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Breastfeeding Rates At An All Time High

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The Center For Disease Control reports that breastfeeding rates are at an all time high. The report says that in 2005-2006, 77% of new moms tried breastfeeding when their baby was born. That number is up from 60% in 2003-2004. The number of moms breastfeeding at 6 months remained relatively unchanged, however, hovering around 30%. Here is a link to the report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Here are some key findings:
* The percentage of infants who were ever breastfed increased from 60% among infants who were born in 1993-1994 to 77% among infants who were born in 2005-2006.
* Breastfeeding rates increased significantly among non-Hispanic black women from 36% in 1993-1994 to 65% in 2005-2006.
* Breastfeeding rates in 1999-2006 were significantly higher among those with higher income (74%) compared with those who had lower income (57%).
* Breastfeeding rates among mothers 30 years and older were significantly higher than those of younger mothers.
* There was no significant change in the rate of breastfeeding at 6 months of age for infants born between 1993 and 2004.

For a critical look at what these numbers mean, here is a story from
The Wall Street Journal. The piece says:
But looked at another way, the CDC numbers show that breastfeeding is flat — and the rate of long-term acceptance of the practice is declining among those who try it. The latest available rate of breastfeeding for six-month-old infants barely cleared 30%, well short of a federal-government goal of 50% by 2010, and barely budged from a decade earlier.
Taken collectively, the numbers mean that more new mothers are trying breastfeeding, but a smaller percentage of those who do try breastfeeding stick with it — and that can have serious health consequences. “It is exclusive breastfeeding for about six months that is most related to optimal health outcomes,” said Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey who has helped steer American Academy of Pediatrics efforts to increase breastfeeding rates. Jane Morton, who has also contributed to these efforts and is a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University, told me, “A lot of the benefits really do depend on the exclusivity and duration of breast-feeding.”
Margaret McDowell, a CDC health statistician and co-author of the latest report, told me that both indicators are important. Early breast milk, also called colostrum, contains antibodies and protein that help protect newborns, and that formula doesn’t provide. “Any amount [of breast-feeding] is really good for the infant,” said Ms. McDowell, a registered dietitian. As for the flat six-month rate, “We’d like to do better.”
Hospitals and the workplace can impede progress. Women who get off to a poor start are likely to stop breastfeeding, and their attempt can be hampered from the moment of birth, particularly in the case of C-sections, when the child often is taken to a nursery, Dr. Morton said. “The majority of hospitals give free samples of formula and formula company marketing materials,” Dr. Feldman-Winter said. On the job, keeping the milk supply up can be challenging. “Poor women have jobs with less support for continued breastfeeding and they are more likely to return to work sooner after delivery,” Dr. Feldman-Winter said.
The numbers themeselves are part of the challenge of increasing breastfeeding rates: The data are old, and include a lot of uncertainty. They come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which thousands of Americans each year who agree to participate are interviewed in their homes and then undergo physical examinations in mobile centers. This is expensive work, hence the mere 434 infants included in the latest survey.
Because not all of the infants born in 2005-2006 had reached six months by the time the latest survey was conducted — Ms. McDowell couldn’t say how many had — there wasn’t enough data about breastfeeding at six months for the group. So the CDC’s latest data for the six-month indicator came from infants born in 2003-2004. The data are grouped in two-year periods to build a large enough sample, delaying findings.
Also, the breastfeeding rates are self-reported — meaning the numbers could reflect the increased desire of mothers to breastfeed, rather than increased practice. (The latest numbers agree with another CDC survey, also based on self-reporting.)