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Study: Breastfeeding saves lives, dollars

An expert from Duke Medicine talks about a new study that says more than 900 lives and billions of dollars could be saved if more moms breastfed exclusively for six months.

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Baby Medical
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
Nancy Murray, a nurse clinician and board certified lactation consultant at Duke Medicine, wasn't surprised by a new study that says that lives and money would be saved if more moms breastfed their babies exclusively for six months.

It's what those in the breastfeeding world have known for a long time, Murray told me.

But what makes the new study stand out is that it wasn't published in a lactation journal, she said. Instead, it was Pediatrics, the mainstream journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. And it included some eye-popping figures: the lives of more than 900 people, mostly babies, and $13 billion would be saved if babies received only breast milk for the first six months of their lives.

"It's what we've known in the lactation community for a goodly amount of time," Murray said. "But they put it together and put this financial edge to it."

The article caught my eye in the paper the other week primarily because, at that very same time, I was breastfeeding my own seven-month-old.

The study looked at the direct and indirect costs of some common childhood diseases, which studies have found breastfeeding can protect against. Read more about the study in this article at CNN and another by the Associated Press. The Infant Formula Council, which represents formula makers, has raised questions about the study and its conclusions.
I knew that many moms didn't make it for the full six months, but I had no idea how few. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13.6 percent of U.S. moms exclusively breastfeed for six months. In North Carolina, the number is 13.1 percent, according to the 2009 CDC report.
Murray points out that there are those moms who aren't able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Some moms don't produce enough breastmilk, Murray said, though often can supplement with it. She treats some of them at Duke Children's Primary Care pediatric practice.

But for many, life can get in the way.

"We have so many patients who go back to work so early and it's so difficult to take time at work to pump to provide 100 percent breast milk," she said. "It's hard. I know in our practice, with our physicians, if they are pumping they have breaks in our schedule so they can pump. I have patient who work at McDonald's who has a handpump and goes into the bathroom and pumps."

Murray said she's hopeful that the study and the attention that it has received will only help to boost breastfeeding rates.

"People need to understand it's not just a feeding choice," she said, "but it's a health choice."

Duke Medicine offers regular breastfeeding courses for expectant moms and dads.
If you have questions about breastfeeding, are looking for help or support, you also can check out our breastfeeding resource page, which includes links to other local classes, lactation consultants, groups and resources who can help.

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