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Advantages of Breastfeeding to Society

Breastfeeding is more than a personal or family matter, and the decision to breastfeed affects more than an individual mother-baby pair or a single family. Breastfeeding rates have a powerful impact on the whole society by affecting the health of mothers and babies, the economy, and the environment.

Our entire society benefits when babies are given the best possible start in life.
The babies being born today will be our country's leaders tomorrow, and the nutrition they receive in infancy will serve as the cornerstone of their optimal growth and development. When our nation's children are given every chance to reach their full potential, all of us stand to benefit. Conversely, when babies face health disadvantages because of their early diet, we all pay the price.

Human milk uses no natural resources and generates no industrial waste.
On the other hand, the production of formula, cans, bottles, nipples, labels, packaging, and advertising uses trees, metal, glass, plastics, paper, and fuel. Artificial feeding of infants creates an enormous volume of waste materials. In hospital nurseries, formula-fed babies are offered a single-use glass or plastic bottle up to eight times a day. Often, little more than an ounce is consumed from a three- or four-ounce bottle and the rest is discarded.

Breastfeeding saves Americans millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on formula.
The average family of a bottle-fed baby spends $750 to $1,000 each year on formula. The U.S. government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year purchasing formula for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Breastfeeding reduces infant health care costs because breastfed babies have fewer hospitalizations and fewer infections.
The additional number of illnesses needlessly suffered by formula-fed babies translates into staggering medical costs. The medical and surgical treatment for childhood ear infections alone has been estimated to cost $3 to $4 billion per year. The annual cost of hospitalizations due to RSV infections is over $300 million, while diarrhea illness in childhood costs almost $1 billion. Increasing breastfeeding rates could drastically decrease societal health care costs by greatly reducing the number of infections and resulting hospitalizations during infancy. Recent studies confirm that insurance payers spend more health care dollars on the medical costs of formula-fed infants than breastfed infants.

Current Infant-Feeding Recommendations
With all the advantages just cited, it should come as no surprise that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), together with numerous other health professional organizations, recognizes breastfeeding as the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants. In December 1997, the AAP released an updated breastfeeding policy statement that strongly recommends human milk as the preferred feeding for infants and acknowledges breastfeeding as primary in achieving optimal infant and child health, growth, and development.

The AAP recommends a diet of exclusive breast milk as ideal nutrition for about the first six months of life, during which babies more than double their birth weight. Iron-enriched solid foods should be added to the infant's diet, beginning around six months, with breastfeeding continuing for at least twelve months, and longer if mother and baby desire. If breastfeeding is discontinued before a year of age, infants should drink iron-fortified infant formula and not receive cow's milk until after twelve months of age.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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