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Save $13,000,000,000,000 a year in healthcare costs. Support breastfeeding

The National Business Group on Health calculates the U.S. could save $13 Billion
a year in direct health care costs if 90 percent of women breastfed exclusively for
six months. This does not count indirect savings such as fewer absences from work
and increased productivity.

Such massive cost-cutting is possible because breastfeeding produces multiple immediate
and lifelong health benefits for both mother and child. (See postings for July 26, 28). The
evidence is so strong and abundant that health agencies throughout the developed nations
unanimously call for exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months.

Saving billions by breastfeeding is a feasible strategy. Breastfeeding is free. Already
75% of U.S. mothers initiate breastfeeding, indicating awareness and acceptance of the
guidance. The problem is sustaining exclusive breastfeeding. While it is natural, breastfeeding
is not always easy; mothers need support to get a strong start. One in 5 who initiate
breastfeeding quit in the first week. Another critical point is the transition back to work, less
than 3 months after birth for most mothers. Lacking support and facing obstacles, only 13/3%
of U.S. mothers breastfed exclusively for six months in 2010.

The solutions are no mystery. They are not expensive. All that is missing is the political will.

Hospital-based Solutions    We know that hospitals can ensure a strong start on breastfeeding.
However, 70% of hospitals are still handing out free “gift” bags packed with formula to every
new mother. Research shows clearly that this practice reduces breastfeeding. Prohibiting
formula makers from giving formula to new mothers in the hospital or doctors’ offices would
make a strong statement in support of breastfeeding, stop undermining mothers’ efforts to
comply with guidelines,and start the cost savings. It would make sense to withhold federal
funding from hospitals that continue this anti-breastfeeding, anti-prevention, health-reducing
practice.  

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative has synthesized the research, identified breastfeeding-
promoting practices, and certifies hospitals that implement them. But less than 4% of births
occur in Baby Friendly Hospitals. The Initiative could be supported by incentives. Baby Friendly
Hospitals are saving healthcare dollars in the short and long term; they should share in those
savings.

The CDC’s 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card reports hospital staff are poorly trained to support
breastfeeding. There are, on average in each State, only 2.4 lactation consultants for every
1000 newborns. Training to support breastfeeding need not be lengthy or complicated or
limited to clinicians. Trained volunteers and paraprofessionals can help mothers get a strong
start on breastfeeding in the hospital and in home visits. Investment in such training can be
expected to produce a generous return while creating jobs.

Employer-based Solutions The Affordable Care Act now requires employers to provide break
times and facilities for mothers who are breastfeeding or pumping breast milk. National Business
Group on Health reports this is not only good for individual and public health, it is good for
business. The federal mandate is an excellent step, since only 16 states previously required this
minimal support for working moms. Now the provision needs to be enforced.

More solutions There are more relatively easy steps to be taken by home visiting programs, 
countyhealth departments,  insurance plans, professional organizations, medical and nursing
schools, and employers. Consider sending one or all of the links to resources below to your
organizations.

Instead of saving a little in the short term by cutting services to poor families, let’s save tens
of billions every year by supporting their efforts to breastfeed, and so prevent risk from progressing
to need for healthcare services.

References & Resources

Breastfeeding Report Card – United States, 2010

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative  (Lists 10 Breastfeeding Promotion Practices)
327 Quaker Meeting House Road, E. Sandwich, MA 02537  508-888-8092 info@babyfriendlyusa.org www.babyfriendlyusa.org 

Workplace Breastfeeding Support: A Legal and Business Imperative (October 2010), LifeCare Inc.

National Business Group on Health (2009). The Business Case for Breastfeeding Promotion.
Investing in Workplace Breastfeeding Programs and Policies: An Employer’s Toolkit,
United States Breastfeeding Committee (2010).
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