ABC News: Get Your Facts Straight on Costs of Low Breastfeeding Rates

In reporting on a just-released study showing that low breastfeeding rates costs us at least $13 billion annually and 900 infant lives, ABC News is missing some important facts.  The ABC News story differs markedly from the Associated Press story, which we think does a better job of reporting on the study.  For a link to the original study, published online in Pediatrics by our friend Melissa Bartick, MD, click here.   We are thrilled with the study and hope it will provide the impetus for more studies along the same lines.   Only when our culture truly appreciates breastfeeding, and truly understands the barriers, will more pressure be applied to the “Booby Traps” instead of to moms!  

Here’s our response to the slanted article by ABC News: 

ABC News:  “A new study calculates the cost in the United States of not breastfeeding infants in their first six months of life at $13 billion each year [. . . ] but the study fails to consider the costs of what would be needed to make breastfeeding easier for mothers. ”

BfB:  1.  The AAP, ACOG and others have already asked Congress for breastfeeding infrastructure budget of $15 million to raise breastfeeding rates.  That is less than 1% of what could be saved!   See our post from March 19th (2 weeks ago!)  Very little money is currently being spent by Congress on a coordinated approach to remove the breastfeeding “booby traps” –the cultural, social, and institutional barriers that keep the 86% of  expecting mothers that say they WANT to breastfeed from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.   Surely $15 million would be a worthy investment to save 900 lives and billions in medical costs?   Even 100 times that, at $1.5 billion, seems like a good deal.   $1.5 billion is still only about half what the formula industry spends annually on marketing and advertising. 

 2. The study, while a huge improvement on the previous study measuring the cost for 3 pediatric illnesses, only takes into account 10 pediatric illnesses.  How many billions could be saved on all pediatric illnesses?   How many billions could be saved on maternal illnesses like breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis?  How many billions could be saved on a reduced environmental burden?  How many billions could be saved on missed days of work, lower employee morale?

ABC News:  “The biggest barrier to mothers continuing to breastfeed seems to be the fact that more mothers are in the workplace,” said Dr. Lillian Beard, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine. [. . . ] ‘I think this report puts an unfair slant on it,’ Beard said. “It’s not taking into account that for almost two thirds of U.S. families, women are either the co-breadwinner or the breadwinner. Returning to work is germane for the survival of the family.” Beard said that while a majority of women may want to breastfeed, outside constraints make it difficult and there is a drop-off in breastfeeding once they have to return to work.

A real "booby trap". Not far from what moms are experiencing.

BfB:  Actually, the biggest barrier to continuing to breastfeed is not the workplace, but the fact that 70% of hospitals perform poorly on breastfeeding support.   If moms can’t even make it through the firt few days without 25% of healthy, full-term babies being unnecessarily supplemented, often against the parents wishes, how are they supposed to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work?   Unnecessary supplementation is a “booby trap” that undermines the supply and demand mechanics of breastfeeding, wrecks the baby’s latch, gets  breastfeeding off to a lousy and often painful start, and is practically guaranteed to make moms want to throw in the towel.   And we don’t blame them.  

ABC News:   “Probably, many of the costs to get breastfeeding that high would be social, not medical expenses,” [says Rebecca Goldin, an associate professor of mathematical sciences and director of research for the Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University], including compensating employers for giving women time to breastfeed and having social workers visit homes to help new mothers with nursing.  “Those are very real costs,” said Goldin. “When you do an economic comparison, it’s unfair to only look at one aspect of the cost for any one particular decision. It’s not clear that this is a fair savings to the nation.”

BfB:  We already addressed some of the cost issue above.  But compensating employers???   Is Professor Goldin aware that employers save between $2 and $3 for every $1 invested in lactation programs?   Perhaps she should read about the Business Case for Breastfeeding in the FAQs just issued by the United States Breastfeeding Committee in response to the passage of the Health Care Reform package.   

ABC News:   “Although breastfeeding is absolutely ideal, for the mothers who cannot and choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is what’s recommended,” [says Dr. Lillian Beard, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and an assistant professor at the Howard University College of Medicine].  “I don’t want to beat her over the head with guilt. I let her know that infant formula is the safest, most nutritious and only recommended alternative to her milk.”

BfB:  1.  Breastfeeding is not “ideal,” it is as normal as learning to walk and in the same way includes a learning curve and requires time, patience and lots of support.   Painting breastfeeding as an “ideal” is a “booby-trap” because most parents, and most people, really, find striving for an ideal to be impossible.   Personally, I am just getting by as a parent by the seat of my pants and doing the best job I can; if I had to attain an “ideal” I would have jumped out the window long ago.  

2.  Infant formula is NOT the only recommended alternative, in fact it is in last place among recommended alternatives.   Expressed breastmilk from the mother is first in line, and donated, screened, pasteurized human milk from a registered milk bank is recommended above infant formula, which should only be used as a last resort according to the World Health Organization.  

3.  Women who can not breastfeeding should not be stigmatized; they should have access to donor milk.   However, far too many women are being “booby-trapped” by doctors like Dr. Beard, who portray breastfeeding as an “ideal” instead of inpiring, preparing and empowering mothers to succeed.  Great doctors neither guilt nor undermine their patients; they inspire them with confidence, and cheer them on much as a good coach, or at least refer them to an excellent lactation counselor.  Furthermore, too many moms are  duped into believing they can’t breastfeed by poorly trained hospital staff, by hospitals operating with conflicting agendas because they receive millions of dollars in funding from the formula industry.  

What ABC News overlooks the most is that most women WANT to & CAN breastfeed; it is a tragedy that most mothers and babies are being “booby-trapped” by the barriers, see

Did we miss anything?   Anyone want to take on the driving analogy of Professor Goldin?

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33 Comments | Last revised on 04/05/2010

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