore the importance of providing women with the support they need to breastfeed their babies, beginning at birth.
“Breastfeeding is far more beneficial in preventing disease and reducing costs than previously estimated…The results should compel all hospitals to develop programs aimed at helping new moms learn to breastfeed their babies.”, said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance.
Here’s what Dr. Bartick and others recommend:
- Women’s healthcare providers should make lactation support and management an integral part of preventive healthcare for women.
- Increased investment in public health programs and social policies that will enable more women to breastfeed optimally may be cost-effective.
- Policies to increase optimal breastfeeding could result in substantial public health gains.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Magaña