The Associated Press reports:
The lives of nearly 900 babies would be saved each year, along with billions of dollars, if 90 percent of U.S. women breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life, a cost analysis says.
The magnitude of health benefits linked to breast-feeding is vastly underappreciated, said lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. Breast-feeding is sometimes considered a lifestyle choice, but Bartick calls it a public health issue.
Among the benefits: breastmilk 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 analysis studied the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses, costs of treating those diseases, including hospitalization, and the level of disease protection other studies have linked with breast-feeding.
The $13 billion in estimated losses due to the low breast-feeding rate includes an economists' calculation partly based on lost potential lifetime wages — $10.56 million per death.
Bartick said there are some encouraging signs. The government's new health care overhaul requires large employers to provide private places for working mothers to pump breast milk. And under a provision enacted April 1 by the Joint Commission, a hospital accrediting agency, hospitals may be evaluated on their efforts to ensure that newborns are fed only breast milk before they're sent home.
The pediatrics academy says babies should be given a chance to start breast-feeding immediately after birth. Bartick said that often doesn't happen, and at many hospitals newborns are offered formula even when their mothers intend to breast-feed.
"Hospital practices need to change to be more in line with evidence-based care," Bartick said. "We really shouldn't be blaming mothers for this."
This study is consistent with a similar study from 2001, which looked at only 3 diseases. Of course, there are many more than 10 diseases and conditions which are affected by breastfeeding, and the study didn't look at maternal disease prevention, so the actual number is likely far higher than this estimate.
The study found the following savings from these medical problems:
- $4.7 billion and 447 excess deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome
- $2.6 billion due to 249 excess deaths from necrotizing enterocolitis
- $1.8 billion due to 172 excess deaths from lower respiratory tract infections
- $908 million due to otitis media
- $601 million due to atopic dermatitis
- $592 million due to childhood obesity
One of the experts quoted in the article is Dr. Lillian Beard is, according to Marsha Walker, a medical advisor and consultant to the International Formula Council, and also answers questions on the Nestle/Gerber website.
Funny that this wasn't mentioned in the ABC article, isn't it? CBS News had a far better report.