It is generally assumed that all is just fine in the world of babies. Infant mortality, at least in the Western world, has largely been eliminated. In the USA, we are down to 6 deaths per 1,000 live births according to the CIA World Factbook. Many countries do better. Survival rates for premature babies are generally rising thanks to improved care, further evidence that we are doing a better job than ever.
This focus on mortality relegates feeding to the role of nutrition delivery. As long as we can deliver the requisite quantity of calories and nutrients every day we are doing our job. Most babies have lived through any early feeding difficulties by three months of age so that the problems are temporary, uncomfortable but not life-threatening. We adopt a “calories per day” mentality. The end justifies any means.
Mothers and their support networks know differently. They experience the stresses, strains and, sometimes, terrors of trying to feed their most precious person 6 to 8 times a day. Their stories are legion.
On the surface, babies do not look like a rich source of opportunity to solve problems such as feeding. They, and their problems, are largely off the radar. Unlike so many areas of health and wellness, there is no significant movement or school of thought at work driving research, investment, or innovation. Efforts are diffuse, scattered, and incremental. Why focus on a trivial problem?
Because it is not trivial. It is broad, deep, and expensive.
Let’s start with preemies who are almost certainly going to face feeding issues because of their incomplete development at birth. A mother has a 1 in 10 chance of birthing prematurely in the United States according to the CDC. But it is estimated that an equal number of term babies also experience early feeding difficulties so that around 20% of babies in the USA need attention. The present birth rate is 4 million per year. It seems reasonable to assume around 800,000 babies per year need help.
And then there are the costs. Here are some salient facts from the Millbank Report...
“Of those discharged from U.S. hospitals in 2009, 23% were childbearing women and newborns. Care of childbearing women and their newborns was by far the most common reason for hospitalization.”
“Facility charges billed a combined total of $111 billion for “mother’s pregnancy and delivery” and “newborn infants” in 2010. “Mother’s pregnancy and delivery” and “newborn infants” were the two most expensive conditions billed to private insurance in 2010, involving 13% of hospital charges to private insurers, or $49 billion.”
Source: Evidence-Based Maternity Care: What It Is and What It Can Achieve by Carel Sakala and Maureen P. Corry
Turns out, not so trivial!