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Cost analysis of breastfeeding outcomes in the UK

Principal investigator
Mary Renfrew (University of York)
Anthony Williams (St George's Hospital, London), Paul Trueman (Brunel University), Subhash Pokhrel (Brunel University), Alison McFadden (University of York), Felicia McCormick (University of York), Julie Glanville (York Health Economics Consortium), Rosie Dodds (NCT), Maria Quigley (NPEU)
UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative
Start year
End year
NPEU Contact
Maria Quigley


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.