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Wider Breast-Feeding Could Save Babies' Lives

It could also save U.S. $13 billion a year, study finds

MONDAY, April 5 (HealthDay News) -- Each year, more than 900 preventable child deaths occur in the United States because too few mothers follow breast-feeding recommendations, a new study has found.

Child health problems associated with poor breast-feeding compliance cost the country $13 billion a year in direct health-care costs and indirect costs, such as missed time from work, according to the researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.

Of the 911 deaths per year cited in the report, 95 percent were infants and resulted from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lower respiratory tract infections (such as pneumonia), and necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a disease that occurs primarily in preterm infants.

The study was published online April 5 in the journal Pediatrics.

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. mothers start to breast-feed, but only 32 percent breast-feed exclusively at three months, and that drops to 12 percent by six months. At one year, only 22 percent of mothers are doing any breast-feeding, the study authors noted.

The medical recommendation is to breast-feed exclusively for six months with some breast-feeding for at least the first year of life.

"People shouldn't blame mothers because they are often not supported well, even from the moment their babies are born," study author Dr. Melissa Bartick, a hospitalist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a news release.

The average U.S. hospital does a poor job of providing evidence-based care around infant feeding, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other factors that make it difficult for mothers to follow breast-feeding recommendations include limited work, social and cultural support, as well as aggressive marketing of infant formula, Bartick said.

More information

The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about breast-feeding.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Cambridge Health Alliance, news release, April 5, 2010

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