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Cost Benefits of Breastfeeding - Page 3

Written by Karen M. Zeretzke, MEd, IBCLC   
Thursday, 01 September 2005 00:00
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Communicable Childhood Diseases

Antibody response to oral and parenteral vaccines is higher in the breastfed infant. Formula feeding, particularly soy formula, may interfere with the immunization process. (Zoppie 1989; Hahn-Soric 1990)

Death: Breastfeeding protects against sudden death from botulism. In one study, all of the infants who died were not breastfed. (Arnon 1982)

Globally, breastfeeding has been identified as one element of protection against SIDS. (Mitchell, 1991) One study identified the risk of SIDS increasing by 1.19 for every month the infant is not breastfed. (McKenna 1995) Breastfed infants are one-fifth to onethird less likely to die of SIDS. SIDS is a leading cause of US infant death, impacting nearly 7,000 families per year. (Goyco 1990)

Diarrhea: Breastfeeding for 13 weeks has been shown to reduce the rate of vomiting and diarrhea by one-third and reduce the rate of hospital admissions from GI diseases. (Howie 1990)

Breastfed infants are protected against salmonellosis; breastfed infants are one-fifth less likely to develop this. (Stigman-Grant 1995) Breastfed babies are also protected from giardiasis. (Nayak 1987)

Gastrointestinal Disease: Children with acute appendicitis are less likely to have been breastfed for a prolonged time. (Piscante 1995)

Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of pyloric stenosis. (Habbick, 1989)

Hospitalization: Breastfed infants are less likely to be hospitalized if they become ill and were hospitalized for respiratory infections less than half as much as formula-fed infants. (Chen 1988) Cunningham 1986 reports that formula-fed infants are 10-15 times more likely to become hospitalized when ill.

Breastfed babies are half as likely to be hospitalized for RSV infections; in 1993 about 90,000 babies with RSV were admitted to hospitals at a cost of about $450 million. (Riordan, 1997)

Breastfeeding reduced re-hospitalizations in very low birth weight babies. (Malloy 1993)

In a Honolulu hospital, readmission rates were reduced 90% following the initiation of a lactation program. The drop was seen in dehydration, hyperbilirubinemia and infection. (Lee, 1997)

Necrotizing Enterocolitis: Premature infants fed their own mother’s milk or banked human milk were one-sixth to one-tenth as likely to develop NEC, which is potentially fatal. The incidence of NEC in breastfed infants is 0.012; in formula-fed infants it is .072. In Australia, one study has calculated that 83% of NEC cases may be attributed to lack of breastfeeding. (Drane 1997)

NEC adds between one and four weeks to the NICU hospital stay of a preemie. At a cost of $2000/day, this translates to $14,000 to $120,000 per infant. (Lee 1997)

Even when infants survive NEC, the disease can leave life-long costs via the development of short-gut syndrome and chronic malabsorption syndromes. A Pennsylvania physician has estimated the cost of one year’s at-home IV nutritional support treatment for a child with chronic malabsorption to be $50–100,000. (Lee 1997)

Otitis Media: Conservative estimates of savings for this disease alone range from one-half to two-thirds of a billion dollars if women were to breastfeed for 4 months. The savings estimate for Ohio if half of the mothers on WIC were to breastfeed was $1 million. (Riordan, 1997) Based on these figures, health care provider agencies could, conservatively, save two-thirds of what it spends to treat otitis media.

More than one million tympanosomies are performed yearly in the US at a cost of $2 million. By reducing the ear infections which cause the need for tubes for ear drainage, $2/3 to $1 billion could be saved.

Respiratory Infections: Breastfeeding protects against respiratory infections, including those caused by rotaviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses. (Grover 1997) Breastfed babies were less than half as likely to be hospitalized with pneumonia or bronchiolitis. (Pisacane 1994)

Breastfed infants had one-fifth the lower respiratory tract infections when compared to formula-fed infants. (Cunningham 1988)

Sepsis: Infants receiving human milk while patients in the intensive care nursery were half as likely to develop sepsis, a reason for increased length of hospital stays and provider expenditure. (El-Mohandes 1997)

Urinary Tract Infections: Breastfeeding protects babies against UTIs and subsequent hospitalization. (Pisacane 1992)

Long-Term Effects of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding prevents or lessens the severity of the following conditions.

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Childhood Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Inguinal Hernia
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Karen M. Zeretzke, MEd, IBCLC lives in
Baton Rouge, Louisiana and can be
reached at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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  • Hoey, Christine, RN, IBCLC. "Cost Analysis of Breastfeeding and the Lactation Consultant within the HMO Setting" Presented at the International Lactation Consultants Association 1996 Conference in Kansas City, MO.
  • Labbok, Miriam, MD, MPH. "The Real Cost of Not Breastfeeding" Presented at the La Leche League International conference in Washington DC, July 4, 1997. Draft article submitted for journal publication Cost Effectiveness of Breastfeeding in the U.S.: The Forgotten Woman's and Children's Preventive Health Issue published in the conference syllabus, pp 23-32.
  • Labbok, Miriam, MD, MPH. "Models for Cost Savings Associated with Breastfeeding" presented July 14, 1995, at the International Lactation Consultant Association Conference in Scottsdale, AR. Conference syllabus, pp 23-24.
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