Study: Breastfeeding support could save money, lives

Out of all the contentious topics to discuss on the internet, breast vs. bottle feeding probably ranks in the top five most volatile.

Part of the controversy stems from the intensely personal nature of the debate, and those on either side will easily become offended when their method of infant feeding is attacked. But a new study in published in the medical journal Pediatrics indicates that higher rates of breastfeeding could save $13 billion in related costs and 911 lives a year:

The study authors compared the costs of 10 childhood diseases at current breastfeeding rates and the projected costs of those diseases if 90% of U.S. women complied with the recommendations. The costs included medical care and as well as indirect costs, such as missed time from work. The majority of the deaths linked to failure to breastfeed involve Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the authors said, as well as complications among premature babies.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, an author of the study and instructor at Harvard Medical School, is quick to point out that mothers aren’t always the determining factor in the decision to continue on with breastfeeding. Lack of maternal support is a large factor, too:

“People shouldn’t blame mothers because they are often not supported well, even from the moment their babies are born,” said Dr. Melissa Bartick, the lead author of the study and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, in a news release.

Several medical associations recently recommended that Congress pledge $15 million dollars to promote breastfeeding awareness. Poor societal acceptance of the practice and lack of workplace and cultural support contribute to low breastfeeding rates in the US, as well as the aggressive marketing of infant formula. Statistics bear out the difficulties new mothers face in successfully nursing a child for the first year of life:

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. mothers start to breast-feed, but only 32 percent breast-feed exclusively at three months, and that drops to 12 percent by six months. At one year, only 22 percent of mothers are doing any breast-feeding, the study authors noted.

The medical recommendation is to breast-feed exclusively for six months with some breast-feeding for at least the first year of life.

Dr. Alan Fleischman, the Medical Director for the March of Dimes, did not contribute to the study but commented to CNN about the effects of a less than supportive atmosphere for a new mother who attempts breastfeeding:

Dr. Fleischman, who did not work on this study, says if a new mom is struggling with breastfeeding, she may end up in a situation where “grandmother suggests to stop the silliness and give formula instead.”

He believes the mothers and grandmothers of new moms also need to be educated about the benefits of breastfeeding because for their generations, feeding their babies formula was the norm.