CDC Reports Breastfeeding Rates on the Rise

by Julie Snyder

Breastfeeding on the RiseWhat does the CDC's 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card reveal? Breastfeeding rates continue to climb across the United States with nearly 77 percent of new moms initiating breastfeeding.

While this is encouraging news, there's still lots of work to break down breastfeeding barriers, according to Lamaze International.

The report comes on the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month.

These annual events help raise breastfeeding awareness and work to remove barriers to breastfeeding in the United States and throughout the world.

Breastfeeding Rates on the Rise

In their "Breastfeeding Report Card -- United States, 2012," the CDC reported increases of about 2 percentage points in breastfeeding initiation, and breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months.

The number of moms starting out breastfeeding increased from 74.6 percent in 2008 to 76.9 percent in 2009 births. It's the largest annual increase over the previous decade.

Breastfeeding at 6 months increased from 44.3 percent to 47.2 percent and at 12 months increased from 23.8 percent to 25.5 percent.

Michele Deck, Lamaze International president says that this increase indicates that the evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding influences pregnant women, their health care provider and birthing facilities.

"What women need most often is good information and support to get breastfeeding off to a good start, and to help them reach their breastfeeding goals," Deck says.

Improving Hospital Practices

Birth facility policies and practices affect whether a woman chooses to start breastfeeding and how long she'll continue. Two initiatives, one national and one global, provide informative measures of birth facility support.

The "Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative," sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, encourages and recognizes hospitals and birthing centers offering an optimal level of care for lactation based on the "WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals."

The CDC's "Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care" survey (mPINC Survey) initiated by CDC compares the extent to each state's birth facilities provide maternity care that supports breastfeeding.

The survey assesses and scores how well maternity care practices at hospitals and birth centers support breastfeeding, on a scale of 0–100.

From 2009 to 2011 the national average mPINC score increased from 65 to 70, and scores increased by 5 or more points in 26 states and DC.

The last few years also have seen more babies born in hospitals designated as "Baby-Friendly." In 2008, less than 2 percent of births occurred in "Baby-Friendly" facilities. In the last four years that number has more than tripled to 6 percent.

While both indicators show national improvement in hospital maternity care practices, they also suggest that many mothers are not receiving the quality of care that will give them the best possible start at breastfeeding.

Top Five Breastfeeding Barriers

In honor of breastfeeding awareness, Lamaze calls out the following top five breastfeeding barriers within the first 24 hours of birth to help expecting moms prepare for the best breastfeeding experience:

1. Unnecessary birth interventions: Fetal monitors, confinement to bed, artificially starting or speeding up labor and cesarean surgery can make birth more difficult and lead to a harder start for breastfeeding.

Lamaze suggests that women seek maternity care practices backed by science that can make birth safer and healthier.

2. Separating mom and baby: Research shows that early skin-to-skin care helps mothers, babies and breastfeeding. Beginning right after birth and continuing uninterrupted, for at least one hour, or until after the first feeding helps a mom feel more confident, respond more quickly to her baby’s needs, reduces stress and makes breastfeeding easier.

Babies benefit, too. They breastfeed sooner, longer and easier. They cry less, have more stable temperatures, blood sugar levels and have lower levels of stress hormones.

3. Use of pacifiers or other artificial nipples before breastfeeding is well-established: Does the hospital nursery use pacifiers or bottle-feed babies without need? It's a question for expecting parents to ask.

Studies show that early pacifier use may interfere with breastfeeding, decrease mom's ability to exclusively breastfeed and reduce the duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding experts recommend that artificial nipples should be avoided until breastfeeding is well established, after about four weeks.

4. Supplementing breast milk with formula: Breast milk is best for babies. Formula currently does not provide the added nutritional and health benefits of breast milk and should not replace it unless there's a compelling medical reason to do so.

Immediately following birth, those few tablespoons of milk are vitally important. The breasts produce a substance called colostrum, which protects the baby from illnesses and provides important nutrients.

5. Lack of postpartum breastfeeding support: Many new moms need help with breastfeeding after they leave the hospital or birth center.

A home or hospital postpartum visit, referral to local community resources, follow-up telephone contact, a breastfeeding support group, or an outpatient clinic allow a mom to talk about any challenges she may be having, and get the help she needs to give her baby the healthiest start.

"While breastfeeding decision-making can spark controversy among moms, improving breastfeeding awareness is not about passing judgment," said Deck. "It's about considering the scientific evidence and giving women the support they need to achieve their breastfeeding goals."

Are you surprised by the CDC's study? Does it help confirm why breastfeeding is important in your opinion? Share your thoughts!

Medical references:
- Push For Your Baby
- Lamaze International
- CDC's 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card
- Moore. E. R., Anderson, G. C. & Bergman, N. (2012). Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers an their healthy newborn infants (Review) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.