In 2001, a government study found that if only half of all mothers breastfed their babies for the first six months of their lives, $3.6 billion could be saved each year. The savings weren’t calculated based on how much infant formula would not be needed, but on health care costs related to illnesses breast milk may help prevent.
Today, an updated study takes those calculations a step further and reveals not only how much money could be saved by breastfeeding, but how many lives as well.
The study, which appears in the new issue of the journal Pediatrics, has been adjusted for the increased cost of health care and includes indirect costs such as time missed from work. The results indicate that breastfeeding could save $13 billion per year as well as the lives of over 900 children. The catch? 90 percent of mothers would have to follow current medical recommendations and breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of their lives.
Statistics show that while about 43% of new mothers do breastfeed at least some of the time for the first six months of life, only 12% follow government guidelines and breastfeed exclusively.
Dr. Larry Gray, a University of Chicago pediatrician, says that while he believes we should strive for a 90% breastfeeding rate, he cautions that mothers who don’t should not be made to feel guilty. After all, the world isn’t always friendly toward a breastfeeding mother.
That, says lead study author Dr. Melissa Bartick, needs to change. She believes breastfeeding should be considered a public health issue and points to some small changes as evidence that it is being taken more seriously. For example, the recent health care overhaul requires large employers to provide private areas for mothers to pump breast milk. In addition, hospitals, which often whisk newborns away to be bottle fed, may now be evaluated on their efforts to ensure that babies are breastfeed exclusively while in the hospital.
Those are steps in the right direction, but as well all know one of the biggest obstacles a breastfeeding mother faces occurs the moment she and her baby leave the house. The idea that breastfeeding should be hidden from view and done only behind closed doors is absurd. Hopefully, this study will give more mothers the courage to do what they know is best for their babies and silence those who would seek to keep discriminate against them.
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