A new study released today suggests that if 90 percent of American moms would breastfeed for the first six months of their baby's life, billions of dollars -- and nearly 1,000 infants -- could be saved each year.
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that there are hundreds of deaths and many more costly illnesses each year due to health problems that breastfeeding can prevent, including ear infections, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and even childhood leukemia.
"The health care system has got to be aware that breastfeeding makes a profound difference," says Dr. Ruth Lawrence of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight infections; it also can affect insulin levels in the blood, which may make breastfed babies less likely to develop diabetes and obesity. The study looked at 10 common childhood illnesses and the costs of their treatment, and calculated that the U.S.'s low breastfeeding rate creates an estimated loss of $13 billion. (That number takes into account lost potential lifetime wages.)
Currently, 43 percent of U.S. mothers do at least some breastfeeding for six months, but only 12 percent follow government guidelines recommending that babies receive only breast milk for six months.
One pediatrician called the study "compelling," but was quick to note that encouraging social and workplace acceptance of breastfeeding will go a long way toward improve breastfeeding numbers.
Bottom line: The study authors concluded that breastfeeding should be considered a public health issue -- not a lifestyle choice.
Do you agree? Should more be done to encourage breastfeeding and support moms who do it?