Study: Breast-feeding cuts deaths

LOS ANGELES — If all U.S. women followed medical recommendations to breast-feed their infants exclusively for six months, the nation could save $13 billion a year in medical costs and prevent 911 deaths, according to an analysis published in the new issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study authors compared the costs of 10 childhood diseases at current breast-feeding rates and the projected costs of those diseases if 90 percent of U.S. women complied with the recommendations. The costs included medical care as well as indirect costs, such as missed time from work.

The majority of the deaths linked to failure to breast-feed involve Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the authors said, as well as complications among premature babies.

About three-quarters of U.S. women breast-feed, but only 32 percent are still nursing exclusively after three months. Just 12 percent of infants are exclusively breast-fed for six months.

Several medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently urged Congress to appropriate $15 million per year to support breast-feeding in the United States. More support is needed in hospitals and at workplaces to encourage breast-feeding, the authors state.

"People shouldn't blame mothers because they are often not supported well, even from the moment their babies are born," said physician Melissa Bartick, the lead author of the study and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, in a news release.