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, obesity, asthma, lymphoma, leukemia, or 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 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 5 and younger were ever breastfed or fed breast milk. Urban children were significantly more likely than children in rural areas to have ever been breastfed: 81.0 percent compared to 71.2 percent of children in large rural and 70.6 percent of those in small rural areas. A much smaller percentage of children were exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months in all locations, with urban children more likely than those in small rural areas to have done so (16.5 versus 12.9 percent, respectively).
Rates of having ever been breastfed varied differentially with income and location. In all locations, children in households with incomes below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) were less likely than those with higher incomes to have ever breastfed. For instance, 60.0 percent of children in large rural areas with household incomes below 100 percent of the FPL were ever breastfed, compared to 76.6 percent of those with incomes of 200-399 percent of the FPL and 81.5 percent of those with incomes of 400 percent or more of the FPL.
Within each income level, breastfeeding rates were generally higher in urban areas compared to large and small rural areas. Children in urban areas with household incomes of 400 percent or more of the FPL were the most likely ever to be breastfed (89.3 percent); in rural areas, approximately 82 percent of children in the same income group were ever breastfed. Similarly, 70.9 percent of children in urban areas with household incomes below 100 percent of the FPL were ever breastfed, compared to 58.8 percent in small rural areas and 60.0 percent in large rural areas.
Breastfeeding also varied by location with regard to certain racial and ethnic groups. Among both non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black children, those in urban areas were more likely than those in either large or small rural areas ever to be breastfed. Within each location, non-Hispanic Black children were significantly less likely to have ever been breastfed compared to all other racial and ethnic groups.
1 American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2005;115(2):496–506.↑