Increasing breastfeeding in UK could save NHS £40 million per year
5 December 2014
Increasing the number of mothers who breastfeed and for longer
could could save the NHS more than £40 million, according to
research carried out at Brunel University London.
The research has shown that the savings would come from a
reduction in both common childhood diseases and the risk of maternal
breast cancer, which are linked to low rates of breastfeeding.
Doubling the number of mothers who breastfeed their babies for
seven months or more over their lifetime could save £31m annually,
while if mothers who breastfeed for one week continued to do so for
four months a further £11m would be saved. Another £6m could be
saved if more babies in neonatal care received breast milk, either
from their mother or donation.
Dr Subhash Pokhrel, of the Health Economics Research Group (HERG)
at Brunel University London, said: “This is not about persuading
more women to breastfeed. It is to reassure policymakers that there
is a return on investment in early help for mothers who have shown
they want to breastfeed.”
To calculate the savings from improving breastfeeding rates, the
research team focused on five diseases for which there is good
quality evidence on the impact of breastfeeding. For infants, these
were gastrointestinal infection (GI), lower respiratory tract
infection (LRTI) and acute otitis media (AOM); necrotising
enterocolitis (NEC) in preterm babies; and breast cancer (BC) in
They calculated the annual cost of treating the four childhood
diseases as £89m, and the lifetime costs of treating breast cancer
in women who had given birth as £960 million.
To achieve the yearly savings, exclusive breastfeeding at four
months would need to rise from 7% to 45% and 75% of neonatal babies
would need breast milk feeds compared to the 35% now.
Professor Julia Fox-Rushby from HERG added: “This is a realistic
goal as UK national statistics indicate 80% of women who stop in the
early weeks would have liked to breastfeed for longer.”
Elsewhere, 80% of Norwegian mothers, 68% of Swedish and 60% of
Australian mothers breastfeed at six months.
S Pokhrel, M Quigley, J Fox-Rushby, F McCormick, A Williams, P
Trueman, R Dodds and M Renfrew. Potential economic impacts from
improving breastfeeding rates in the UK. Archives of Disease in
Childhood. Online first, DOI: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306701