Breastfeeding saves money. It saves lots of money. It saves on an individual level for families. It also saves on a national level. It’s an area that’s sorely neglected in terms of reigning in out-of-control health care costs. It’s been estimated that tens of billions of dollars could be saved if more women breastfed and did it for longer periods of time.
We’ve all heard that breast is best. But do we know why exactly? You may have heard that breastfed babies are healthier, but are they that much healthier? According to research, the answer is a resounding yes.
Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold from Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance published a study that estimated a staggering $13 billion dollars would be saved in the US if exclusive breastfeeding rates reached 90% for six months. While breastfeeding rates have increased since that study was published in 2010, they still fall short. In 2018, 84% of new moms started out breastfeeding, but less than one out of four babies met the goal of being exclusively breastfed for six months.
Breastfeeding is “dose-dependent.” Basically, this means more and longer breastfeeding is better in terms of health benefits.
Samantha Radford of Evidence-Based Mommy states “the true benefit of breastfeeding is seen in the long-term. When breastfed children grow up, particularly if they were breastfed for over a year, they have reduced rates of obesity, asthma, and Type-2 diabetes. They also, on average, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. All of these chronic health conditions are related to huge health-care costs. Lowered rates of these diseases would greatly reduce the burden of health-care costs in future generations.”
The health of babies isn’t the only way breastfeeding can save significant amounts of money. Women who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer, high blood pressure and heart attacks. One study estimated the financial impact of these illnesses in women was a cost of $17.4 billion dollars.
It’s been said women shouldn’t be pressured to breastfeed. A better option: support. Instead, women face barriers to breastfeeding everywhere they turn.
- Women are protected by law to be able to breastfeed anywhere they have a right to be. Yet women are still repeatedly harassed when they breastfeed in public.
- Most maternity leaves are not paid in the US, which results in women having to use sick time and vacation time. It also results in shorter maternity leaves being taken.
- The Affordable Care Act (ACA) stipulates that lactation consults for breastfeeding women be covered at no cost to the woman. Compliance by insurance companies has been inconsistent.
- Medical students are still only getting about 1-2 hours of breastfeeding education. As a result, most pediatricians and obstetricians are woefully undereducated about breastfeeding.
- Only 24% of hospitals are designated “Baby Friendly.” According to Baby Friendly USA, “Baby-Friendly practices are designed to optimize mother-baby bonding and to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in the first few days of a new baby’s life.”
In view of the potential impact on out of control health care costs, this is an avenue not previously discussed. It’s past time for breastfeeding to become a national health priority.
*Author Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC is a nurse and lactation specialist.
Reducing Healthcare Costs Through Breastfeeding: Sources
National Institutes of Health: The Burden of Suboptimal
Breastfeeding in the US
Samantha Radford, Evidence-Based Mommy
Baby Friendly USA
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC
CDC 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Journal of Breastfeeding Medicine