Midwife & Breastfeeding Consultant

The cost of not breastfeeding

Posted on March 12, 2012

In recent research published this year in the medical journal Pediatrics two scientists set out to estimate the annual cost to the United States of babies not being breastfed according to medical recommendations.*

Their calculations showed that if 90% of all babies in the US were breastfed exclusively for six months it could save the US $13 billion and prevent 911 deaths (mostly infant deaths).  Alternatively they calculated that if 80% of all babies were breastfed it would have a cost savings of $10.5 billion and save 741 lives.  The scientists, Bartick and Reinhold also suggest that these figures are a conservative estimate.

These amounts are staggering, it is brilliant to have these numbers to hand and to be able to show that breastfeeding has a measurable monetary value.   However, I think it is more interesting to look at how the researchers came up with these numbers because this really demonstrates how vitally important breastfeeding is to the long term health of a human being and the other cost of not breastfeeding – the human cost.

The method the researchers used was to look at 10 specific illnesses and compare the incidence of each illness between two groups; babies who were exclusively breastfed for six months and babies who were not breastfed at all.  The ten illnesses that the researchers looked at were as follows: ear infections, gastroenteritis, necrotizing enterocolitis, chest infections, asthma, eczema, SIDS, childhood leukaemia, type 1 diabetes and obesity.  These illnesses are, for the most part, very serious and even life threatening and the researchers were able to determine was that there was a measurable difference in the occurrence between a baby who was breastfed exclusively for six month and a baby who was not breastfed at all. 

To just take one of these illnesses, asthma for example; this has a huge impact on a person for the whole of their lives, lifelong medications, visits to doctors, possible hospitalisations and although it can be well managed these days it still is a life threatening disease.   Also for the mother and father caring for a child with asthma there is the worry and stress and distress of seeing their child suffer.  This is the human cost.  It is all well and good to know how much it costs the country when babies aren’t breastfed, but on the human level you have many many people whose lives are negatively affected when babies aren’t breastfed.

This piece of research is indeed very important, it demonstrates in a rigorous scientific format that breastfeeding has an enormous monetary value and it also clearly illustrates  the risks of not breastfeeding are greater than just the financial cost, breastfeeding is essential to long term health and well being.  This is why it is so important for pregnant women to make a well informed decision on whether to breastfeed or not.  When we really know the true cost associated with not breastfeeding it doesn’t make sense to deny ourselves and our babies of this wonderful human resource!

*( Pediatrics. 2010: 125e1048-e1056)