The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis in the journal Pediatrics. This study discovered that if 90% of families would apply the Healthy People 2010 goals – to breastfeed exclusively for six months -America would save $13 billion per year and prevent almost 1,000 deaths.
This analysis was built upon a study published in 2001, but had a much broader scope which produced more accurate results. Instead of the three diseases studied in 2001, the current study looked at medical conditions such as ear infections, gastric flu, necrotizing enterocolitis (death of intestinal tissue), lower respiratorytract infections, eczema, SIDS, childhood asthma, childhood leukemia, type 1 diabetes and obesity.
America’s breastfeeding rates are subpar and as a result cost our country billions of dollars and even worse, infant deaths. Investment in policies to promote extended exclusive breastfeeding would be a wise move for our country.
The big question now is how do we encourage breastfeeding in America? The following are suggestions and ideas that could boost successful breastfeeding rates to reach the Healthy People 2010 Goals.
Train and hire International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). So often, postpartum women are given erroneous and conflicting information by well meaning nurses and lactation consultants. The information given to these women needs to be true, helpful, and encouraging. By having IBCLCs on staff women could leave hospitals with tools and skills that support successful breastfeeding.
Eliminate the distribution of formula samples to families. Hospitals and doctor offices probably have good intentions when handing out free formula, but this marketing technique by formula companies sends a mixed message to moms – “We want you to exclusively breastfeed, but since you probably can’t do it, here’s some formula”. It’s like giving condoms to teenagers but telling them to not have sex. Remove the formula samples and moms will be less likely doubt their ability to breastfeed.
Increase government funded programs allowing for free IBCLC home visits to postpartum women. Many women encounter breastfeeding challenges once they are home and alone. By sending support free of charge, women would not hesitate to get help in times of trouble, and it would therefore promote longer breastfeeding duration.
Educate the educators about lactation. There is so much erroneous information circulating, that even well meaning doctors prescribe confusing and discouraging advice to breastfeeding moms. Start at the top and educate the educators in order to see positive results.
Offer and advertise free breastfeeding classes and support groups. If financial barriers to breastfeeding information are eliminated, more families will become informed. Free classes and groups are not effective, however, if nobody knows about them. Efforts for effective marketing should be increased.
States should eliminate laws against public breastfeeding. If America really wants to support women and breastfeeding, then their laws should reflect that. Mothers should be encouraged to feed their babies in public – just as everyone else eats in public.
If our country were to implement these six suggestions I believe we would see an increase in successful breastfeeding and a decrease in preventable deaths and healthcare costs.