A new Harvard analysis has calculated what we could accomplish if 90 percent of babies drank only breast milk for the first six months of life. The starting point for this analysis was a group of ten conditions identified by the lead Federal agency charged with improving the quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of our health care – the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Their data suggest that each of these ten conditions is at least slightly less likely in children who were breast-fed. Right now, only one in eight babies drink only breast milk for the first six months. If we could increase this to nine babies in ten, we would expect to see fewer cases of SIDS, childhood leukemia, type 1 diabetes, necrotizing enterocolitis, hospitalizations for pneumonia or bronchiolitis, childhood obesity, childhood asthma, gastroenteritis, ear infections, and eczema – enough less that we would prevent 911 unnecessary deaths in the US alone each year (more than half of these in babies) and save more than $13 billion each year. Eight babies in ten would still save more than seven hundred lives and more than $10 billion dollars annually.
In other words, we could save an average of $4000 in medical costs for each extra baby where we delay formula to at least six months. To me the take home message of this study is that supporting nursing moms is a wise investment. It’s a smart choice for families, for employers, and for society at large. With health care costs still spiraling out of control, it makes all the more sense to celebrate and support breastfeeding – and to celebrate and support moms and babies whatever feeding choices they make for their family.
Bartick, M. and Reinhold, A. “The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis.” Pediatrics. 2010, (doi:10.1542/peds.2009-1616).