Got MILK? Encouraging Mothers to Breast Feed May Lower Child Health Care Costs

From 1999 to 2000, researchers at the Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y. designed a study to determine whether encouraging women to breast-feed their infants would reduce health-care costs as well as improve children's health.

To prepare for their study on the economic benefits of breast-feeding, the research team gathered preliminary data about breast-feeding practices through focus group interviews with pregnant and postpartum women, surveys of health-care providers, and medical record reviews.

Data were gathered chiefly at two sites where the full study will be conducted, the Family Health Center and Comprehensive Health Care Center, clinics affiliated with Montefiore Medical Center, located in the Bronx, New York.

Key Findings

Analysis of these data revealed the following:

  • Women were predisposed towards breast-feeding but had not received strong encouragement from their prenatal providers. Women felt that support for breast-feeding from a lactation consultant would be welcome in the pre- and post-natal period.
  • Providers were highly knowledgeable about the health benefits of breast-feeding and felt it was their role to recommend breast-feeding to expectant mothers.

    In practice, however, one-third had provided lactation counseling to five or fewer women and most had never taught a woman how to use a breast pump. Among support staff, the majority (57%) would accept the mother's choice rather than recommend breast-feeding.
  • Middle ear infection, gastrointestinal illnesses, and respiratory infections (termed "breast-feeding sensitive" morbidities) accounted for 23 percent of all diagnoses among the 82 children seen at Family Health Center whose medical charts were reviewed. The number of breast-feeding sensitive morbidities tripled in the second six months of life compared with the first six months (from a mean of 0.73 to 2.16).