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Study shows breast milk can save parents money, keep infants healthy
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Teresa Brewer, right, lactation consultant at the Women & Children’s Pavilion at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, talks with Jessica Knight as she holds her newborn daughter, Lily in this Times file photo. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

While most everyone is looking for ways to save money, the answer could be closer than expected for new mothers.

If 90 percent of mothers breast-feed their children for the first six months of their lives, it could save the U.S. $13 billion annually, according to an article recently published in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, Pediatrics. It could also prevent nearly 1,000 infant deaths each year, researchers said.

“This pretty much confirms what we’ve known for years,” said Margaret Hulsey, Northeast Georgia Medical Center OB patient educator and lactation consultant.

“I’m glad that they are putting this information out there.”

According to researchers, around 43 percent of mothers in the U.S. breast-feed. Locally, around 60 percent of mothers that give birth at the hospital are breast-feeding, Hulsey said.

As reported in the study, the cost savings comes in the form of fewer pediatric diseases. The report outlines that if mothers gave their babies only breast milk for the first six months, there would be fewer cases of childhood obesity, hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections and sudden infant death syndrome — among other things.

In addition to benefits for the baby, there are also benefits for the overall family. Hulsey said breast-feeding mothers can save $2,000 a year per child on things such as formula and prescriptions.

“Mothers also get a larger food package from (the Women Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program) if they breast-feed,” Hulsey said.

Although breast-feeding isn’t as popular as it once was, participation numbers are on the rise, especially with the presence of various support systems like the hospital’s lactation center.

“We opened the center about 10 years ago when we realized that a lot of women didn’t have the support system available. We basically have skipped a whole generation of breast-feeders,” Hulsey said.

“Most of the time, if a mom can make it past the first two weeks they most likely will be able to (stick with breast-feeding). A lot of women give up when the baby starts to nurse more often (because they think they won’t produce enough milk), but their body will make milk as it is needed — it’s a supply and demand system.”

In addition to selling breast-feeding friendly clothing the lactation center also has consultants that are available to assist breast-feeding mothers both in the hospital and at home. The center also has a few other breast-feeding essentials.

“We lend and sale really good breast pumps. Now you can pump at work, or wherever, in about 10 to 15 minutes — it used to take a really long time,” Hulsey said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how compatible pumping and work are. You just need a private place a couple of times a day. (Researchers) have been telling us recently that because breast milk is so full of antibodies that it can even sit at room temperature for three to five hours.”

Hulsey said most mothers are capable of breast-feeding, and more should consider it.

“Babies are sick so much less often. We really were born to breast-feed and to have human milk for the first year of our life,” Hulsey said.

“Anything else should be the exception and not the rule.”

Although more mothers are being encouraged to breast-feed, there are some exceptions. According to the pediatrics academy, mothers that have untreated tuberculosis, herpes simplex lesions on their breast or who are going through radiation should not breast-feed.

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