Higher breastfeeding rates would significantly improve the health of the nation. This alone is an excellent reason to remove obstacles to successful breastfeeding, even if it means increased spending in the short term.
Savings associated with increased breastfeeding could also release funds for training and other areas of care. Potential savings could be made in the following areas:
• Reduced treatment costs of formula-feeding-related illness
Breastfeeding babies and their mothers are at lower risk of certain illnesses thus providing potential cost savings for the wider health care system. It was estimated in 1995 that the NHS spends £35 million per year in England and Wales treating gastro-enteritis in formula-fed infants and that, for every one per cent increase in breastfeeding at 13 weeks, £500,000 would be saved (1).
• Less NHS money spent on purchasing formula and teats
If mothers choose to breastfeed, less formula is needed. Baby Friendly standards also means that breastfed babies are not given supplements of formula unless clinically indicated (or in cases of informed parental choice), further reducing formula use.
The Baby Friendly Initiative is currently funding a full cost benefit analysis to provide more accurate information on the value of breastfeeding to the UK.
US breastfeeding rates are similar to the UK, but health-care costs are likely to be significantly different. A 2010 report assessing the economic benefits of breastfeeding (2), estimated that around $13 billion would be saved if breastfeeding were increased from current levels to 90 per cent of women breastfeeding exclusively for six months. The analysis studied the prevalence of 10 common childhood illnesses, costs of treating those diseases, including hospitalization, and the level of disease protection other studies have linked with breast-feeding.
1. Department of Health, Breastfeeding: Good practice guidance to the NHS. Department of Health, 1995
2. Bartick M, Reinhold A, The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1048-56.