Originally published December 15 2014
Increasing breastfeeding can save millions in health costs, research shows
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) Providing resources to allow breastfeeding mothers to keep breastfeeding longer could save millions a year in healthcare costs, according to a study recently published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The researchers found that, in the United Kingdom alone, doubling the numbers of women who continue breastfeeding for between 7 and 18 months and increasing the number that continue for at least 4 months would reduce the incidence of disease in infants and their mothers enough to save the National Health Service more than £40 million ($62.9 million) per year.
Specifically, the savings would come from the reduced need to treat children for common childhood diseases that can be prevented by breastfeeding, and from lowered rates of breast cancer among the breastfeeding women themselves.
The findings provide a strong incentive for the British government to provide more services to support mothers in breastfeeding longer, the researchers concluded.
UK breastfeeding rates shockingly lowThe United Kingdom has low breastfeeding rates compared with many other wealthy nations, with only 35 percent of infants fed breast milk starting from birth, and only 7 percent still breastfeeding at four months.
In contrast, 60 percent of Australian infants are still breastfed at six months, along with 68 percent of Swedish infants and 80 percent of Norwegian ones.
U.S. statistics fall somewhere in between, with 79.2 percent of infants breastfed at some point, but only 49.4 percent still breastfeeding at six months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many other public health bodies recommend that, for the health of both mother and baby, infants be given no food or liquids other than breast milk for the first six months of life.
Providing more support crucialThe researchers estimated how a rise in breastfeeding rates would lower lifetime breast cancer risk in mothers, as well as rates of four diseases in children: gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, otitis media ear infection and necrotizing enterocolitis (a potentially fatal disorder of premature infants). They then used a seven-step framework to analyze how much this would lower the cost to the public health system of treating these conditions.
They found that helping women who breastfeed for only a week to keep it up for four months instead would save at least £11 million ($17.3 million) per year in reduced cases of gastrointestinal, respiratory and ear infections. Increasing rates of breastfeeding in neonatal units from 35 to 75 percent would save £6 million ($9.4 million) per year -- and numerous lives -- by reducing cases of necrotizing enterocolitis. Finally, doubling the number of mothers who continue breastfeeding for at least 7 months would lower breast cancer rates enough to cut healthcare costs by a minimum of £31 million ($48.7 million) per year.
The researchers noted that their analysis calculated the savings only from enabling women who already desire to breastfeed to do so for longer, not convincing more women to breastfeed.
"This is very important because national statistics indicate that 80% of women who stop breastfeeding in the early weeks would have liked to have breastfed for longer," they wrote.
Therefore, the target of the study's recommendations is the government, rather than the mothers themselves.
"Increasing the current breastfeeding rates is likely to generate substantial cost savings to the NHS in the UK; the actual amounts saved will depend on the extent of the increase and effectiveness of interventions," the researchers wrote. "While the cost of these interventions must be considered, the potential savings indicate that substantial further investment has a strong economic case.
"Our study should reassure policymakers, service planners and commissioners that a rapid return on investment is realistic and feasible, supported by cost savings that can be realised in the first year of infants' lives."
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