Increased Breastfeeding Would Reduce Morbidities and Costs

MedicalResearch.com Interview with
Rosemary Dodds
Senior Policy Adviser
NCT (formerly National Childbirth Trust), London, UK

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The study, which was commissioned by UNICEF UK, was designed to take an in-depth look at how raising breastfeeding rates might save money for the health service through reducing illness. It found that low breastfeeding rates in the UK are costing the health service millions of pounds. We calculated that from reducing rates of illnesses, where the evidence is strongest, moderate increases in breastfeeding could see potential annual savings to the health service of around £40m per year.

It should be noted however, that this figure is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg when the full range of conditions affected by breastfeeding are taken into account.

Economic models around five illnesses (breast cancer in the mother, and gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, middle ear infections and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) in the baby), show that moderate increases in breastfeeding would translate into the following cost savings for the NHS:

  • If half those mothers who currently do not breastfeed were to do so for up to 18 months over their life, there would be:

– 865 fewer cases of breast cancer

– With cost savings to the NHS of over £21million

– Improved quality of life equating to more than £10million[1]

Over the lifetime of each annual cohort of first-time mothers.

  • If 45% of babies were exclusively breastfed for four months, and if 75% of babies in neonatal units were breastfeeding at discharge, each year there would be:

– 3,285 fewer babies hospitalised with gastroenteritis and 10,637 fewer GP consultations, saving more than £3.6million

– 5,916 fewer babies hospitalised with respiratory illness, and 22,248 fewer GP consultations, saving around £6.7million

– 21,045 fewer GP visits for ear infection, saving £750,000

– 361 fewer cases of the potentially fatal disease necrotising enterocolitis, saving more than £6million

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: The study indicates that NHS managers and commissioners should invest in breastfeeding support around the time of birth and in the early weeks. We know that most women want to breastfeed, but around a third stop in the first few weeks because they did not receive the right information and skilled support when they needed it. Around 80% of these women would have liked to continue. Increasing the support available at this time could save women from stopping before they wanted and save the health service money.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Further research into the best ways to support women is needed. We know that multifaceted programmes, involving the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative in both hospitals and community facilities helps, as health professionals are trained and women receive better information, but the best means of reaching women and improving support in the community, and among families is not yet clear.

Citation:

Potential economic impacts from improving breastfeeding rates in the UK

S Pokhrel, M A Quigley, J Fox-Rushby, F McCormick, A Williams, P Trueman, R Dodds, M J Renfrew

Arch Dis Child Published Online First: 4 December 2014 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-306701