Aim: To compare the use and cost of health care in infants with different feeding patterns.
Methods: Observational study on a cohort of 842 infants born in ten hospitals in northern Italy and followed up to age 12 months. Data on feeding gathered through telephone interviews with 24-hour recall. Data on use of health services reported by mothers and checked against records. Data on hospital cost derived from Disease Related Groups codes. Data on cost of other services obtained from maternal reports and available price lists.
Results: At three months, 56% of infants were fully breastfed, 17% complementary fed and 27% not breastfed. Infants fully breastfed at three months had 4.90 episodes of illness requiring ambulatory care and 0.10 hospital admissions per infant/year compared with 6.02 and 0.17, respectively, in infants not or not fully breastfed. They had also a lower cost of health care: 34.69 euro versus 54.59 per infant/year for ambulatory care, and 133.53 euro versus 254.03 per infant/year for hospital care. Higher cost of health care was significantly associated with having a hospital admission and being a twin; cost of health care decreased with each additional gram of birth weight, each month of delayed return of the mother to work after the third month, and each extra month of breastfeeding.
Conclusion: Lack of breastfeeding and higher use and cost of health care are significantly associated.