You probably already know that breastfeeding protects babies from premature death and serious diseases. But did you know it provides health benefits for mothers, too?
According to recent research in Obstetrics & Gynecology, breastfeeding can significantly lower the risk of developing breast cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease in mothers.
For the study, researchers modeled two groups. One group breastfed as recommended, while the other breastfed at current US rates, which are far below the recommended one year total. Researchers then used available government data to project the rates and costs of diseases in both groups. They specifically targeted diseases that breastfeeding is known to reduce, calculating the rates and costs of early deaths from those diseases.
Children’s diseases included acute lymphoblastic leukemia, ear infections, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, obesity, necrotizing enterocolitis, and SIDS.
Maternal diseases included breast cancer, pre-menopausal ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart attacks.
This study showed that suboptimal breastfeeding is associated with more than 3,340 premature deaths in the US each year. These premature deaths are associated with $3 billion in medical costs, $1.3 billion in indirect costs, and $14.2 billion in costs related to premature deaths.
Most of those costs – 80% – were related to the mother’s health.
Clearly, optimal breastfeeding can save money and lives. This would mean each mother breastfeeding each child for at least a year, six months exclusively. Easy, right?
Not exactly. Even though the female body is biologically designed to feed its young, consider the challenges optimal breastfeeding presents to the working mom. Of those moms who work, nearly one in four will return to work within 10 days of delivery, often with little or no support when it comes to breastfeeding.
According to the CDCs Breastfeeding Report Card, while 81% of new moms start out with the intention to breastfeed, only about half will still be doing so at six months. Only about a third continue through the whole first year.
That’s unfortunate, given the net healthcare savings that optimal breastfeeding can offer – not to mention its real, long-term health benefits to both mother and child. Thus, the study notes that
Breast feeding is a women’s health issue, and advocates for women’s health should play an integral role in enabling families to achieve optimal breastfeeding.
Striking a similar note, co-author Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, professor of medicine at UC Davis Health System adds,
Breastfeeding has long been framed as a child health issue, however it is clearly a women’s health issue as well. Breastfeeding helps prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, yet many women have no idea breastfeeding has any of these benefits.
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