3 Out of 4 New Moms Breastfeed

Less Than Half of Breastfed Babies Are Still Breastfed at 6 Months

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 13, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 13, 2010 -- Three out of four new mothers in the U.S. start out breastfeeding their newborns, but less than half are still breastfeeding by the time their babies are 6 months old.

A new nationwide report from the CDC shows the percentage of new mothers who initiate breastfeeding at birth is rising steadily and varies widely from state to state: ranging from a high of 90% in Utah to a low of 52.5% in Mississippi.

Although those breastfeeding initiation figures meet the nation's Healthy People 2010 goals, researchers found the number of babies who continue to be breastfed at 6 months and 12 months has remained below target levels for the third year in a row.

Breastfed Babies: The Numbers

The CDC's 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card is based on survey data collected in 2007. It shows that only 43% of babies are still breastfeeding at six months and 22% continue to breastfeed at 12 months.

“We need to direct even more effort toward making sure mothers have the support they need in hospitals, workplaces, and communities to continue breastfeeding beyond the first few days of life, so they can make it to those 6- and 12-month marks,” researcher William Dietz, MD, PhD, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, says in a news release.

The percentage of mothers who continued breastfeeding at six months ranged from a high of 62% in Oregon to a low of 20% in Louisiana. At 12 months of age, breastfeeding rates ranged from nearly 40% in Oregon and Vermont to 8% in Mississippi.

Hospital Care Helps Mothers Breastfeed

Researchers say high breastfeeding initiation rates show that a lot of mothers plan to breastfeed, but birth facilities aren't doing enough to support them in these efforts.

“Evidence shows that hospital routines can help or hinder mothers and babies as they are learning to breastfeed," says researcher Carol MacGowan, public health advisor for CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. "The care that mothers receive from hospitals should always be based on practices that are proven to help them continue breastfeeding after they go home.”

The report shows that less than 4% of births in the U.S. occur at facilities designated as Baby-Friendly, a designation program that outlines 10 steps to support breastfeeding implemented by Baby-Friendly USA on behalf of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Breastfeeding: Room for Improvement

The Breastfeeding Report Card also scored every U.S. hospital's maternity practices for infant nutrition and care and found the average score was 65 out of a possible 100 points.

Researchers say that means there is room for improvement to encourage the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding. Studies have shown that breastfeeding offers many health benefits to baby and mother.

Breast milk is easy to digest and contains antibodies that can protect infants from infections, and breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight or obese as children and adolescents.

Breastfeeding also helps a woman recover from childbirth faster and may reduce the risk of breast cancer.