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Study: Breastfeeding Can Reduce Maternal Breast Cancer and Heart Disease

‘Suboptimal’ breastfeeding responsible for $17 billion in societal costs (June 6)

Mothers who breastfeed are at significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer and hypertension, and of experiencing heart attacks, than women who do not, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

The study findings, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, estimate that suboptimal breastfeeding currently results in $859 million in health care costs and more than $17.4 billion in societal costs from maternal deaths before the age of 70.

Using modeling simulations, researchers evaluated the effects of infant feeding practices on five maternal health conditions: breast cancer, premenopausal ovarian cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and myocardial infarction. The study findings indicate that if 90% of mothers were able to breastfeed as recommended (for 12 months after each birth), U.S. women might be spared:

  • More than 53,000 cases of hypertension
  • Approximately 14,000 heart attacks
  • Nearly 5,000 cases of breast cancer

“While breastfeeding is widely recognized as important to infant health, more people need to understand that breastfeeding appears to have substantial long-term effects on women’s health as well,” said co-author Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, MD, MS.

Previous studies have illustrated the adverse health effects suboptimal breastfeeding has on infants and children, and have estimated that these effects result in more than $14 billion in health costs. The new study is the first to examine the maternal health burden of current rates of lactation in terms of both health and economic costs.

Source: University of Pittsburgh; June 6, 2013.

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