The economic benefits of breast-feeding

MOST HEALTH-CARE professionals agree that breast-feeding is better for babies' health and development than formula feeding. What about the costs to society at large? Until recently, the consequences of low breast-feeding rates among poor women were thought to be confined to the health of their offspring. A new study, however, suggests that the decision could have broader economic implications.

The researchers analyzed the cost savings to four federal social service organizations when a population of economically disadvantaged women opted to breast-feed their babies. The women were all Asian Hmong immigrants living in California who traditionally do not breast-feed or use contraceptives. However, when the women breast-fed for six months, their babies were less susceptible to illness, the mothers were less likely to become pregnant and the family wasn't burdened with the cost of formula. As a result, the women were less likely to need economic support from federally funded programs such as Aid for Families with Dependent Children, Medi-Cal and Women, Infants and Children (WIC). This isn't the first time the economic utility of breast-feeding has been explored, says Ann Prendergast, a registered dietitian at the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Maternal and Child Health Division. "Early breast-feeding confers an immune effect that lasts for some time," she adds. The researchers estimated that breast-feeding can save up to $800 a year, per child, per family, in government money.

Share this with your friends