Monday, April 5, 2010

Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding

AP just released a story that is all over the news today about a recent study that found that breastfeeding saves lives and saves money.
Study: Lack of breastfeeding costs lives, billions of dollars:
If most new moms would breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, it would save nearly 1,000 lives and billions of dollars each year, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
"The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations," the report said.
Why? Because there are a multitude of costly illnesses and deaths that can be prevented by breastfeeding, such as stomach viruses, ear infectionsasthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and even childhood leukemia.  Furthermore, "breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infections; it also can affect insulin levels in the blood, which may make breast-fed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity."
The World Health Organization says infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life "to achieve optimal growth, development and health." The WHO is not alone in its recommendations.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all agree that breast milk alone is sufficient for newborns and infants until they are 6 months old.  
However, a 2009 breastfeeding report card from the CDC found that only 74 percent of women start breastfeeding, only 33 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at three months and only 14 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
A widely cited 2001 government report that said $3.6 billion could be saved each year if 50 percent of mothers breast-fed their babies for six months.

Economic Pros of Breastfeeding:

  • Money saved by not buying formula
  • Decreased healthcare costs for the baby
  • Decreased healthcare costs for the mother
  • Fewer work days lost to care for sick children or to tend to mother’s health
  • Lower costs for government agencies and not-for-profit organizations that provide formula to low income mothers    (thanks to phdinparenting who wrote a great post on this)

I like that the article notes that we shouldn't be blaming mothers for low rates of breastfeeding, and points out that the biggest priority should be to IMPROVE MATERNITY CARE. 
Hospital staff does not know enough and does not do enough to encourage initial breastfeeding. 

Moms also need to be better educated about the importance of breastfeeding and they need adequate support after they leave the hospital in case they run into problems because the newborn isn't properly latching on and therefore not getting enough food.
"...if a new mom is struggling with breastfeeding, she may end up in a situation where "grandmother suggests to stop the silliness and give formula instead." 

More after the jump. Click Read More! 

Very little money is currently being spent by Congress on a coordinated approach to remove the breastfeeding “booby traps” –the cultural, social, and institutional barriers that keep the 86% of  expecting mothers that say they WANT to breastfeed from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals. The AAP, ACOG and others have already asked Congress for breastfeeding infrastructure budget of $15 million to raise breastfeeding rates.  That is less than 1% of what could be saved!   Surely $15 million would be a worthy investment to save 900 lives and billions in medical costs?   Even 100 times that, at $1.5 billion, seems like a good deal.   $1.5 billion is still only about half what the formula industry spends annually on marketing and advertising. (BestforBabes - Get your Facts Straight)

Best for Babes responds to a quote from ABC News on this topic:

“Although breastfeeding is absolutely ideal, for the mothers who cannot and choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is what’s recommended,” [says Dr. Lillian Beard, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine].  ”I don’t want to beat her over the head with guilt. I let her know that infant formula is the safest, most nutritious and only recommended alternative to her milk.”
1. Breastfeeding is not “ideal,” it is as normal as learning to walk and in the same way includes a learning curve and requires time, patience and lots of support.   Painting breastfeeding as an “ideal” is a ”booby-trap” because most parents, and most people, really, find striving for an ideal to be impossible.  Personally, I am just getting by as a parent by the seat of my pants and doing the best job I can; if I had to attain an “ideal” I would have jumped out the window long ago.  
2.  Infant formula is NOT the only recommended alternative, in fact it is in last place among recommended alternatives.   Expressed breastmilk from the mother is first in line, and donated, screened, pasteurized human milk from a registered milk bank is recommended above infant formula, which should only be used as a last resort according to the World Health Organization.  
3.  Women who can not breastfeeding should not be stigmatized; they should have access to donor milk.   However, far too many women are being “booby-trapped” by doctors like Dr. Beard, who portray breastfeeding as an ”ideal” instead of inpiring, preparing and empowering mothers to succeed.  Great doctors neither guilt nor undermine their patients; they inspire them with confidence, and cheer them on much as a good coach, or at least refer them to an excellent lactation counselor.  Furthermore, too many moms are  duped into believing they can’t breastfeed by poorly trained hospital staff, by hospitals operating with conflicting agendas because they receive millions of dollars in funding from the formula industry.  

How breastfeeding improves health and therefore results in $$ savings for all (more from phdinparenting):

  • In 2001, the USDA concluded that if breastfeeding rates were increased to 75 percent at birth and 50 percent at six months, it would lead to a national government savings of a minimum of $3.6 billion (and this only considered a few of the health benefits of breastfeeding, not all of them).
  • The AAP says each formula-fed infant costs the healthcare system between $331 and $475 more than a breastfed baby in its first year of life. The cost of treating respiratory viruses resulting from not breastfeeding is $225 million a year.
  • Health benefits for the nursing mother include a reduction in risk of many cancers and other serious diseases, during and after lactation. The National Cancer Institute reported the national expenditure on breast cancer treatment in 2004 was $8.1 billion, meaning extended nursing could save upwards of $4 billion a year
  • There would be a drastic reduction in required treatment for type 2 diabetes for women that breastfed. Currently, the cost of their treatment and lost wages is roughly $78 billion a year.
  • For WIC, supporting a breastfeeding mother costs about 45 percent less than a formula-feeding mother. Every year, $578 million in federal funds buys formula for babies who could be breastfeeding. 
  • For employers, there is a cost due to formula feeding moms taking more days off to care for sick children, resulting in decreased productivity.

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