WASHINGTON, DC – As parents scramble to find baby formula, insurance companies and Medicaid plans need to cover breastmilk storage bags and the breast pump replacement parts to support the increased need to breastfeed and pump. Last week, infant formula out-of-stock rates climbed to 74% nationally, according to a recent article by Bloomberg press. While the Biden Administration has taken some actions to provide relief, it will likely take months before those actions produce results. In the interim, it is important to consider ways we can make sure moms delivering today and tomorrow have access to the resources they need to ensure a successful breastfeeding journey. They need access to breast pumps prior to delivery and have continued access to vital breast pump supplies and milk storage bags.
As the baby formula shortage continues to worsen, public health officials and health care providers are requesting increased support for breastfeeding, as most understand that human milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.
According to a recent article written by Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, “Across the US there is an absence of coordinated and evidence-based recommendations for families who are unable to obtain the formula their babies require to grow and develop. This increases the risk of parents turning to unsafe alternatives and seeking advice from unreliable sources. We urge all parents to turn to their own medical providers for advice on how to make the best choices in this limited landscape to mitigate potential risks to infants.”
“There has never been a more important time for insurance companies, including state Medicaid plans, to support breastfeeding,” Jason Canzano, co-chair of the AAHomecare Breastfeeding Coalition, said. “As a coalition of breastfeeding equipment providers, we are seeing a strong increase in demand for breast pumps, replacement parts, and breastmilk storage bags.”
In the United States, 84% of new mothers initiate breastfeeding, 58% are still breastfeeding and pumping at 6 months, and only 35% are breastfeeding at 12 months.
Boosting breastfeeding initiation and duration rates would help change the proportions of human milk to formula and would bring substantial health care savings. Infants receiving human milk have reduced risks of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, severe lower respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting), and more. There are also health benefits for mothers, as breastfeeding can help lower a mother’s risk of high blood pressure (an epidemic in this country), type 2 diabetes, and ovarian and breast cancer. Breastfed infants translate into lower medical insurance claims for insurance companies and Medicaid plans.
If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess of 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance).While increasing breastfeeding initiation and duration rates will not completely solve the immediate baby formula shortage, it can change the proportions of human milk to formula, improve public health, and provide savings to our health care system.