If new moms adhered to the recommended guidelines that urge them to breast-feed each child they give birth to for at least one year, they could theoretically stave off up to 5,000 cases of breast cancer, about 54,000 cases of hypertension and nearly 14,000 heart attacks annually.
Averting those diseases could also save $860 million, according to research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Those figures, while significant and intriguing, are not actual numbers from documented cases. Rather, they're the result of a sophisticated statistical model used to compare the effect of current breast-feeding rates in the U.S. to ideal rates.
The study, led by Harvard researcher Dr. Melissa Bartick, simulated the experiences of about 2 million U.S. women from the time they were 15 until they turned 70, estimating outcomes and cumulative costs over the decades in between.
Number-crunchers ran the data applying current breast-feeding rates – about 25% of U.S. women breast-feed for the recommended 12 months per child — and again assuming that 90% of women embraced the guidelines. "To be totally scientifically accurate, those are costs for a cohort of women in a certain year," says Bartick, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Harvard Medical School. "If breast-feeding rates change, the cost would be different."
Still, she says, the point is that breast-feeding boosts mom's health in a big way. "We know that 60% of women don't even meet their personal breast-feeding goals, whether it's three or four or six months," says Bartick. "We need to do more to support women so they can breast-feed longer. There are thousands of needless cases of disease and death that could be prevented."
Image: Breastfeeding mom, via Shutterstock