Breast milk benefits the health, growth, immunity, and development of infants. Mothers who breastfeed have increased bone strength to protect against bone fractures in older age, reduced risk of ovarian cancer, and may have a reduced risk of breast cancer in the premenopausal years.1

In 2003, 70.9 percent of mothers in the U.S. ever breastfed their babies. There have historically been significant variations in breastfeeding rates among socio-demographic groups within the U.S. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation (51.1 percent) in 2003. This compares to a rate of 77.8 percent among Hispanic mothers and 72.2 percent among non-Hispanic White mothers. Younger mothers (under age 20) also had much lower breastfeeding rates (54.5 percent) than older mothers; 74.9 percent of mothers age 30 and over ever breastfed. Family income is also clearly a factor, as breastfeeding rates decline from 79.7 percent for those in families with income at or above 350 percent of poverty, to 62.7 percent for those living below the poverty level. Among mothers receiving WIC program benefits, only 64.2 percent reported ever breastfeeding their babies in 2003.Although a majority of mothers begin breastfeeding, fewer continue for 6 months or more. The largest decline was among mothers under age 20 (whose initial breastfeeding rate was 54.5 percent and 6-month continuation rate was 14.9 percent) and non-Hispanic Black mothers (whose initial breastfeeding rate was 51.1 percent and 6-month continuation rate was 21.9 percent).The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that an infant be exclusively breastfed—without supplemental foods and liquids—for the first 6 months of age, based on research evidence of significant declines in upper respiratory and other common infections among infants who are exclusively breastfed. Yet, in 2003 only 14.2 percent of all babies were exclusively breastfed when they were 6 months old. The highest exclusive breastfeeding rates were among Asian or Pacific Islander women and mothers age 30 or older (16.7 and 16.4 percent respectively).

Graph: Breastfeeding Rates by Race/Ethnicity and Duration[d]

Graph: Breastfeeding Rates by Maternal Age and Duration[d]

1American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 2005;115(2):496-506.