The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding

by Andreana Doyle

FOR SALE: A food for infants/toddlers that fulfills ALL nutritional requirements at all ages. Provides antibodies for immunity to a broad spectrum of diseases, illnesses and ailments. Requires no heating, cooking, mixing, stirring or sterilizing of any kind and is ready to use at a moments notice. All claims backed up by scientific studies.

I'm sure that Moms and Dads everywhere are interested in the above product. Does such a product really exist? Can it really live up to those lofty claims? And if it does, how much would you be willing to pay for it?

The good news is that such a product really does exist and it does live up to all of those claims - and more! Where can you buy and how much does it cost? The even better news is that it cost absolutely nothing. That's right - IT IS FREE! What is it? BREASTMILK.

Breastfeeding is nothing new, of course. It was the primary means of sustaining an infant's life until the late 1800's when a German scientist (Leipzig) invented "formula." This "formula" was an attempt to duplicate human breastmilk. I say attempt because infant formulas compare rather woefully to human breastmilk. This is where the many, many benefits of breastfeeding your baby begins.

All milk produced by mammals consists of water, protein, fat, and lactose (sugar), along with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and hormones. However, the proportions of each of these "ingredients" vary according to the requirements of the mammal producing the milk. For example, cow's milk contains very large amounts of protein since calves grow at such a rapid pace. Calves can walk within HOURS of their birth. Their bodies require a large amount of protein in order for their legs to have the strength for this. Most infant formula is made from cow's milk. However, it must be altered a great deal in order for it to be even remotely suitable for a human infant. It is diluted with water, but this then requires sugar to be added to make-up for the lost calories. Iron is also added in large quantities. Infant formula usually boasts a large amount of iron. This is because formula companies know that of all the iron present in infant formula only 4% is absorbed by the infant. Breastmilk contains relatively low amounts of iron. Nonetheless, since it is made for the human infant and is readily digestible an infant will absorb 49% of the iron present in breastmilk. In addition, enzymes and hormones are completely absent in formula.

Human breastmilk is designed specifically for human babies. It contains everything a human baby needs to survive without having to supplement in any way. For some time scientists have been studying human breastmilk in the hopes of being able to duplicate it more accurately. As a result of these studies the presence of many of its previously undetected components have been discovered. At first scientists were baffled by the presence of these components, as they were unsure of the role they played in the development of the human infant. However, with time and patience, in every case a specific purpose or role has been discovered for each of these components. To date, scientists are unable to recreate most of them. Simply stated, breastmilk is impossible to duplicate. Scientists with several post-graduate degrees have only been able to come up with the truly inferior infant formulas of today. Moms and Dads who try to save money by trying to duplicate an already inferior product can put the health and well being of their child at risk.

Before we can begin to discuss the economic benefits of breastfeeding, we must first examine the health benefits of breastfeeding to mother, baby and family. Research has shown that children who are NOT breastfed have higher rates of mortality, meningitis, some types of cancer, asthma and other respiratory illness, bacterial and viral infections, diarrhoeal diseases, ear infections, allergies and obesity. Research has also shown that breastmilk/breastfeeding also have protective effects against the development of juvenile diabetes, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and lymphomas, as well as other chronic diseases. Breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of breast and ovarian cancer, hip fractures, and osteoporosis. Further, a number of recent studies have concluded that breastfed children have higher IQs at all ages.

There are essentially three main economic benefits to breastfeeding. First, it is absolutely, completely, 100% free of charge. As a result, you don't have to spend money every week on cans of expensive formula. Nor do you have to expend time and energy(a natural resource) boiling water and then adding it to concentrated liquid or powder formula. This leads to an environmental benefit - no plastic or metal cans to dispose of.

Second, every woman is born with all the equipment necessary to breastfeed her baby. You don't have to buy bottles and nipples which then have to be sterilized - and re-sterilized. This results in another environmental benefit. You will not need to dispose of these plastic bottles and nipples nor will you have to waste any natural resources (such as gas, or electricity) to keep these items sanitary for baby.

Third, and perhaps the most far reaching, is the benefit of lower health care costs. Breastfeeding makes babies healthier. Healthy babies require fewer visits to the pediatrician. This translates to less money out of the pockets of Mom and Dad, whether in the form of co-pays, prescription medications, or both. Healthy babies also have low rates of hospitalization. A study cited in the Texas Journal of Women and the Law (Spring 1994) found that formula-fed infants required hospitalization at rates 15% higher than their breastfed counterparts. This was true even after adjusting for such factors as lower birth weight, maternal age, day care exposure, smoking and socio-economics.

These lower health care costs can conceivably follow an infant way beyond weaning into adulthood. How is that possible? Just as car insurers can charge lower rates for drivers with a clean record, health insurers can be saved money by keeping insureds healthy. In other words, if the health care system is not drained and over-worked with unhealthy patients the savings will benefit all of us.

The bottom line is this: you simply cannot go wrong with breastfeeding. Breastmilk is THE superior infant food and it's free. It benefits the entire family by reducing illness and therefore reducing health care costs. And these benefits are far reaching, lasting well past infancy and childhood into adulthood. So with all that in mind, why would you feed your baby anything else?

For more information about breastfeeding and support groups in your area contact La Leche League at 800-LA-LECHE or visit their website at

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