The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card Wednesday — just in time for the start of World Breastfeeding Week — and it looks as though the nation has earned a solid “B” grade.
Although we haven’t quite reached the ambitious goals for breastfeeding that we set for ourselves three years ago in Healthy People 2020, we’re getting steadily closer.
According to the CDC report, 77 percent of U.S. moms nursed their infants for at least a short time in 2010, up from 71 percent in 2000 and 75 percent in 2008. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 82 percent.
The report also found that 49 percent of moms continued to nurse their babies at six months in 2010, and 27 percent did so at 12 months. That’s a significant leap from the 35 percent and 16 percent figures in 2000, but well below the 2020 targets of about 61 percent and 34 percent.
Perhaps the most discouraging finding was that only about 16 percent of the moms reported that they were feeding their babies breastmilk exclusively at six months. The 2020 goal is 25.5 percent.
Many health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend babies be fed only breast milk for six months and that they be breastfed for at least another six months once other foods have been introduced.
As I’ve pointed out here before, the U.S.’s low rate of exclusive breastfeeding at six months is due to a variety of factors, including short maternity leaves, employers who do not make accommodations to enable nursing mothers to pump and store breast milk during working hours, and negative social attitudes about breastfeeding.
Since Jan. 1, 2013, the Affordable Care Act has required insurance companies to cover the costs of breast pumps and visits to lactation experts for new mothers. Health officials believe those provisions will make it much easier for all women, but particularly those who work outside the home, to follow the AAP’s breastfeeding recommendations throughout their baby’s first year.
Minnesota retains its “C”
The CDC report provides a state-by-state look at the latest breastfeeding trends. As in past breastfeeding reports, Minnesota demonstrated unimpressive scores, particularly in comparison to the scores of many western states.
The states in the CDC report with the highest percentages of women who nursed their babies for at least some length of time in 2010 were Idaho (91.8 percent), California (91.6 percent) and Oregon (90.2 percent).
By comparison, 73.5 percent of Minnesota’s new moms breastfed their babies in 2010.
At the six-month mark, the top-three breastfeeding states continued to be Idaho (74.5 percent), California (71.3 percent) and Oregon (71.0 percent).
In Minnesota, only 49.1 percent of moms were still breastfeeding their babies at six months.
At the one-year mark, the states with the highest breastfeeding rates changed slightly. They were Utah (52.3 percent), California (45.3 percent) and Hawaii (42.2 percent).
Minnesota still trailed significantly at 23.1 percent.
We also trailed our neighbor, Wisconsin, where 75.5 percent of new moms breastfed for at least part of the time in 2010, and where 55.5 percent and 34.3 percent of the moms were continuing to breastfeed at six and 12 months, respectively.
Minnesota did, however, outscore most southern states. Mississippi, for example, came in last in all categories. In the “Magnolia State,” only 50.5 percent of new mothers breastfed for any length of time in 2010, and by the six- and one-year marks, only 19.7 percent and 9.1 percent were, respectively, continuing to do so.
Hospitals play a major role in encouraging (or discouraging) breastfeeding. The CDC report notes improvements in two key breastfeeding-friendly maternity practices:
- The percent of hospitals in which at least 90 percent of infants received skin-to-skin contact with their mothers after a vaginal birth increased from about 41 percent in 2007 to more than 54 percent in 2011. (In Minnesota, 60.7 percent of hospitals and birth centers met this goal in 2011.)
- The percent of hospitals reporting that at least 90 percent of infants “room in” with their mothers increased from about 31 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2011. (In Minnesota, 26.4 percent of hospitals and birth centers met this goal in 2011.)
In addition, only 24.2 percent of breastfed infants in 2011 received formula during their first two days (15.2 percent in Minnesota). Introducing formula in the hospital for non-medical reasons can sabotage a woman’s efforts to breastfeed.
A $2.2 billion annual savings
These and the report’s other findings are “great news for the health of our nation because babies who are breastfed have lower risks of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes and obesity, and mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, in a prepared statement that accompanied the report.
The country would save $2.2 billion annually in medical costs if the Healthy People 2020 breastfeeding goals were met, he added.
You can read the CDC 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card on the agency’s website.