Breast-feeding is on the rise in America, CDC says

More American mothers are giving breast-feeding a try, and more of them are sticking with it for six months or longer, according to a new report from the CDC.
(John Lok / Los Angeles Times)

Good news for babies: The number of mothers breast-feeding is rising across America.

So says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report released Thursday. From 2000 to 2008, the proportion of mothers who breast-fed their infants rose from 70.3% to 74.6%. Even better, the proportion of mothers who were still breastfeeding after six months jumped from 34.5% to 44.4% during the same period.

Why is this good? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for a baby’s first six months of life and continued breast-feeding for the second six months, along with solid foods. In a policy statement published last year, the academy credited breast milk with reducing the risk of serious colds, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, type 1 diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal tract infections and myriad other health problems.


Though the popularity of breast-feeding rose among all three racial and ethnic groups surveyed, the authors of the CDC report found that African Americans babies were much less likely than other babies to be breast-fed.

Specifically, the proportion of black mothers who started breast-feeding jumped from 47.4% in 2000 to 58.9% in 2008. For whites, those numbers grew from 71.8% to 75.2%, and for Latinas, they rose from 77.6% to 80% (a difference that was too small to be statistically significant).

Similarly, the proportion of black moms who were still breast-feeding after six months rose from 16.9% to 30.1%, while for whites the growth was from 38.2% to 46.6% of mothers and for Latinos it was from 34.6% to 45.2%.

“Although the gap between black and white breast-feeding initiation narrowed, black infants still had the lowest prevalence of breast-feeding initiation and duration, highlighting the need for targeted interventions in this population to promote and support breast-feeding,” wrote the authors of the report, from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

And despite the many signs of progress, the CDC researchers still saw the glass as half empty. “Despite increases in the prevalence of breast-feeding, fewer than half of the infants in the survey were still breast-feeding at 6 months, indicating that women who choose to breast-feed their infants need support to continue breast-feeding,” they wrote.

The data are based on answers provided in the National Immunization Survey, which is conducted four times a year by phone.

You can read the full study, which appears in the latest edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online here.

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