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Nearly 80% of U.S. Infants Breastfed in 2011, State Rates Vary Widely, CDC Finds

Nearly 80% of U.S. Infants Breastfed in 2011, State Rates Vary Widely, CDC Finds

August 4, 2014 — About 79.2% of infants born in the U.S. in 2011 were breastfed for some length of time, but rates of breastfeeding varied significantly by state, according to CDC's 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card, the Washington Post's "To Your Health" reports (Bernstein, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/1).

According to the report, the 2011 breastfeeding rate marks an increase from CDC's last report, which found that 76.5% of U.S. infants were breastfed in 2010.

Reasons for Increased Breastfeeding

This year's report showed that much of the increase was in exclusive breastfeeding. CDC said that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding at six months increased from 16.4% in 2010 to 18.8% in 2011 (Molla, "The Numbers," Wall Street Journal, 7/31). Overall, breastfeeding rates were 49.4% at six months and 26.7% at one year in the most-recent report ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/1).

CDC also credited an increase in board-certified lactation consultants for the improved breastfeeding rates. The number of certified lactation consultants increased from 2.1 per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 3.5 per 1,000 live births in 2013.

State laws that support breastfeeding mothers and bar formula promotions at hospitals also helped drive the increase in breastfeeding rates ("The Numbers," Wall Street Journal, 7/31).

According to "To Your Health," only about 22% of infants were breastfed in 1972. The findings suggest that CDC is on track to reach its goal of having 81.9% of infants breastfed by 2020, although its goal to have 60.6% of infants still breastfeeding at six months seems less attainable, "To Your Health" reports.

Regional Discrepancies

The report noted discrepancies in breastfeeding rates across different regions of the U.S., with western states reporting some of the highest breastfeeding rates and southern states reporting some of the lowest.

Specifically, the report found that the highest breastfeeding rates were in California, at 92.8%; Oregon, at 91.9%; Washington, at 91.8%; and Montana, at 91.2%. Vermont -- at 90% -- was the only other state that met or reached 90% ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/1). Vermont also had the highest rate for exclusive breastfeeding at six months, at 29.6% ("The Numbers," Wall Street Journal, 7/31).

By comparison, several southeastern states reported the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the country, including Louisiana, at 56.9%; Kentucky, at 61.3%; Mississippi, at 61.5%; Arkansas, at 67.1%; and Alabama, at 67.3%. Outside the southeast, Delaware, Missouri and West Virginia reported similarly low rates ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/1).

Disparities Linked to Culture, Availability of Lactation Consultants

Larry Grummer-Strawn, chief of CDC's nutrition branch, said the agency does not "fully know" what accounts for the differences among regions. However, he ascribed at least some of it to a "different culture ... in the general population and among health professionals," with physicians in the South being more likely to say that breastfeeding "doesn't matter that much."

In addition, the CDC report found that hospitals in areas that reported lower breastfeeding rates had fewer lactation consultants and a smaller percentage of infants who were born in "baby-friendly facilities" ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/1).

The Daily Beast notes that some of the states with the lowest breastfeeding rates -- including Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia -- also have some of the nation's lowest median income levels. Other than Oregon and Montan -- two states with below-median income levels but breastfeeding rates over 90% -- breastfeeding rates tend to increase with states' income levels, the Daily Beast reports (Zadrozny, Daily Beast, 7/31).