According to a two-part series of study listed on Thursday in the health journal The Lancet, breastfeeding could save thousands of lives and millions of dollars. A group of scientists found that the act of feeding a baby with milk directly from the mother’s breast could save 820,000 lives and add $302 billion per year in the global economy.

The series included over 1,300 different studies analyzing the benefits, determinants and trends in breastfeeding from 28 systematic reviews, 22 specially commissioned meta-analyses and more than 1,300 studies. All of them proved that breastfeeding is beneficial for both the mother and the baby, and for both health and economic matters.

A new study suggests that breastfeeding could save thousands of lives, as well as millions of dollars. Credit:

And the benefits don’t stop here. The research suggests that children who are breastfed longer have been found to have higher intelligence than those who are breastfed for shorter periods. Breastfeeding is linked to higher performance on cognitive tests among children and adolescents. Those children who had higher performances, had an average of three IQ points higher, which results in better academic performance, greater long-term earnings and improved productivity, researchers explained.

“Breastfeeding is a powerful and unique intervention that benefits mothers and children, yet breastfeeding rates are not improving as we would like them to, and in some countries, are declining,” series author Cesar Victora, of Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said in a journal news release.

But even though the health benefits of breastfeeding may be well known in developed countries, the mother-child practice is less implemented in those places. Low and middle-income countries lose more than $70 billion annually, while high-income countries lose more than $230 billion annually due to low rates of breastfeeding.

Health benefits

Basically, researchers found that breastfed milk is like a vaccination for the baby as it prevents diseases among children to occur in 80% of the cases. For instance, greater rates of breastfeeding would prevent about half of all diarrhea episodes and one-third of respiratory infections.

As for the mother, the research found that for each of the first two years a mother breastfeeds throughout her life, she would have a 6% lower risk of breast cancer, as well as a reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also prevents the buildup of lactic acid in the mother’s body and it helps her lose pregnancy weight.

Economic benefits

Let’s point out that the economic losses associated with not breastfeeding actually happen for two reasons, the cognitive losses, which impact earning potential, and the loss associated with health care cost.

As for cognitive loss, the investigation found that $302 billion are lost annually. As for health care, the study concluded that the savings produced by reducing annual healthcare costs will total $312 million in the U.S., $48 million in the U.K. and $30 million in urban China.

Increasing breastfeeding rates for infants younger than 6 months to 90% in the United States, China and Brazil, and to 45% in the United Kingdom, would lower treatment costs of common childhood illnesses, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and asthma.

Breastfeeding in America

The percentage of mothers breastfeeding their infant children in The United States are extremely low. In 2011, rates at 12 months in the U.S. were about 27%, according to the most recent data available, which was included in a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The reason for this lack of lactation could be associated with many factors, as for example, limited or nonexistent maternity leave which precludes the mother from practicing this feeding process; the growing market of breast milk substitutes has also contributed to mothers’ choices or perhaps; and, a lack of lactation support or counseling. Hospitals in America are still not supporting mothers to breastfeed and they prefer formula milk over breast milk.

According to International Center for Equity in Health at the Federal University of Pelotas, the poorer countries are more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and its nutritional benefits rather than the developed countries who are still very conservative about women breastfeeding.

“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Victora said in a journal news release.

She added that the series clearly showed that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike.

Source: The Lancet