Michelle Teheux: Saving billions through breastfeeding

Michelle Teheux

Nobody should be surprised by the study published this week in the journal Pediatrics. It concluded that about 900 babies’ lives (and billions of dollars) would be saved each year if 90 percent of U.S. women were to nurse their children for just the first six months of life.

Tell me something I didn’t already know.

The Associated Press story dubbed this “startling,” but there is really nothing new in this study that hasn’t been announced before.

It’s long been known that babies who do not receive breastmilk suffer higher rates of illness and death.

The only question is, now what will we do about it?

My guess is, we will change nothing.

Most hospitals will continue to undermine nursing mothers’ efforts by sending them home with free formula and by bottlefeeding their infants each time they return to the nursery.

Many doctors will continue to provide slanted information to expectant and new mothers about infant feeding that was produced and distributed free by a formula company, rather than good and inexpensive information from a non-biased source.

Many folks who see a mother discreetly nursing her child in a restaurant or park will continue to give her the evil eye, so intimidating some women that they’d rather just give a bottle.

Some mothers-in-law, aunts and grandmas who did not nurse their own children will continue to belittle new mothers in their family who are trying to nurse rather than offer them some support.

The media as a whole is unlikely to conclude, “Eureka! So THAT is what breasts are for! Boy, we’re gonna stop running all those magazine cover shots of breasts spilling out of bikinis right now!”

Society will, however, continue to express disgust and outrage each time a celebrity mother is photographed nursing her baby, even if all that can be seen is a baby’s toes peeking out from under a big blanket.

Too many employers will invite working mothers to go ahead and pump their milk — as long as they’re willing to do it in five minutes while sitting on the toilet.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is the time that people will decide that babies’ health is so important that it’s time to make some changes in our culture so that more women will feel comfortable choosing to nurse, and that women who so choose are given the help and support they need to succeed.

Or perhaps the second big point of the study — that breastfeeding saves billions of dollars — will entice us to make some changes, especially in light of the new health care reforms.

We should be doing it to help save babies’ lives, but we’re probably more likely to do it to save money.

Michelle Teheux may be reached at

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.