Hospital system costs of artificial infant feeding: estimates for the Australian Capital Territory

Aust N Z J Public Health. 2002 Dec;26(6):543-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-842x.2002.tb00364.x.


Objective: To estimate the attributable ACT hospital system costs of treating selected infant and childhood illnesses having known associations with early weaning from human milk.

Method: We identified relative risks of infant and childhood morbidity associated with exposure to artificial feeding in the early months of life vs. breastfeeding from cohort studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1997 as establishing the protective effect of breastfeeding. Data for ACT breastfeeding prevalence is assessed from a 1997 prospective population-based cohort study of 1,295 women. ACT Hospital Morbidity Data and DRG treatment costs were used to estimate the attributable fraction of costs of hospitalisation for gastrointestinal illness, respiratory illness and otitis media, eczema, and necrotising enterocolitis.

Results: Although initiation rates were high (92%), less than one in 10 ACT infants are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months, mainly due to supplementation or weaning on to formula within the first three months and the early introduction of solids by breastfeeding mothers. This study suggests the attributable hospitalisation costs of early weaning in the ACT are about $1-2 million a year for the five illnesses.

Conclusions and implications: Early weaning from breastmilk is associated with significant hospital costs for treatment of gastrointestinal illness, respiratory illness and otitis media, eczema, and necrotising enterocolitis. These costs are minimum estimates of the cost of early weaning as they exclude numerous other chronic or common illnesses and out-of-hospital health care costs. Higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding would reduce these costs. Interventions to protect and support breastfeeding are likely to be cost-effective for the public health system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australian Capital Territory / epidemiology
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Diagnosis-Related Groups
  • Health Services Research
  • Hospital Costs*
  • Humans
  • Infant Food*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Morbidity*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Weaning*