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Breastfeeding Rates in the United States

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, November 18, 2005

While breastfeeding is making a come back in the United States as more moms learn about how beneficial it is to both their babies and themselves, American breastfeeding rates are still dismal. While 71% of American mothers at least attempt to breastfeed their children less than half (46%) of babies are being exclusively breastfed at 3 months. That number drops to 13% by six months. The number is a bit better for babies receiving at least some breastmilk. More than half (51%) of babies are receiving some breast milk at 3 months and 35% are receiving some milk at six months. But by a year, only 16% of infants receive any breast milk at all.

While the 71% initiation rate is near the 75% goal set by the Centers for Disease Control, the 6 and 12 month rates are far below the 50% and 25% goals set by the group. Sadly, the lowest breastfeeding rates occur among the lowest income brackets and among non-Hispanic black children. Educational programs by the government designed at helping spread education and awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding have been going on for some time.

So what's the reason for such low rates among such a supposedly educated society? I think there are two factors playing the strongest role in this issue.

First, the greatest majority of the current generation of mothers was not breastfed. During the late 60's to early 80's, formula was being pushed by doctors and hospitals as being superior to breastmilk. Such low breastfeeding rates among moms meant that when their daughters grew up and needed to make their own choices about breastfeeding, they had few "role models" to look to. Additionally, since breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learned, lack of older women to turn to for help and support makes it difficult to fight through those first few weeks.

Second, formula is readily available and pushed on mothers with an amazing force. Nursing moms are sent home from the hospital with bottles and cans of free formula which sent on the shelf and beckon temptingly during those first few weeks of difficult breastfeeding. Stressed out moms suffering from lack of sleep and lack of support are hard pressed to ignore the temptation of getting some sleep and some rest by turning to formula. Moms attempting to nurse are more likely to hear "it's ok, just switch to formula" instead of hearing encouragement, support and suggestions on ways to deal with latch problems or sleepless nights.

Having experienced those frustrations myself, I completely understand why any mother turns to formula. The hours spent trying to get my daughter to nurse combined with Dr's warnings about the weight she was losing would be enough to get any mom to switch. It's not just a matter of "toughing it out." It's a matter of mom's needing to have the energy and focus to be able to care for their child. A mother's sanity is often going to be more important in the long run than making sure that their child gets breastmilk.

Thankfully for me, pumping was an option that worked. Had it not, I likely would have turned to formula as well. Despite all the reading and research I'd done, nothing had prepared me for how difficult it would be to nurse my child. Until our country finds a way to educate and support women through this frustrating time, I doubt that we'll see a significant increase in these numbers.


  1. Anonymous Peter Koning | 3:31 PM |  

    Hi Jennifer,
    Just came across your saga via a news alert I have set up - not for breastfeeding but re affiliate tracking, and your latest entry on search engine guide had these words in it. I am just starting a blog for bloggers interested in learning how to advertise/monetize their sites.

    Good luck! I am sure you will find this endeavour worth your time.


  2. Anonymous Gerard McGarry | 1:48 PM |  

    Jennifer: I came across from your excellent articles on Search Engine Guide. Can I just say that this series is an excellent introduction into starting an online business and I've recommended it to visitors to my site.

    We'll be following you shortly with a range of educational flashcards for children, so if you're looking to expand your product base.... :)

    Anyway, best of luck with your venture - I'm hooked!

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