Almost half of all babies born in the United States -- 47.2% to be exact -- are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and the rate at which mothers are initiating breastfeeding of their newborns has had its highest jump in a decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.
That news comes on the day that a provision of the Affordable Care Act takes effect that will make breastfeeding easier and less expensive for mothers who spend part of their days away from their babies. Starting Wednesday, insurers will be required to reimburse for comprehensive lactation support and counseling for new mothers without co-payments, and to underwrite the rental of breast pumps and other lactation equipment that would allow mothers to express their milk.
The healthcare reform law also requires employers to provide nursing women adequate break time and a private place other than a bathroom for expressing milk in the year following the birth.
Among babies born in the United States in 2009, 76.9% were breastfed at least once, 47.2% were still being breastfed at 6 months and 25.5% were still being breastfed when they reached their first birthday, said the CDC report. All of those figures represent a jump of about 2 percentage points over breastfeeding rates in 2008. And they are well above breastfeeding rates measured in 2000, when 34.2% of infants were still being breastfed at 6 months and 15.7% at 12 months
Despite medical and government recommendations that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for at least six months, only 16.3% of American babies are fed only breast milk by that age, the CDC reported. At three months, 36% of babies get all their nutrition from breast milk.
Breastfeeding is linked to a wide range of benefits for both mother and baby. Babies who have been breastfed have lower rates of middle ear infections, colds and gastroenteritis and are at lower risk of dying of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, developing type 2 diabetes or becoming obese. Mothers who breastfeed drive down their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
In a state-by-state breakdown of breastfeeding practices, the CDC showed Utah, Oregon, Vermont and New Hampshire to be among the nation's breastfeeding champions, with rates of breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months well above the national average. Among the states with the lowest rates of breastfeeding were those which, not coincidentally, have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia.
California showed rates of breastfeeding well above the national average, with 87.6% of babies born in 2009 initially breastfeeding, 56.1% still nursing at 6 months and 31.1% still nursing at 12 months.
The report also makes it clear that more U.S. hospitals and maternity centers are offering new mothers support for breastfeeding. Nationally, hospitals improved by 5% their breastfeeding-friendly policies, the CDC reported.