Public health benefits of breastfeeding

Breast FeedingKimberly Barbas, BSN, RN, IBCLC, is a lactation specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston’s  Lactation Support Program.

How much does breastfeeding cost? How much money can be saved? In today’s health reform climate, it’s always about the bottom line. So for those of us who have for years championed breastfeeding as one of the best choices moms can make for the health of their children, a new study by Dr. Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold in this week’s journal Pediatrics provides the financial data to support the choice to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of a child’s life.

The researchers did an analysis of the prevalence and cost of treating 10 common childhood illnesses and found that short duration or lack of breastfeeding in the United States is contributing to $13 billion per year in health care costs. Those are the numbers, here are the facts: The study- which captured the attention of CNN and the L.A. Times–  also showed that if 90 percent of women in this country followed the medical recommendations supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other professional organizations to exclusively breastfeed for six months, more than 900 childhood deaths, 95 percent of them infants, could be prevented every year. Lactation consultants have been sharing the evidence in support of breastfeeding with families for years, but this research proves what we have always known: Breastfeeding is a healthier choice. And from a financial perspective, it saves health care dollars, while lack of breastfeeding costs money.

When educated about making optimal health care decisions for their child and the facts about the difference between breast milk and infant formula, most families will choose to breastfeed.

The timing of Dr. Bartick’s article is perfect. First Lady Michelle Obama recently launched the Let’s Move Campaign with the aim of eliminating childhood obesity in a generation – and breastfeeding is the first step. A former breastfeeding mother, the First Lady is in an excellent position to influence the feeding decisions of new mothers. National health care reform includes provisions for workplace support to breastfeeding mothers, to help them continue to provide their own milk to their infants after returning to employment outside the home.

In addition, the United States Healthy People objectives for 2020 will likely include goals for “exclusivity” of breastmilk feeding through three months and six months because of this research.

The International Lactation Consultant Association has been saying for 25 years that breastfeeding is the best choice mothers can make for the health of their babies – and today we have the scientific and financial data to support our recommendations. It’s time for health care providers and national policy makers to support programs that aim to help mothers reach this breastfeeding goal.

9 thoughts on “Public health benefits of breastfeeding

  1. When I chose to breastfeed my 1st child 12 1/2 years ago, the response I got from most people was “what are you crazy?” I couldn’t believe it! My response was “no, this is the best choice for my child.” When I found out I was pregnant I knew right away I would nurse, I think something in me told me this is the thing to do! I did so for 1 1/2 years, to proceed to have 3 more children all of whom I breastfed for 1 1/2 years with the exception of my 10 month old who I am still nursing and she was also a preemie! I was glad to see that breastfeeding, although it has come along way since my 12 year old, is still not considered the standard thing to do. When I had my 3rd child, the hospital that I was in tried so hard to convince me that breastfeeding really shouldn’t be an option for many reasons and that I should bottle feed and get some rest. I was disgusted and filed a complaint! What if I was a first time mother and listened to these “professionals?” I would have chose to NOT nurse any of my children, and I believe that would have been a big mistake! I’m sure I not the only woman in a maternity ward who received that speech, its sad! Ironically, my 3rd child weighed in at 5lbs. 9 oz. and had some bilirubin issues and they told me he wouldn’t be leaving the hospital until his counts went down and unless I gave him formula they couldn’t monitor his intake and he would have to stay in the hospital! I continued to nurse and asked them to bring me a pump then, I was told they had none in the hospital and I would have to rent one(for my hospital stay)! Which I didn’t! Not only did he come home when I did, but he didn’t lose an ounce of his birth weight! I just think if we as mothers have the option to nurse, why wouldn’t we, it is the only nurishment designed for just “our” babies and I do believe it is the healthiest choice! Most maternity wards have come along way but not far enough! I am glad this is a true finding, so HOORAY for all of us moms who chose to nurse and for those new mommys’ who will! By the way, my daughter(our preemie) was in Tufts Floating Hospital in Boston and not only did they encourage my breastfeeding option, they “supported” my decision as well! Thanks Children’s Hospital and Tufts Floating for everything you do!

  2. When I chose to breastfeed my 1st child 12 1/2 years ago, the response I got from most people was “what are you crazy?” I couldn't believe it! My response was “no, this is the best choice for my child.” When I found out I was pregnant I knew right away I would nurse, I think something in me told me this is the thing to do! I did so for 1 1/2 years, to proceed to have 3 more children all of whom I breastfed for 1 1/2 years with the exception of my 10 month old who I am still nursing and she was also a preemie! I was glad to see that breastfeeding, although it has come along way since my 12 year old, is still not considered the standard thing to do. When I had my 3rd child, the hospital that I was in tried so hard to convince me that breastfeeding really shouldn't be an option for many reasons and that I should bottle feed and get some rest. I was disgusted and filed a complaint! What if I was a first time mother and listened to these “professionals?” I would have chose to NOT nurse any of my children, and I believe that would have been a big mistake! I'm sure I not the only woman in a maternity ward who received that speech, its sad! Ironically, my 3rd child weighed in at 5lbs. 9 oz. and had some bilirubin issues and they told me he wouldn't be leaving the hospital until his counts went down and unless I gave him formula they couldn't monitor his intake and he would have to stay in the hospital! I continued to nurse and asked them to bring me a pump then, I was told they had none in the hospital and I would have to rent one(for my hospital stay)! Which I didn't! Not only did he come home when I did, but he didn't lose an ounce of his birth weight! I just think if we as mothers have the option to nurse, why wouldn't we, it is the only nurishment designed for just “our” babies and I do believe it is the healthiest choice! Most maternity wards have come along way but not far enough! I am glad this is a true finding, so HOORAY for all of us moms who chose to nurse and for those new mommys' who will! By the way, my daughter(our preemie) was in Tufts Floating Hospital in Boston and not only did they encourage my breastfeeding option, they “supported” my decision as well! Thanks Children's Hospital and Tufts Floating for everything you do!

  3. I really hope this article helps mothers choose to breast feed!!It really is the best for your baby,costs nothing & as a bonus it helps you get rid of that post pregnancy weight!!!!

  4. I really hope this article helps mothers choose to breast feed!!It really is the best for your baby,costs nothing & as a bonus it helps you get rid of that post pregnancy weight!!!!

  5. I completely understand the benefits, both health and monetary, of breastfeeding. But there has been very little talk about the fact that there have been recent studies showing that the health benefits of breastmilk come not from the milk itself, but from the physical contact the mother has with her infant. If you just pump the milk into a bottle, the milk essentially loses all of its health benefits because then the baby isn’t get that close bonding time with Mom. And there are indeed individually-tailored nutrients in breast milk, but they are not invincible: the nutrients deteriorate the longer they are out of the mother’s body. Pumped breastmilk is not equivalent to “fresh” breastmilk.

    Personally I feel that there is an increasing trend that looks at mothers who bottle feed as somehow deficient or unaware of how to best care for their child. There ARE costs associated with breastfeeding, they are just not immediately apparent: mothers experience increased fatigue, stress, and anxiety because they always have to be “on call” for their baby; parents cannot share the responsibilities of feeding equally since it all depends on the mother; blocked mammary glands (a common problem) result in astonishing pain for the mother; and mothers always have to plan ahead in terms of pumping if they are going to be away from their baby for even just a couple days.

    As a Children’s employee, I’m glad that the hospital so strongly supports working mothers with its lactation program, because I think that without such support breastfeeding can be unfair to working moms. My mother bottle fed me, and I turned out perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, intelligent, and well-rounded. No matter what women choose to do, I firmly believe that they have the best interests of their babies at heart. And no one should be judged negatively for that.

  6. I completely understand the benefits, both health and monetary, of breastfeeding. But there has been very little talk about the fact that there have been recent studies showing that the health benefits of breastmilk come not from the milk itself, but from the physical contact the mother has with her infant. If you just pump the milk into a bottle, the milk essentially loses all of its health benefits because then the baby isn't get that close bonding time with Mom. And there are indeed individually-tailored nutrients in breast milk, but they are not invincible: the nutrients deteriorate the longer they are out of the mother's body. Pumped breastmilk is not equivalent to “fresh” breastmilk.

    Personally I feel that there is an increasing trend that looks at mothers who bottle feed as somehow deficient or unaware of how to best care for their child. There ARE costs associated with breastfeeding, they are just not immediately apparent: mothers experience increased fatigue, stress, and anxiety because they always have to be “on call” for their baby; parents cannot share the responsibilities of feeding equally since it all depends on the mother; blocked mammary glands (a common problem) result in astonishing pain for the mother; and mothers always have to plan ahead in terms of pumping if they are going to be away from their baby for even just a couple days.

    As a Children's employee, I'm glad that the hospital so strongly supports working mothers with its lactation program, because I think that without such support breastfeeding can be unfair to working moms. My mother bottle fed me, and I turned out perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, intelligent, and well-rounded. No matter what women choose to do, I firmly believe that they have the best interests of their babies at heart. And no one should be judged negatively for that.

  7. Benefits or not, I have made up my mind to breastfeed from ever since I can remember. The only reason I hesitated is because of my small body frame that gave me that teenage sized breast cup. But after learning everything I need to know about breastfeeding, I knew that I can make it possible. The breastfeeding benefits are just endless. I think the financial benefits just come to me as an added bonus. I’m just glad that the government is supporting breastfeeding mothers. Besides the millions of dollars the government can save from breastfeeding, it is still better to have ourselves a healthy nation. Minnesota Health Insurance

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