While most American mothers breastfeed their babies at birth, many stop nursing sooner than they should, according to the leading federal health agency.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized the finding in its 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card, which tracks breastfeeding rates and support for breastfeeding on a state-by-state basis.
The health agency cited the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies should be breastfed exclusively through their first six months. But the new survey found that only 51.8 percent of babies are still breastfeeding at 6 months and only 30.7 percent at 12 months.
More than 81 percent of mothers breastfeed their babies at birth, according to the survey.
“We are pleased by the large number of mothers who start out breastfeeding their infants,” said Ruth Petersen, M.D., the CDC’s director of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.
Nursing mothers need support from their families, friends, health care providers and employers, she added.
Benefits of breastfeeding
While breastfeeding may not be practical or possible for every mother, most health officials encourage mothers to nurse their babies. Over the last 25 years, U.S. surgeons general have promoted breastfeeding, including efforts to make the workplace friendlier to nursing mothers.
In “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding,” the authors cite studies that found health risks for babies fed with formula or weaned too early from breastfeeding include an increase in common childhood ailments, such as ear infections.
Benefits of breastfeeding, according to the Surgeon General’s statement, include:
- Lower risk of disease for breastfed babies
- Lower risks for breast and ovarian cancers for mothers who breastfeed, compared to those who don’t
- A sense of closeness between mother and baby
- Cost savings, both in terms of money not spent on formula and on childhood illnesses
- Reduced use of packaging
Some studies suggest breastfeeding mothers are less likely to suffer postpartum depression.
However, the Surgeon General concedes the health data doesn’t prove that breastfeeding a baby causes babies and mothers to be healthier; only that breastfeeding mothers and their babies have better health outcomes than those who don’t or aren’t breastfed.
More about the breastfeeding survey
The CDC compiles and publishes breastfeeding report cards every two years. The 2016 report card shows that mothers in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Montana and California breastfeed their babies at higher rates than the national average.
The CDC’s press release, “Breastfeeding Rates Continue to Rise,” describes the highlights of the report card.
Federal law requires reasonable break time and a private place for nursing mothers to express milk within a year of giving birth. But states have adopted varying laws related to breastfeeding and public indecency, jury service and the workplace. You can read about these laws and policies at the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If you are pregnant, talk to your health care provider about how you can best nourish your baby.
Providence has a range of resources for parents who are expecting or who have a newborn. You can talk to lactation specialists, attend classes and visit outpatient clinics. If you don’t have a provider, you can find a Providence provider here.