CGBI Researchers Quantify the Economic Impact of Suboptimal Breastfeeding

Data on costs can help make the case for policy makers and payers to invest in breastfeeding. Three recent studies involving CGBI researchers have estimated the costs associated with suboptimal breastfeeding rates.

In August, Katie Wouk, a PhD candidate in Maternal Child Health, joined Ellen Chetwynd, Tom Vitaglione and CGBI Director Catherine Sullivan to author a paper, Improving Access to Medical Lactation Support and Counseling: Building the Case for Medicaid Reimbursement. They modeled the savings that would accrue if breastfeeding rates for Medicaid patients in North Carolina increased from current rates for WIC participants to Healthy People 2020 goal rates. Estimated savings totaled $7.1 million, and 14-18 deaths from sudden infant death syndrome would be prevented. These data were presented to the State Child Fatality Task Force to support Medicaid reimbursement for lactation consultants in North Carolina.


Women’s health benefits of breastfeeding.

Two studies senior-authored by Alison Stuebe, distinguished Scholar of Infant and Young Child Feeding, measured the impact of suboptimal breastfeeding on maternal and child health. In September, Maternal and Child Nutrition published Suboptimal breastfeeding the United States: Maternal and pediatric health outcomes and costs. This simulation study estimated the difference in lifetime disease burden and cost among women and the children they bore for two populations: a “suboptimal” population of women breastfeeding at 2012 rates, and an “optimal” population in which 90% of women breastfed each child exclusively for 6 months and continued for 12 months. Compared with optimal breastfeeding, suboptimal breastfeeding was associated with an excess of 721 child deaths and 2619 maternal deaths, as well as $3.0 billion in medical costs.


Differences in disease burden and racial health disparities associated with suboptimal breastfeeding.

The study team subsequently published a simulation study of differences in disease burden among non-Hispanic Black (NHB), Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White (NHW) populations related to suboptimal breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding rates are lower among NHB and Hispanic populations, the burden is greater, illustrating the health impact of breastfeeding disparities.

“These disparities reflect barriers to breastfeeding, such as lack of paid leave and outdated maternity care, that disproportionately impact families of color,” said Dr. Stuebe. “We can reduce health disparities by protecting each woman’s right to breastfeed her children.”

Compared with a NHW population, the study found that a NHB population has 1.7 times the number of ear infections, 3.3 times the number of cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, and 2.2 times the number of child deaths due to suboptimal breastfeeding, and a Hispanic population has 1.4 times as many GI infections and 1.5 times the number of child deaths.

Learn more about these simulation studies here (overall burden) and here (disparities).

About Katherine Lewandowski

Maternal & Child Health - Ops
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