The not-so hidden cost of avoiding breastfeeding

Pictured is a silhouette in photograph of a woman breastfeeding an infant.

Medical studies indicate that while America can't afford not to breastfeed its children, breastfeeding rates remain lower than recommended levels. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Miki Yoshihito/Flickr)

Conventional logic indicates that if there were an easy, natural way to reduce health care costs, such a recovery method should immediately be utilized. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while three-quarters of babies born in the U.S. take their first meals via breastfeeding, the rate plummets after six months, which runs contrary to CDC Healthy People standards. Medical experts believe that this breastfeeding reduction increases pediatric costs dramatically, as children who do not breastfeed have been proven to be more susceptible in general to a variety of diseases that have contributed to increased rates of infant mortality.

Breastfeeding makes for Healthy People

Dr. William Dietz of the CDC told Medpage Today that “Meeting the national breastfeeding initiation goal is a great accomplishment in women’s and children’s health, but we have more work ahead.” Considering the numbers the CDC has discovered – only 43 percent of U.S. babies still breastfeeding at six months, down to 22 percent at one year – America has a long way to go.

Uncivil treatment of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding rates vary wildly by state in the 2007 CDC Healthy People study – 90 percent of newborns are breastfeeding in Utah, versus about 53 percent in Mississippi, for instance. State support for breastfeeding policies are a significant part of the study. At the time of the study, 21 states still had no breastfeeding-friendly facilities, and the same states (plus others) tended to have hospitals with lower ratings for quality of maternity care and infant feeding instruction. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there has been improvement on the legislative level since the 2007 CDC study, but there remain states that do not have specific laws protecting the right to breastfeed outside the home in an area other than a cramped restroom. Considering the 2009 Facebook scandal where photos of breastfeeding mothers were removed from the site, questions still exist as to how civilized Americans are as a culture. And if the details surrounding the long-term boycott of infant formula maker Nestlé are indicative, the culture of hostility toward breastfeeding extends far beyond this nation’s borders.

The cost of not breastfeeding is sky high

According to Dr. Melissa Bartick of Harvard Medical School and Arnold Reinhold of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, the growing absence of colostrum-rich breastmilk in children’s diets has caused pediatric costs to skyrocket. Their recent report in the journal Pediatrics indicates that “$3.6 billion could be saved if breastfeeding rates were increased to levels of the Healthy People objectives.” That was based on 2001 information. However, as Bartick and Reinhold updated the study, they found something quite shocking. For children six months and younger who are fed exclusively via breastfeeding, Bartick and Reinhold found that if there was at least 90 percent compliance (the Healthy People recommended minimum), the U.S. could now save “$13 billion per year and prevent an excess of 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants.”

Considering that infant formula is expensive (it’s generally considered inferior to breastmilk by medical experts) and looking at the ballooning of pediatric costs, it’s eye-opening to see just how much Americans who need money could save by continuing to breastfeed young children within reasonable parameters. Some mothers may be unable to breastfeed for medical reasons, however, providing one necessity for formula, even if these mothers may find that they need payday loans to be able to afford the costly powder.



CDC Breast Feeding Report Card

Medpage Today

National Conference of State Legislatures


UNICEF and World Breastfeeding Week (Editor’s note: Video contains scenes of breastfeeding)