Current breastfeeding rates in US are suboptimal, much below the desired level. Consequently millions of dollars are spent combating a variety of diseases, new research shows.
A 2001 study revealed that $3.6 billion could be saved if breastfeeding rates were increased to levels of the Healthy People objectives. It had studied 3 diseases and totaled direct and indirect costs and cost of premature death. Since 1979, Healthy People, a federal government initiative, has set and monitored national health objectives to meet a broad range of health needs, encourage collaboration across sectors, guide individuals toward making informed health decisions, and measure the impact of our prevention activity. The objectives target breastfeeding by 75 per cent of mothers in the postpartum period and at least 50 per cent at six months.
Researchers Melissa Bartick of the Department of Medicine, Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, Boston and Arnold Reinhold of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, Boston, have sought to update the 2001 study by using current breastfeeding rates and adding additional diseases analyzed in the 2007 breastfeeding report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Using methods similar to those in the 2001 study, they computed current costs and compared them to the projected costs if 80% and 90% of US families could comply with the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. Excluding type 2 diabetes (because of insufficient data), they conducted a cost analysis for all pediatric diseases for which the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported risk ratios that favored breastfeeding: necrotizing enterocolitis, otitis media, gastroenteritis, hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood asthma, childhood leukemia, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and childhood obesity. We used 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breastfeeding rates and 2007 dollars."
The duo reported in Pediatrics, "If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance).
"Current US breastfeeding rates are suboptimal and result in significant excess costs and preventable infant deaths. Investment in strategies to promote longer breastfeeding duration and exclusivity may be cost-effective."