From the moment you see that positive pregnancy test, it seems like parenting books, websites, and health care providers are all championing one thing: Breast is best. And they do make good points. Between the nutrition breast milk offers to babies, along with the antibodies passed from mom, it's difficult to argue there aren't unique benefits to this form of infant feeding. Still, the decision to breastfeed can be a very personal one for new moms, despite these proven benefits. Not to mention, nursing moms often run into logistical obstacles that end up cutting their breastfeeding journeys short. However, more babies are breastfed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but new moms still need support to meet current recommendations.
According to a new report released Monday by the CDC — called the 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card — an impressive 83.2 percent of the roughly 4 million babies born in 2015 started out breastfeeding. And that's an encouraging number, no doubt. However, a good portion of these babies stopped earlier than what's recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The current AAP recommendation is for infants to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. What the report found was 57.6 percent of infants were still breastfeeding by age 6 months, but only one in four were exclusively breastfed.
Other highlights from the CDC report include: 49 percent of babies were exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months and 35.9 percent were breastfeeding at 12 months; 49 percent of employers provided worksite lactation support programs; and over one in four babies were born facilities that provided the recommended maternity care practices for breastfeeding moms and babies.
“We are pleased that most US babies start out breastfeeding and over half are still breastfeeding at 6 months of age,” Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, said in a news release. “The more we support breastfeeding mothers, the more likely they will be able to reach their breastfeeding goals.”
As the report pointed out, the fact that such a large percentage of babies start out breastfeeding shows the majority of moms want to breastfeed and are trying to do so — which is fantastic. However, there is clearly room for improvement, especially considering the rates of exclusive breastfeeding through 3 and 6 months remained the same for infants born in 2015 and for those born in 2014, when they had been increasing each year before this. This stagnation suggests, according to the report, that moms might not be getting the support they need from family, employers, and health care providers in order to meet their breastfeeding goals.
In order to help support breastfeeding moms, the CDC encourages hospitals and health care staff to do things like aid their patients in figuring out covered benefits (like breast pumps and access to lactation consultants), as well as supporting moms' transitions to home, school, and/or work. With that said, virtually all areas of society — including family and friends, health care offices, hospitals, childcare facilities, workplaces, and other community-based organizations — can all play a part in supporting breastfeeding. (You know, like not shaming mother when they breastfeed in public, for starters.)
Experts have known for years that breastfeeding offers a number of benefits to both moms and babies. According to the Office on Women's Health, breastfed babies have lower risks of issues like asthma, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity, ear infections, eczema, lower respiratory infections, type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and more. Likewise, nursing mothers have lower risks for Type 2 diabetes, as well as ovarian cancer and certain types of breast cancer, according to the Office on Women's Health.
So from a public health standpoint, it's definitely encouraging to see that so many babies start out breastfeeding when that's mothers choose to do. (Plenty of parents also opt to use formula from day one, or breastfeeding simply doesn't work due to low supply, or other health issues — and that's perfectly acceptable, too.) Still, it's so important that moms who wish to continue breastfeeding for the recommended about of time continue getting the support they need. This can happen if more employers offer worksite lactation support programs and if more hospital/health care facilities provide the recommended maternity care practice for breastfeeding moms. And of course, the more we, as a society, normalize breastfeeding an encourage breastfeeding mothers, the better.