Thursday, August 2, 2012

Breastfeeding in the US

This week we are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week at the Holistic Moms Network. We kicked off the week with an amazing Breastfeeding Twitter Party to show support to the tune of 20 million impressions! There are indeed reasons to be optimistic about breastfeeding in America. And yet, some of the current statistics are more than a little disappointing - and challenge us to come together to build new solutions.

According to the CDC's Breastfeeding Report Card for 2011, 74.6% of babies are ever breastfed here in the United States. By 6 months of age, the percentage breastfed drops to 44.3%, by one year it's just 23.8%. Although the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, just 14.8% of American babies reach that goal. States with the lowest percentage of babies ever breastfed include Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Those with the highest percentages of ever breastfed babies are California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, each with percentages over 85%.

What other factors seem to correlate with these "ever breastfed" rates? The CDC report does not offer as clear an answer as we might hope. Among the top four states for ever breastfeeding, the percent of live births occurring at Baby Friendly Facilities ranges from a low of 3.22% (VT) to a high of 14.49% (CA). The number of IBCLCs per 1,000 live births also varies from 11.13 (VT) to 2.73 (CA). California, however, has an outstanding number of FTE's (Full-Time Equivalents) or "professionals dedicated to the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding." In each of the top four states, the percentage of breastfed infants receiving formula before 2 days of age remains below 25%, with Vermont at the lowest level with just 8.5% receiving formula. Sadly, the percentage of live births occurring at Baby Friendly Facilities is 0 (yes, zero) for 20 states, according to the CDC: AL, AZ, AR, DE, DC, GA, IA, KS, LA, MD, MI, MS, NV, NJ, NM, ND, OK, SC, SD, and WV.

Of course, the CDC report does not tell the whole picture. Cultural and social obstacles to breastfeeding, workplace policies and legislation, and statistics among home-birthing parents are not addressed in these figures. What the CDC report does show, however, is that an effective strategy for promoting breastfeeding must tackle issues on several fronts, including mother-to-mother support, health department and government policies and action, access to professional lactation consultants, exposure to breastmilk substitutes and more.

This week, it is important for all of us to engage our strategies, share our passions, and brainstorm together to help achieve our sharing objective of protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding - for now and for the future. There are many fronts to address the challenges, but the rewards will last many lifetimes.

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