Breastfeeding

Breast milk is widely recognized to be the ideal form of nutrition for infants. Breastfed infants are less susceptible to infectious diseases and children who were breastfed are less likely to suffer from diabetes; overweight and obesity; asthma; and lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s disease compared to children who were not breastfed. In addition, rates of postneonatal mortality (death between the first month and the end of the first year of life) are lower among breastfed infants.1 Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, with few exceptions, all infants be fed with breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months of life.

Overall, 79.2 percent of children aged 0-5 years were ever fed breast milk, while the remaining 20.8 percent of children were never breastfed. Sixteen percent of children aged 6 months to 5 years were exclusively breastfed—receiving no formula, solid food, or water—for their first 6 months.

The proportion of children ever and exclusively breastfed varies by race and ethnicity. Among children aged 0 to 5 years, Hispanic and non-Hispanic White children were most likely to have ever been breastfed (83.0 and 81.0 percent, respectively). Seventy-eight percent of non-Hispanic children of other races and 64.7 percent of non-Hispanic Black children were ever breastfed.

Among children aged 6 months to 5 years, non-Hispanic White children were most likely to have been exclusively breastfed (17.6 percent), followed by non-Hispanic children of other races and Hispanic children (17.4 and 15.2 percent, respectively). Of non-Hispanic Black children, 10.4 percent were exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.

1 American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics 2005;115(2):496-506.