Potential economic impacts from improving breastfeeding rates in the UK

Arch Dis Child. 2015 Apr;100(4):334-40. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2014-306701. Epub 2014 Dec 4.


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.

Keywords: breastfeeding; cost of illness; formula feeding; infants; maternal breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / economics*
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data
  • Cost Savings
  • Cost of Illness
  • Female
  • Health Policy / economics
  • Humans
  • Primary Prevention / economics
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • State Medicine / economics
  • United Kingdom