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Breastfeeding

Breastmilk benefits the health, growth, immunity, and development of infants, and mothers who breastfeed may have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.1 The Healthy People 2010 objectives for breastfeeding are to increase the percentage of women ever breastfeeding to 75 percent and those breastfeeding at 6 months to 50 percent.2 Among infants born in 2005, 74.2 percent were reported to have ever been breastfed, representing a significant increase over the 68.3 percent of children ever breastfed in 1999. Other estimates of breastfeeding initiation yield percentages that exceed the HP 2010 goal.3 Non-Hispanic Black infants were the least likely to ever be breastfed (58.7 percent), while Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics were the most likely (83.6 and 80.6 percent, respectively).

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed— without supplemental solids or liquids—for the first 6 months of life; however, 11.9 percent of infants born in 2005 were exclusively breastfed through 6 months, and 43.1 percent of infants were fed any breastmilk at 6 months. Breastfeeding practices vary considerably by a number of factors, including educational attainment—infants born to college graduates were most likely to have ever been breastfed (85.9 percent), while infants born to mothers with no high school diploma were least likely (65.7 percent).

Maternal employment can also affect whether and for how long an infant is breastfed; mothers working full-time are less likely to breastfeed at 6 months than those working part-time or not at all.4 In 2006, 51.9 percent of mothers with children under 1 year of age were employed, and nearly 70 percent of those mothers were employed full-time (data not shown).5

1 Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, Chew P, Magula N, DeVine D, Trikalinos T, Lau J. Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 153 (Prepared by Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-based Practice Center, under Contract No. 290- 02-0022). AHRQ Publication No. 07-E0007. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. April 2007.
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010. 2nd ed. With Understanding and Improving Health and Objectives for Improving Health. 2 vols. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 2000. http://www.healthypeople.gov/Document/tableofcontents.htm#volume1, accessed 02/23/09.
3 McDowell MA, Wang C-Y, Kennedy-Stephenson J. Breastfeeding in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 1999-2006. NCHS data briefs, no 5. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008.
4 Ryan AS, Zhou W, Arensberg MB. The Effect of Employment Status on Breastfeeding in the United States. Women’s Health Issues. 2006; 16: 243-251.
5 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment characteristics of families in 2007 (USDL 08-0731). Washington, DC: The Department; May 2008. [Table 6] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/famee.pdf, accessed 02/12/09.

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