Benefits for society

How will breastfeeding help my society?

Breastfeeding saves lives, money, and resources. Millions of children die every year before their fifth birthday, and the World Health Organization estimates that hundreds of thousands of those could be saved if mothers followed the WHO breastfeeding recommendations. Breastfeeding produces healthier children who can reach their full potential and contribute to society. It causes less climate change than infant formula use.

A) Monetary savings

A healthier society spends less money and fewer resources on health care and its members are able to reach their full potential.

Globally, countries lose roughly US$341 billion annually because of a lack of breastfeeding (WHO 2017). This is roughly 0.7% of the world’s gross national income (Rollins 2016; Walters 2019).

One U.S. study (Bartick 2010) reported that if 90% of American mothers breastfed for just six months, health-care systems would save US$13 billion annually. Even small increases in breastfeeding rates can result in significant decreases in health-care costs (Santacruz-Salas 2019; Stuebe 2017). For example, another study (Quesada 2020) estimated that for every 1% increase in breastfeeding by Spanish mothers in 2014, their health-care system could save €5.6 million (US $6.1 million).

One study (Unar-Munguía 2019) estimated that increasing breastfeeding rates of 1.1 million Mexican mothers to 95%, from the current low rates, would result in the group avoiding:  

  • Over 5,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, heart attacks, or high blood pressure.
  • Over 1,500 premature deaths.
  • Over US$550 million for direct and indirect costs over their lifetime.

B) Preserving human potential

1) Breastfeeding saves lives

Worldwide, 4.5 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2015 (WHO 2017). While this figure has been decreasing over the past decade, even one death is tragic.

Ninety per cent of these deaths occur in 42 developing countries. If 90% of the mothers in those 42 countries breastfed following the World Health Organization breastfeeding recommendations, roughly 600,000 children who would otherwise die each year would survive, and many more could be protected from poor growth and illness (Darmstadt 2005; Ip 2007; Jones 2003; Victora 2016).

Breastfeeding has the potential to prevent the deaths of around 100,000 mothers each year from breast and ovarian cancer and diabetes (Victora 2016; Walters 2019).

The losses to future earnings caused by the early deaths of mothers and babies is estimated to be about US$53 billion each year (Walters 2019).

2) Breastfeeding promotes healthy child development

Healthier children can reach their full potential and contribute to their societies. Cognitive (conscious intellectual activity such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering) losses because of infant formula feeding alone are estimated to cost societies US$285 billion each year (Straub 2019; Walters 2019).

Breastfeeding mothers who are healthier, are better able to contribute to a child’s development. 

C) Reducing climate change

Infant formula use contributes to climate change which is the single, largest global health threat of the 21st century. Societies will face the burden of coping with illness and death, extreme weather events, food shortages, and socio-political instability. 

References

Bartick M, Reinhold A. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics. 2010;125:e1048–e1056
 
Darmstadt G, Bhutta ZA, Cousens S, et al. Evidence-based, cost-effective interventions: how many newborn babies can we save? Lancet 2005;365(9463)
 
Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, et al. Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evid Rep Technol Assess. 2007(153):1-186
 
Jones G, Steketee RW, Black RE, et al.; Bellagio Child Survival Study Group. How many child deaths can we prevent this year? Lancet 2003;362(9377):65-71

Quesada JA, Méndez I, Martín-Gil R. The economic benefits of increasing breastfeeding rates in Spain. Int Breastfeed J. 2020;15(1):34. Published 2020 May 4 

Rollins NC, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N, et al.; Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? Lancet. 2016 Jan 30;387(10017):491-504
 
Santacruz-Salas E, Aranda-Reneo I, Hidalgo-Vega Á, et al. The Economic Influence of Breastfeeding on the Health Cost of Newborns. J Hum Lact. 2018 Dec 3:890334418812026
 
Straub N, Grunert P, Northstone K, et al. Economic impact of breast-feeding-associated improvements of childhood cognitive development, based on data from the ALSPAC. Br J Nutr. 2019 Sep;122(s1):S16-S21
 
Stuebe AM, Jegier BJ, Schwarz EB, et al. An Online Calculator to Estimate the Impact of Changes in Breastfeeding Rates on Population Health and Costs. Breastfeed Med. 2017 Sep 14

Unar-Munguía M, Stern D, Colchero MA, et al. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in Mexico: Maternal health outcomes and costs. Matern Child Nutr. 2019 Jan;15(1):e12661

Victora CG, Bahl R, Barros AJ, et al.; Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016 Jan 30;387(10017):475-90
 
Walters DD, Phan LTH, Mathisen R. The cost of not breastfeeding: global results from a new tool. Health Policy Plan. 2019 Jun 24
 
World Health Organization (WHO). Global Health Observatory (GHO) data. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017 [cited October 15, 2019]