Article Text

Potential economic impacts from improving breastfeeding rates in the UK
  1. S Pokhrel1,
  2. M A Quigley2,
  3. J Fox-Rushby1,
  4. F McCormick3,
  5. A Williams4,
  6. P Trueman1,
  7. R Dodds5,
  8. M J Renfrew6
  1. 1Health Economics Research Group, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, UK
  2. 2National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK
  4. 4Department of Child Health, St. George's, University of London, London, UK
  5. 5NCT (formerly National Childbirth Trust), London, UK
  6. 6Mother and Infant Research Unit, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr S Pokhrel, Health Economics Research Group, Brunel University, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, London UB8 3PH, UK; Subhash.Pokhrel{at}


Rationale Studies suggest that increased breastfeeding rates can provide substantial financial savings, but the scale of such savings in the UK is not known.

Objective To calculate potential cost savings attributable to increases in breastfeeding rates from the National Health Service perspective.

Design and settings Cost savings focussed on where evidence of health benefit is strongest: reductions in gastrointestinal and lower respiratory tract infections, acute otitis media in infants, necrotising enterocolitis in preterm babies and breast cancer (BC) in women. Savings were estimated using a seven-step framework in which an incidence-based disease model determined the number of cases that could have been avoided if breastfeeding rates were increased. Point estimates of cost savings were subject to a deterministic sensitivity analysis.

Results Treating the four acute diseases in children costs the UK at least £89 million annually. The 2009–2010 value of lifetime costs of treating maternal BC is estimated at £959 million. Supporting mothers who are exclusively breast feeding at 1 week to continue breast feeding until 4 months can be expected to reduce the incidence of three childhood infectious diseases and save at least £11 million annually. Doubling the proportion of mothers currently breast feeding for 7–18 months in their lifetime is likely to reduce the incidence of maternal BC and save at least £31 million at 2009–2010 value.

Conclusions The economic impact of low breastfeeding rates is substantial. Investing in services that support women who want to breast feed for longer is potentially cost saving.

  • breastfeeding
  • formula feeding
  • cost of illness
  • infants
  • maternal breast cancer

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