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Improvement Needed in U.S. Breastfeeding Rates

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Thanks to widespread educational efforts, most modern mothers are very aware of the importance of breastfeeding their babies, and research indicates that we have come a long way in the past generation. However, according to the most recent CDC Breastfeeding Report Card, we still have room for improvement, especially among certain subgroups in the U.S. Because breastfeeding has huge benefits for young children, we need to continue working on this issue to bring the numbers higher.

Recommendations vs. reality
According to all the relevant organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization, new mothers should breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months, which means no use of bottles or outside ingredients. Because mother’s milk is the best food for healthy infant growth, other foods, even cow’s milk, are not adequate substitutes.

The AAP also suggests that after the six months are over, mothers should continue to breastfeed in order to provide their babies with a nutrient-rich supplement to other foods. Unfortunately, the CDC study shows that only a small percentage of mothers actually do this.

More specifically, the 2009 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card found that, in spite of the improvements we have made in recent years, 26% of U.S. mothers still do not breastfeed their children at all. Meanwhile, only 33% of new mothers continue to exclusively breastfeed after three months, and only 14% exclusively breastfeed six months into the child’s life.

The exact rates of breastfeeding vary based on mothers’ economic class, ethnicity, age, and level of education. As of 2009, Hispanic and Asian women have the best rates in the U.S., with 52.4% and 45.1%, respectively, still breastfeeding 6 months after the child’s birth. African American respondents had the lowest scores, with only 54% of mothers breastfeeding at all, and only 26% still breastfeeding at six months.

The rates of breastfeeding are also low for women under 20 years old, women with only a high school diploma or less, and women on government food aid. There is also a strange geographical divide in the country with respect to breastfeeding, with more women following recommendations in the west than in the east. This could have to do with the fact that there are more Hispanic women in the west, but it may also have to do with broader cultural norms in the west versus the east.

The cost of not breastfeeding
A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that if 90% of U.S. mothers followed breastfeeding guidelines, the U.S. would save $13 billion per year and save nearly a thousand infant deaths. The monetary costs come from medical bills associated with poor infant health, while the fatalities result from condition-such as sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, and necrotizing enterocolitis-which are more common in children who are not breastfed.

Meanwhile, there are many negative effects of not breastfeeding that are not touched upon in the Pediatrics study. Children who are not breastfeed in infancy may not show negative health effects in the short term, but in the long term they will have an increased risk of bone weakness, diabetes, infections, allergies, and obesity.

Although breastfeeding rates are not nearly as high as they could be, the trends are positive, and experts agree that there are things we can do to have a positive impact on the rates. On a person-to-person basis, it is important for mothers to talk openly about their breastfeeding habits in order to help encourage a pro-breastfeeding culture. On a broader level, hospitals and educational institutions can still do more to spread the word about the benefits of breastfeeding newborn children.

This article was written by Lisa Pecos. Lisa Pecos is a very well known writer on natural remedies and natural approaches to family health. Many of her articles are recommended by parents which are used and valued by families all over the internet. Learn more at Baby Care Journals.com

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  • Reply Heather Kelly November 9, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    They need to do a study on having the family and husband support to breastfeed. Talking with other women, this is mostly why they stop doing it, because there is no one cheering them on and encouraging them to continue to nurse. I don’t know any of my friends who haven’t breastfed their babies until they were at least a year old, unless they lied to me?

  • Reply Eileen November 13, 2010 at 1:41 am

    My husband was clueless…I agree that they need more info and in a BIG way. It is hard to support a partner/wife when you know little about it. It does NOT come easy for all. I am lucky to have nursed all 6 for at least 6 months and up to18 mos. I think that there should be more open discussion with women, not just in groups like the leleche league. I was SO lucky to have an older sis to show me the way. I was actually scared and had misconceptions about what it would do to my body. After starting, I didnt give hooey about that anyway!
    Yes, younger women need to be encouraged. It is a big commitment but they CAN do it if they have a close person to help them. having a nurse call to see how you’re doing doesnt cut it. You need a mentor!

    • Reply Candace November 29, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      I agree 100% Eileen!

  • Reply Kimberly November 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I thought breastfeeding would be so easy and “natural” – a great bonding experience! I had no idea how bad it would hurt – my son would cry because he was hungry; I would cry because it hurt so bad. If women could be taught to get through the first 6 weeks, I think it would be easier for them to breastfeed. I ended up feeding my son for 18 months!!

    • Reply Candace November 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

      Kimberly I agree with you 100%! I too had no idea how much pain it was, however if every woman could have a person cheering them on through those rough few days, I think many more people would continue to breastfeed.

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