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.