Breastfeeding on the Rise

A record number of new moms are now breastfeeding their babies for up to six months after birth.

Dec. 3, 2002 -- A record number of new moms are now breastfeeding their babies for up to six months after birth. A new study shows the percentage of mothers who initiated breastfeeding and continued to breastfeed at six months has reached the highest levels recorded to date.

The results of the survey of more than 2 million new mothers in 1996 and 2001 appear in the December issue of Pediatrics.

Researchers found about 70% of new mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2001, and more than 32% were still breastfeeding their babies at 6 months old. Compared to 1996, increases were found across all socioeconomic groups, but the biggest increases were among women who were traditionally less likely to breastfeed, such as women who are black, under 20, less educated, receiving federal benefits, and living in certain areas of the country where mothers are less inclined to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding in the hospital and at six months was most common in the Mountain and Pacific states and among women who were white or Hispanic, older, and college-educated.

In looking at breastfeeding trends, researchers from the Ross Products division of Abbott Laboratories found that how much a new mother works has a big impact on her breastfeeding habits.

"In 2001, mothers working part-time were more likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding or exclusively breastfeed relative to those working full-time," writes Alan S. Ryan, PhD, and colleagues at Abbott Laboratories.

They say previous studies have found that part-time work can help new mothers continue breastfeeding as well as employment.

"The workplace can be a barrier for the mother who decides to breastfeed," write the researchers. "Legislative efforts have been put in place to protect women's rights to breastfeed after returning to work and to encourage employees to provide a safe, private environment for women to express (or pump) breast milk."

Researchers say the increases in breastfeeding among lower income women may be due to changes within the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women and Children (WIC), which have promoted breastfeeding.

Ross Products began tracking breastfeeding in 1954. The lowest level occurred in 1971, when only about 25% of women breastfed their babies. In 1982, the levels rose to 62%.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, December 2002.