The economic benefits of increasing breastfeeding rates in Spain

  • Referencia: Quesada, J.A., Méndez, I. y Martín-Gil, R.: “The economic benefits of increasing breastfeeding rates in Spain”. 2020, International Breastfeeding Journal, 15(34): 1-7.. DOI:

Background: Interventions aimed at promoting breastfeeding rates are among the most effective possible health policies available, with an estimated return of US$35 per dollar invested. Indeed, some authors found that a 10% increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first two years of life led to a reduction in treatment costs of US$312 million in the US, US$7.8 million in the UK, US$30 million in China, and US$1.8 million in Brazil. Among high-income countries, Spain stands out for its low breastfeeding rate.
Methods: We calculated the savings that the Spanish National Health System would have benefited from had breastfeeding rates been higher in Spain, both from the time of hospital discharge and at 6 months postpartum. We followed the methods used in similar studies carried out in the US, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, and the UK, to conservatively estimate these potential savings by considering only the lower thresholds in all our estimates. Here we approximated the benefits of having increased exclusive breastfeeding rates based on the lower incidence of infantile pathologies among exclusively breastfed infants. Robust evidence indicates that among breastfed infants there is a lower prevalence of otitis media, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, and necrotising enterocolitis. We obtained the estimated monetary cost of these diseases by combining their prevalences with data about their economic costs for diagnosis-related groups.
Results: The estimated effects we calculated imply that the Spanish National Health System could have saved more than €5.6 million for every percentage point increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates in Spain during 2014.

Conclusions: Breastfeeding is essential both for the health of mothers and the health and development of newborns but is rarely considered as an economic issue and remains economically invisible. In addition to the improved wellbeing of mothers and their infants, breastfeeding can positively impact society as a whole and should therefore be better defined in public policies. Thus, strategies aimed at increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates would likely contribute to lowering the fiscal burden of the Spanish National Health System. Moreover, the magnitude of these potential benefits suggests that such policies would likely be socially cost–effective.

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