If 90 percent of U.S. mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until age 6 months, it would save $13 billion per year in health care costs and prevent more than 900 deaths annually, most of which take the lives of infants, according a statistical analysis published in the journal Pediatrics.
A consensus of health organizations recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. Yet a 2009 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 74 percent of mothers breastfeed, and that only about 14 percent — one in seven — exclusively breastfeed at age 6 months.
According to the study, most of the excess health care costs are the result of premature deaths caused by sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections such as pneumonia and a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis. Breastfeeding is known to reduce the risk of all of these conditions and other illnesses tracked in the study.
“By allowing breastfeeding rates to continue at their current levels, rather than implementing supports to help more families follow medically recommended guidelines, the United States incurs billions of dollars in excess costs and hundreds of preventable infant deaths,” say the study’s authors, Melissa Bartick, MD of the Harvard Medical School, and Arnold Reinhold of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics. “Action to improve breastfeeding rates, duration, and exclusivity, including creation of a national infrastructure to support breastfeeding, could be cost-effective.”