LOS ANGELES — Good news for babies: The number of mothers breastfeeding is rising across America.
So says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report released Thursday. From 2000 to 2008, the proportion of mothers who breastfed their infants rose from 70.3 percent to 74.6 percent. Even better, the proportion of mothers who were still breastfeeding after six months jumped from 34.5 percent to 44.4 percent during the same period.
Why is this good? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a baby's first six months of life and continued breastfeeding for the second six months, along with solid foods. In a policy statement published last year, the academy credited breast milk with reducing the risk of serious colds, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome, type 1 diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal tract infections and myriad other health problems.
Though the popularity of breast feeding rose among all three racial and ethnic groups surveyed, the authors of the CDC report found that African-American babies were much less likely than other babies to be breastfed.
Specifically, the proportion of black mothers who started breastfeeding jumped from 47.4 percent in 2000 to 58.9 percent in 2008. For whites, those numbers grew from 71.8 percent to 75.2 percent, and for Latinas, they rose from 77.6 percent to 80 percent (a difference that was too small to be statistically significant).
Similarly, the proportion of black moms who were still breastfeeding after six months rose from 16.9 percent to 30.1 percent, while for whites the growth was from 38.2 percent to 46.6 percent of mothers and for Latinos it was from 34.6 percent to 45.2 percent.
"Although the gap between black and white breastfeeding initiation narrowed, black infants still had the lowest prevalence of breastfeeding initiation and duration, highlighting the need for targeted interventions in this population to promote and support breastfeeding," wrote the authors of the report, from the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
And despite the many signs of progress, the CDC researchers still saw the glass as half empty.
"Despite increases in the prevalence of breastfeeding, fewer than half of the infants in the survey were still breastfeeding at 6 months, indicating that women who choose to breastfeed their infants need support to continue breastfeeding," they wrote.
The data are based on answers provided in the National Immunization Survey, which is conducted four times a year by phone.