Feature: Recent Trends in Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Increases, Duration Does Not: Recent Trends in Breastfeeding

The 17th annual World Breastfeeding Week (WBW), celebrated in more than 120 countries worldwide, will be August 1-7.  To commemorate this year’s WBW theme, Mother Support: Going for the Gold, AMCHP will explore the most recent changes in breastfeeding trends in order to initiate a discussion about how to effectively encourage breastfeeding in your states, counties, or communities.

 In April, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a Data Brief with national data indicating that average national breastfeeding rates exceeded the Healthy People 2010 target goal. The Data Brief, Breastfeeding in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1999–2006, examines the changes in breastfeeding trends in the United States from 1999-2006 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES).  In their analysis, NCHS found that from 1993 to 2006 the percentage of infants that had ever been breastfed increased by over 15 percent, from 60% to 77%, surpassing the 2010 Health People benchmark of 75%. Overall, improved breastfeeding rates were observed among all races and ethnicities studied, but the brief noted the most significant change among non-Hispanic blacks, where the breastfeeding rate increased from 36% in 1993-1994 to 65% in 2005-2006.

To access the NCHS Data Brief with data sets and learn more about national breastfeeding trends, go to http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db05.pdf.

While the past decade reveals significant improvements in the number of infants ever breastfed, the percent of infants still breastfeeding at six months remains unchanged.  Using birth year cohort data from the NHANES from 1999 to 2004, NCHS found that the total percentage of infants still breastfed at six months or later hovered around 30 percent.  None of the race-ethnicity populations studied achieved the Healthy People 2010 goal for breastfeeding at six months: 50% of all infants ever breastfed.  The substantial difference between the percentage of infants ever breastfeed (77%) and the percentage of infants still breastfed at six months (30%) suggests that despite the high initiation rates of breastfeeding, many mothers, for variety of reasons not specified in this data brief, stop breastfeeding by the time their child is six months.
So what can be done to promote and prolong the duration of breastfeeding? 

As the theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week advocates, let’s go for the gold—the gold standard of breastfeeding.  WBW demands greater support for mothers to help them attain the “gold standard of infant feeding: breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continue breastfeeding together with feeding other appropriate complementary food for up to two years and beyond.” To learn more about World Breastfeeding Week and the Global Initiative for Mother Support for Breastfeeding go to www.worldbreastfeedingweek.org.

Also, let’s look to our members. Oregon is among the states that have made significant strides in breastfeeding policy.  In order to make the work environment more conducive to new moms and to encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, Oregon Title V worked with advocates and legislator to develop and pass “Oregon House Bill 2372, the Return to Work and Breast feeding.” The bill requires employers to give mothers unpaid time and a private place to lactate every four hours during the work day. To learn more about Oregon’s bill visit the MCH Success Stories column in this issue of Pulse or go to http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/bf/.