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Breastfeeding

Breast milk benefits the health, growth, immunity, and development of infants, and mothers who breastfeed may have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.1 Among infants born in 2006, 73.9 percent were reported to have ever been breastfed, representing a significant increase over the 68.3 percent of infants ever breastfed in 1999. Non-Hispanic Black infants were the least likely to ever be breastfed (56.5 percent), while Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics were the most likely (83.1 and 82.1 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, 33.1 percent of infants born in 2006 were exclusively breastfed through 3 months, and 13.6 percent were exclusively breastfed through 6 months (data not shown). Breastfeeding practices vary considerably by a number of factors, including maternal age—infants born to mothers aged 30 years and older were most likely to have ever been breastfed (78.0 percent), while infants born to mothers under 20 years of age were least likely (55.6 percent). Slightly more than 69 percent of infants born in 2006 to mothers aged 20–29 years were ever breastfed.

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.2 In 2007–2008, 51.4 percent of mothers with children under 1 year of age were employed, and 70.2 percent of those mothers were employed full-time (data not shown).3

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 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.
3 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment characteristics of families in 2008 (USDL 09-0568). Washington, DC: The Department; May 2008. [Table 6] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm, accessed 11/24/09.

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