Research commissioned by UNICEF UK has revealed that low breastfeeding rates in the UK are costing the NHS millions of pounds.
The report, Preventing Disease and Saving Resources, looks at how raising breastfeeding rates could save money through improving health outcomes.
The authors' calculations show that moderate increases in breastfeeding could see millions in potential annual savings to the NHS – and that figure might only be the tip of the iceberg.
The report findings show that for just five illnesses, moderate increases in breastfeeding would translate into cost savings for the NHS of £40 million and tens of thousands of fewer hospital admissions and GP consultations.
In addition, analyses on three conditions - cognitive ability, childhood obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – indicate that modest improvements in breastfeeding rates could save millions of pounds and, in the case of SIDS, children's lives.
"We know that 90 per cent of women who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks discontinued before they had wanted to,” said Anita Tiessen, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK.
She added: "We want to see breastfeeding recognised as a major public health issue from government level through to local children's centres, and appropriate investment and legislation put in place to give mothers a better experience of breastfeeding."
The research team was led by Professor Mary Renfrew of Dundee University.
"This research shines a spotlight on the profound protective effects which breastfeeding has on both mother and child," Professor Renfrew said.
"It is clear that putting resources into supporting women to breastfeed successfully would be hugely cost effective to the NHS, as well as preventing the distress and pain felt by a mother who has a bad experience of breastfeeding."
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