Breast-Feeding Could Save Lives and Money, Research Finds
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If women breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life, more than 900 infant deaths would be prevented and the United States would save $13 billion dollars annually, according to a study published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Breast milk includes antibodies that help babies fight infections, and it also can affect insulin levels in the blood, which could reduce breast-fed babies' risk of developing diabetes and obesity, the Associated Press reports.
While breast-feeding is sometimes considered a lifestyle choice, lead author Dr. Melissa Bartick -- an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School -- calls it a public health issue, the AP reports.
Also, despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics says babies should be given a chance to start breast-feeding immediately after birth, Bartick says at many hospitals newborns are offered formula even when their mothers plan to breast-feed.
An estimated 43 percent of U.S. mothers do at least some breast-feeding for six months, but only 12 percent follow government guidelines recommending that babies receive only breast milk for six months, the AP reports.
The estimated $13 billion in losses from the low breast-feeding rate includes lost potential lifetime wages, the Associated Press reports.
Dr. Larry Gray, a University of Chicago pediatrician, says it's reasonable to strive for 90 percent compliance, but he notes that mothers who don't breast-feed for six months should not be blamed or made to feel guilty because their jobs often make this impossible, the AP reports.
However, this situation could be changing. Under the government's new health care law, large employers are required to provide private places for working mothers to pump breast milk. Also, a provision enacted April 1 by the Joint Commission, a hospital accrediting agency, states that hospitals may be evaluated on their efforts to ensure that newborns are fed only breast milk before they're sent home, the AP reports.
Related: Hispanic Women Breast-Feed Longer Than White and Black Women, Study Finds