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Monday, April 5, 2010

Study: Breastfeeding saves lives, money

A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics  has found - shocker - that breastfeeding saves lives and could save, theoretically, billions of dollars each year, according to a cost analysis.

They call the results "startling," but those of us who have had to buy formula, or are thankful we don't have to, are not surprised. One can alone of that stuff is not cheap. I think the philosophy of most of the nursing moms I know is, if you have 'em, use 'em. Nursing isn't always easy, but once you get the hang of it, it's cheap! Totally free! And so much more convenient than going to the store and buying caseload after caseload of formula.

I don't think, though, that that's going to change the mindset of the formula companies or hospitals/medical staff who practically shove the stuff down your throat when you have a baby. I've heard of so many women who are proverbially beaten over the head with the "Free Formula bag" they feel like it's a do-or-die situation. Or nurses who will feed bottles to the newborn even though the mother expressly said not to (or those who say "Formula is just as good as breastmilk." Hopefully they are rare!) With my third, they were concerned about his 'blood sugar,' but never told me his levels (or anything else), except "His sugars were borderline, so we gave him formula. That's what we do - we don't even ask."

One nurses' assistant while I was in the hospital said, "I don't believe that stuff about babies getting confused between the breast or bottle," and I thought, Well. I'll be sure and call you at 2 a.m. when my son decides he'd rather have formula than me." Try telling that to moms for whom it's been a serious problem and I'm sure they'll tell you otherwise.

Anyway, I digress.

I find the timing of this study interesting, to say the least. National healthcare legislation has just been passed, and I'm sure the government is all about saving money. I know WIC encourages breastfeeding, because it's healthy, of course, but yes - it saves them money - but I wonder how many mothers in the program are nursing. I'm not sure if WIC already does, but I would love to see some initiatives by this group to get more moms to nurse because of those very obvious benefits. That much saved on formula could mean that money goes to another family (or families) in the program who also need it.

Think about it - in the WIC program, I wonder how much money the government is paying for formula alone. It's just an observation - I'm not judging anyone for being on WIC - just wondering out loud how much it probably costs. I bet that's startling.


TracyKM said...

All I know, is that over 50% of the formula bought in the US is through the WIC program. In Canada, we don't have that program. If you want to use formula, you've got to fork out the cash yourself. I think it really helps our stats. As well as the longer maternity leave.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I need to do some research on this, because you are probably onto something.

As far as this study goes, they don't mention the problems associated with trying to nurse a baby to even six months: maybe lack of support, maternal concerns like medications or illness, and going back to work, especially in an environment that's unfriendly to nursing.

But rule those out and I wonder who we're left with: moms who are uneducated about breastfeeding, or think "it's gross," or those who have no desire. Or those who give up after a week because it's hard. I don't mean to knock them, especially, because some women do try their hardest and it still doesn't work out. But did they give up that easily when trying to have a baby? Just quit after the first week of trying to conceive? Probably not. (just an example)

Whoz Your Doula said...

Great post! Thanks for stopping by my spot today. I think there is a lack of support in our society about breastfeeding. Look how much publicity the story about the lady being kicked out of the restaurant got, or the baby who died because of mom having to cover up on the airplane. How much publicity did baby Moses get who was breastfed by community women after the untimely death of his mother?
Also if more women felt comfortable with breastfeeding in public that would certainly help our rates. It's sad when I hear the response "do people still do that?"
@Tracy I wish women here did have a longer maternity leave. Often times they are not even able to enjoy their time with their new baby because they are thinking about having to go back to work.
I would be curious to know what your obs there think about breastfeeding and how it is promoted in the hospital too. I don't know a lot about the Canadian birth climate either. To often then none I have heard how women were not interested in breastfeeding because of a bad birth experience as well. Our c-section rates are through the roof. Some practices are just not breastfeeding friendly.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I don't really remember it being an issue with my OB. Meaning, they never discussed it. Once. I do think my ped (who is a family doctor/osteopath) thinks it's great that I'm still nursing my youngest. I wish he delivered babies!

I know that longer paid maternity leave would be great - but I wonder how our economy could ever sustain such a thing. We are already rolling in debt and I doubt that's going to change anytime soon. I think culturally it comes and goes - 75+ years ago my grandfather was nursed by his mother for a year. My grandma, born in 1925, did not nurse her babies (not as popular, culturally then) but did not have a maternal role model since her own mother died when she was a newborn. Now, culturally, we are all about "working because you have to" or "because you want to," which increases the guilt factor a lot with working moms. While there are those who tactlessly say things like "Your baby will die!" if he has formula, I do think, as someone else mentioned, a lot of that guilt is brought upon themselves.

Ironically a few of the women I know who had nursing problems are stay at home moms. One had inverted nipples and tried with both of her children, but persistent weight loss and the ultimatum of a pediatrician made her switch eventually. I know now that you CAN nurse with inverted nipples, but did she know that? I'm sure her ped and OB offered little advice.

The other is very small (if you get my drift) and I wonder if that attributed to her thinking her kids weren't getting enough. They were both slow nursers who took a long time at each feeding, and it was tedious for her - although she nursed them each at least 9 months, I think. I'm the neighborhood fruitcake who nursed for nearly two years LOL and has no plans of weaning the youngest anytime soon! :P

And of course there is the cultural pressure to wean once they reach a certain age. One friend is a SAHM of an 11-month-old who nursed and pumped (so she wouldn't run the risk of having to nurse in public *sigh*) and was telling me how ready she was to wean. She even said she was feeding her daughter formula in the middle of the night to discourage nighttime feedings where she would want the breast, which made zero sense to me. This, coming from a second generation European where breastfeeding rates cultural bias are generally better. *shaking head*

And while I know there are workforce barriers to nursing, I wonder what percentage of women just don't care that nursing is "better" - maybe through lack of education, a perceived notion that because their mothers never nursed them, it was okay; or maybe even those for whom a certain lifestyle is easier to maintain when you don't have to worry about breastmilk (i.e. alcohol and/or casual drug use, for instance) And, for some it might be perceived as easier to whip out a bottle of formula and feed a baby at the mall than have to be bothered by breastfeeding.

TracyKM said...

I do not pay much attention to the overall Canadian 'birth climate' as there's just not that much out there, like there is from the US. We have a terrible doctor shortage, and midwife shortage, so we pretty much just take what we can get. The c-section rates are a little lower, I think, because there isn't the financial incentive for (in particular, refusing VBAC) although I've heard that US doctors get paid the same for either c-section or vag. birth. My OB never cared how I would feed my babies--it's not his area. We generally speaking, don't use Peds. as primary doctors. My family doctor (when I was lucky to have one), didn't care much (or, perhaps didn't care becaue I WAS breastfeeding, maybe she would if I wasn't).
It too amazes me how easily some moms give up. A woman who could train and run a marathon, a former nurse turned drug rep, with a MIL, a mother, AND a nanny right from birth day, quit after 2 weeks because it "wasn't going well". I've seen pictures of the baby at 2 weeks, and it's certainly not like she was withering away. Of course it's hard, but why give up then, when it's only going to get easier?
I could go on...but time to get the kids...