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Breast milk benefits the health, growth, immunity, and development of infants. Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly a decreased risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause.1

In 2004, 64.7 percent of U.S. infants were breastfed in the hospital after birth. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the lowest hospital breastfeeding rate (48.3 percent) in 2004. This compares to a rate of 72.8 percent among Asian mothers, 69.1 percent among non-Hispanic White mothers, and 62.5 percent among Hispanic mothers. Younger mothers, mothers with lower educational attainment, and mothers receiving WIC program benefits also had lower breastfeeding initiation rates.

Although a majority of infants are breastfed in the hospital, the rate declines as infants grow older. In 2004, 31.9 percent of infants were fed any breast milk at 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed-without supplemental food or liquids-for the first 6 months of life, based on research evidence of reduced risk of upper respiratory and other common infections. Yet in 2004, only 17.4 percent of infants were exclusively breastfed at 6 months.

Mothers who return to work after their infant is born may have an especially difficult time breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mothers need both the time and the facilities to pump their milk; not surprisingly, women who are employed full-time when their infant is 6 months of age are less likely than other women to breastfeed. The breastfeeding rate at 6 months among women employed full-time is 27.5 percent, compared to 35.9 percent among women employed part-time and 33.4 percent among women who are not employed.

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

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.