Nursing by Numbers: How Breastfeeding Boosts the National Economy
By Olivia Campbell
Web Exclusive, April 2009
Forget about retail therapy, breastfeeding is an economic stimulator that’s completely free. According to USDA research, infant formula-feeding exacts a toll on national pocketbooks.
“Breastfeeding and the provision of breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months? promises the United States improved health of both its citizens and its economy,” the US Breastfeeding Committee said in response to the USDA report.
Most people understand how nursing benefits baby’s health and parent’s finances, yet few people realize the extent to which breastfeeding benefits the mother’s health and how this all spells savings for the entire nation.
In 2001, the USDA concluded that if breastfeeding rates were increased to 75 percent at birth and 50 percent at six months, it would lead to a national government savings of a minimum of $3.6 billion. This amount was easily an underestimation since it represents savings in the treatment of only three of the dozens of illnesses proven to be decreased by breastfeeding: ear infections, gastroenteritis, and necrotizing enterocolitis.
“Choosing to give your baby formula results in an increased risk for ear infections, for diabetes, for leukemia and so on. We as a nation need to understand that it is not that breastfeeding lowers the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but that choosing to feed an infant formula increases his risk of sudden infant death syndrome,” said Stacy Kucharczk, a certified lactation consultant and pediatric nurse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008 breastfeeding report card found that since 2000, breastfeeding of newborns has increased from 64 to 74 percent, and from 29 to 43 percent at six months. However, at one year, only 21 percent of babies continue to be breastfed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for at least one year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years.
The AAP says each formula-fed infant costs the healthcare system between $331 and $475 more than a breastfed baby in its first year of life. The cost of treating respiratory viruses resulting from not breastfeeding is $225 million a year.
“Insurance companies should realize that covering a home visit by a board certified lactation consultant would result in significant healthcare savings down the road,” said Kucharczk. “Savings in the short-term for decreased pediatric health care visits for common acute illnesses, such as ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, and upper respiratory infections to name a few. Savings in the long-term from lower rates of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma, certain types of childhood cancers, and obesity—as well as lower rates of premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancers in the mother.”
Health benefits for the nursing mother include a reduction in risk of many cancers and other serious diseases, during and after lactation. The key to achieving the maximum benefit to the baby, mother, and the economy appears to be extended breastfeeding, which is nursing for more than just six months or one year.
“We need to help mothers understand that extended breastfeeding does matter,” Kucharczk said. “I often point out to mothers that the studies demonstrating the benefits of breastfeeding often show a dose-related effect, as in some breastmilk is good, but more is better.”
Lactation duration and breast cancer risk are inversely related. The longer a woman breastfeeds the less likely she is to get pre- or postmenopausal breast cancer, even with a family history of the disease.
Re-examination of data from 47 international studies found that for every year a woman breastfeeds, she reduces her risk of breast cancer by an average of 4.3 percent. The risk is reduced a further 7 percent by simply having a baby.
For example, if you had three children and nursed them each for two years, your risk for breast cancer would be reduced by 46.8 percent. In fact, one study found that women who’ve nursed for six years or more reduced their risk of breast cancer by as much as a 63 percent.
The multi-study report estimated that breast cancer rates could be cut by more than half if women increased their lifetime breastfeeding duration. The National Cancer Institute reported the national expenditure on breast cancer treatment in 2004 was $8.1 billion, meaning extended nursing could save upwards of $4 billion a year.
For each year of breastfeeding, a woman decreases her chances of getting type 2 diabetes by 15 percent, reported a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005. So if we consider the woman from the aforementioned example, in her six years of breastfeeding she’s earned a 90 percent reduction in her risk of developing diabetes.
The National Institute of Health estimates that between 10 and 11 million American women have type 2 diabetes. The estimated cost of their treatment and lost wages is roughly $78 billion a year. This expenditure could be cut drastically by increased extended nursing rates.
For the national Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), supporting a breastfeeding mother costs about 45 percent less than a formula-feeding mother. Every year, $578 million in federal funds buys formula for babies who could be breastfeeding.
A year of purchasing formula can cost a family between $700 and more than $3,000. Many women who go back to work soon after giving birth might think the expense of formula is worth the convenience. The extra medical issues of formula, for mother and child, make the cost more than monetary.
For employers, formula-feeding results in more health claims, more days off for sick children, and decreased productivity. It benefits employers in the long run to provide a time and place for mothers to pump breastmilk. A few minutes off the clock is more than made up for by the lifetime of health enjoyed by nursing babies and mommies.
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United States Breastfeeding Committee, “Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding,” United States Breastfeeding Committee. (2002): 1-2.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Breastfeeding Report Card—United States, 2008,” Department of Health and Human Services. (August 2008): 1-4.
World Health Organization, “The World Health Organization’s Infant Feeding Recommendation,” Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (A55/15, paragraph 10): www.who.int/nutrition/topics/infantfeeding_recommendation/en/index.html.
Thomas M. Ball, Anne L. Wright, “Health Care Costs of Formula-feeding in the First Year of Life,” Pediatrics 103, (4 April 1999): 870-876.
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Alison M. Stuebe, Janet W. Rich-Edwards, Walter C. Willett, JoAnn E. Manson, Karin B. Michels, “Duration of Lactation and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes,” The Journal of the American Medical Association 294, 20. (23/30 2005 November): 2601-2610.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, “National Diabetes Statistics, 2007,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH Publication No. 08-3892. (June 2008).
Kelly Bonyata, “Financial costs of not breastfeeding … or cost benefits of breastfeeding,” (30 November 2005): http://www.kellymom.com/bf/start/prepare/bfcostbenefits.html and “Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet,” (4 2006 January): http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-benefits.html.
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