Cost analysis of breastfeeding outcomes in the UK

A cost analysis of the health outcomes related to breastfeeding was conducted to provide evidence on the value of breastfeeding to UK health services. Four inter-related work packages were conducted:

Work Package 1 - Systematic reviews.

Work Package 2 - Estimating risk ratios for health outcomes.

Work Package 3 - Economic analyses and modelling.

Work Package 4 - Methodological and policy analysis, potential impact, dissemination.

Key findings

  • Low breastfeeding rates in the UK lead to an increased incidence of illness that has a significant cost to the health service. For example, it is estimated that a modest increase in breastfeeding rates could save over £17 million annually due to the reduction of four infant illnesses (diarrhoeal disease, respiratory infection, otitis media and necrotising enterocolitis).
  • Investment in effective services to increase and sustain breastfeeding rates is likely to provide a return within a few years.
  • Investing in supporting women to breastfeed is likely to improve the quality of life for women (through a reduction in the incidence of breast cancer) and for children (through a reduction in the incidence of four infant illnesses).
  • Research into the extent of the burden of disease associated with low breastfeeding rates is hampered by data collection methods; this can be addressed by investing in good quality research.

Journal Articles


  • Renfrew M, Pokhrel S, Quigley M, McCormick F, Fox-Rushby J, Dodds R, Duffy S, Trueman P, Duffy S, Williams A. Preventing diseases and saving lives: the potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK. UK: UNICEF. 2012.
NPEU Contact:
Maria Quigley (
Chief Investigators:
Mary Renfrew (external investigator)
Last updated:
Thursday, 07 November 2019 08:01