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Breastfeeding Saves Lives and Money

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900 lives, in addition to billions of dollars, can be saved if 90 percent of babies born in the United States were breastfed, even if they are nursed for only six months.  This conclusion is the result of a recent study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics. 

The findings suggest that breastfeeding can help prevent hundreds of deaths and many costly illnesses each year, including stomach viruses, each infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden infant Death Syndrome and even some cancers like childhood leukemia. 

Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist and instructor at Harvard Medical School and colleagues studied the prevalence of ten of the most common childhood illnesses, costs of the treatments for the diseases and the level of disease protection breastfeeding may provide, based on the findings from previous studies. 

One key important element in human breast milk are antibiotics that help babies fight infections and reduce risk of diabetes and obesity. 

A review article in the April 2007 issue of Evidence Report/Technology Assessment reports on many benefits that breastfeeding may provide both the mother and the infant in developed countries.

The review is based on 43 primary studies on maternal health outcomes and 29 systematic reviews or meta-analyses that included 400 individual studies.

According to the current review, the benefits of breastfeeding for the infants include "a reduction in the risk of acute otitis media, non-specific gastroenteritis, severe lower respiratory tract infections, atopic dermatitis, asthma (young children), obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis."

The benefits of breastfeeding for the mothers include a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, and depression. Early cessation or not breastfeeding was associated with higher risk of maternal postpartum depression.

In the United States, an estimated 43 percent of U.S. mothers breast feed their babies for six months, but not exclusively.  Only 12 percent of babies received breast milk exclusively for six months. 

The low breastfeeding rate is estimated to cost $13 billion. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that "all babies, with rare exceptions, be breastfed and/or receive expressed human milk exclusively for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue with the addition of complementary foods throughout the second half of the first year. Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired." 

Physicians typically have no qualms about giving such a recommendation.  However, it is common that once a baby is born, the mother will almost immediately receive infant formulas from the nurses.  This practice is essentially in direct contradiction to the recommendation.

By David Liu and editing by Rachel Stockton

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