Breastfeeding is a win-win proposition for both babies and mothers.
For infants, there's protection from illness provided by cells, hormones and antibodies in breast milk. And breast milk is easier to digest. For moms, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems including Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
It may be that the word is finally getting out, as the percentage of mothers who start and continue breastfeeding is rising, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
From 2000 to 2008, mothers who started breastfeeding increased more than four percentage points. During that same time, the number of mothers still breastfeeding at six months jumped nearly 10 percentage points -- from 35 percent in 2000 to nearly 45 percent in 2008.
Narrowing the gap
In addition to increases among all groups, gaps in breastfeeding rates between African American and white mothers are narrowing. The gap narrowed from 24 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2008.
"Breastfeeding is good for the mother and for the infant -- and the striking news here is hundreds of thousands more babies are being breastfed than in past years and this increase has been seen across most racial and ethnic groups," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "Despite these increases, many mothers who want to breastfeed are still not getting the support they need from hospitals, doctors, or employers. We must redouble our efforts to support mothers who want to breastfeed."
While gaps continue to narrow among groups, more targeted strategies to increase breastfeeding support for African American mothers are still needed. To address this, CDC is currently funding Best-Fed Beginnings, a project that provides support to 89 hospitals -- many serving minority and low income populations -- to improve hospital practices that support breastfeeding mothers.
CDC has also recently awarded funds to six state health departments to develop community breastfeeding support systems in communities of color.
Trends and differences
To better understand breastfeeding trends and differences among African American, white and Hispanic infants born from 2000 to 2008, CDC analyzed National Immunization Survey data from 2002-2011.
Other key findings of the report include:
From 2000 to 2008, breastfeeding at six and twelve months increased significantly among African American, white and Hispanic infants.
While numbers are rising across all groups, all mothers need more support to continue breastfeeding since less than half of mothers are breastfeeding at six months (45 percent) and less than a quarter of mothers (23 percent) are breastfeeding at twelve months.
Although rates of breastfeeding at six months increased by more than 13 percent among African American mothers, this group still had the lowest rates of breastfeeding duration, indicating that they still need more, targeted support.