Breast Feeding in the United States


Background of the study

Breastfeeding involves feeding an infant or a child with milk directly from the mothers’ mammary glands, a process sometimes referred to as lactation [1]. This has been considered the healthiest way of feeding the infants and children, which extends from infancy to six months for most children or 12 months in others. Studies indicate that the practice of breastfeeding promotes the health of infants and children; it also helps them to fight diseases and other infections such as Otitis Media in addition to reducing the costs that could be incurred if the baby had to be bottle-fed with milk formulations [2].

Moreover, lack of breastfeeding has been shown to increase the morbidity and mortality rates in children and their mothers. This has been linked to the increased incidences of diarrhea in infants who are introduced to milk formulations and supplements at an early age [3]. Additionally, lack of breastfeeding can lead to the development of different health complications during early childhood and adolescence stages [4]. These complications include: type I and II diabetes, asthma, leukemia and overweight/ obesity among others. For those mothers who fail to breastfeed their children, studies indicate that they run the risk of developing various types of cancers and type II diabetes [4].

The essay seeks to review the current literature on breastfeeding in the United States. This will investigate the incidence rates for initiation and continuation of breast feeding in addition to the factors that influence these rates. Additionally, the essay documents an exploration of the benefits of breastfeeding to both the mother and the infant or child. Finally, the essay details the barriers to breastfeeding that exist in the United States.

Breast Feeding in the United States

The incidence rates for initiation and continuation of breast feeding

The U.S. Center for Disease Control is charged with the responsibility of collecting data on the rates of breast feeding in the United States. In 2001, US CDC conducted studies which were categorized into two main classes (that is) any breast feeding and exclusive breast feeding categories of breastfeeding. These studies were conducted at three levels: in the hospital, after 6 months, and after 12 months on families with infants through a telephone survey [5]. The results indicate that about 65.1% of infants in hospitals were under any breastfeeding while about 59.1% were exclusively on breastfeeding. On the other hand, about 27.0% of children aged 6 months were under any breastfeeding while 7.9% were under exclusive breastfeeding. Additionally, the results indicated that about 12.3% of children aged 12 months were under any breast feeding while none were under exclusive breast feeding [5].

The same studies conducted in 2003 utilizing the same methodology indicated that about 70.9% of infants in hospitals were under any breast feeding and 62.5% were on exclusive breast feeding. Children aged 6 months old represented about 36.2% of the number of children who were on any breastfeeding while 14.2% were under exclusive breastfeeding. Further, the results documented that about 17.2% of children aged 12 months were on any breast feeding while there were no data recorded for children who were under exclusive breastfeeding [5]. As a result, CDC projects the 2010 breastfeeding rates to be about 75% for infants in hospitals, 50% for children aged 6 months old and 25% for children aged 12 months old.

Other independent sources conducted the same studies in 2001 on 896 families with children aged between 19-35 months old using the telephone survey methods[6][7][8]. In these studies, it was discovered that about 65.1% of infants were under some breast feeding at birth while none were under exclusive breast feeding. On the other hand, about 59.3% of these children were under exclusive breast feeding after 7 days of birth with no data for those under some breast feeding.

At 6 months, about 27.0% of children in these families were on some breastfeeding and about 7.9% were on exclusive breast feeding. Moreover, about 12.3% of children aged 12 months were on some breast feeding while there were no data for those who were on exclusive breast feeding[6][7][8]. All the researchers indicated that there was a sharp decline in the incidence rates for breast feeding for the data recorded at 2-3 months after birth. This was found to be the time when most mothers wanted to go back to their respective workplaces or schools and therefore they needed a lot of social support in order to continue breast feeding their children[5][6][7][8].

The factors that influence the incidence rates for Breast feeding in the United States

The care practices offered to mothers and infants at maternity wards are said to influence the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding. Additionally, the same practices are said to be the factors behind many mothers’ inability to start the process of milk production or secretion and the early weaning of many infants and children whose mothers may be willing to breast feed them [4].

In response to these observations, the WHO through the Baby Friendly Hospital program established a ten step program in 1991whose implementation led to significant improvements on the incidence rates of initiation and continuation of breast feeding. Subsequently, the CDC established a guideline to breast feeding interventions in 2005 which identified the hospital practices as the major areas where the interventions could be incorporated in order to guarantee improvement of the maternal breastfeeding rates [4]. The main purpose of these guidelines was to provide the most acceptable maternal practices that could be employed in administering care to the nursing mother and the infant in and out of the hospital.

Studies conducted by CDC have identified racial and socioeconomic disparities in breast feeding rates in the United States [9]. In this case, studies were conducted through the analysis of the National Immunization Survey (NIS) of 2004. The resultant data indicated that about 71.5% of non-Hispanic white kids were being breast fed quite often relative to about 50.1% of their black counterparts. The same proportion was maintained even as the children grew up to 6 months of age. This then calls for interventions aimed at encouraging the initiation of breastfeeding and maintaining the continuation of the best practices in breastfeeding among different socioeconomic groups particularly those who recorded lower rates of breast feeding [9].

According to a study conducted by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a number of initiatives and best practices have been identified which could be employed through counseling in order to encourage breast feeding among different socioeconomic groups [10] .

The task force documented that a combination of education on breast feeding and counseling aimed at behavioral change contributed significantly to the increased rates of breast feeding among nursing mothers from different socioeconomic groups. Other studies document that there are many sources of information concerning breast feeding that can be accessed by nursing mothers. This has enabled many nursing women to forego their bottle feeding practices and start embracing breast feeding. In a survey carried out in order to assess the effectiveness of these sources, about 123 respondents of different socioeconomic groups were interviewed and the results indicate that the major factors that made these mothers to prefer breast feeding revolved around these sources of information. These were indentified as being parenting magazines, books, newsletters and the television. Others include: prenatal classes and support from other family members [11].

Furthermore, other studies document that the decisions that determine whether a child will be breast fed or bottle fed are highly dependent on social, psychological, biological and environmental factors. For instance, if a woman is educated, there is a high probability that her kids will be breast fed than otherwise [11]. It is thus important that mothers, fathers, family members and health-care professionals are educated about the benefits of breast feeding which will also impact positively on the incidence rates of breast feeding among many women.

Benefits of breast feeding for the mother and the child

Breast milk is an essential food component to an infant. It provides the infant with all the nutrients it requires in addition to provision of Antibodies (immunoglobulin) which help it to fight foreign bodies that invade its own body [10][12][13]. These foreign bodies include the pathogens that cause infections such as diarrhea, and Haemophilus Influenza. The antibodies which are contributed by breast milk have been identified as being behind the heightened vaccine response in most infants. Breast milk has also been shown to protect infants and children against cases of necrotizing enternal colitis (NEC) [13].

Additionally, breast milk protects the infant from a number of recurrent infections such as Otitis Media, Herpes Simplex, and Respiratory Syncytical Virus (RSV). Studies have shown that there is an inverse relationship between morbidity in children and breast feeding. This is mainly attributed to breast milk’s ability to protect the infants against many illnesses. Breast milk is also known to protect neonates against the development of allergies particularly wheezing, Eczema, vomiting and extreme cold. Moreover, breast milk can contribute to a neonate’s growth and development. This is basically through its contribution to development of higher IQ, cognitive and social development [13][14]. Additionally, breast milk reduces the incidences of malocclusion thereby contributing to an infant’s dental development [14][15][16].

On the other hand, breast feeding has a number of benefits for the mother. Breast feeding has been shown to delay the on-set of infertility. Additionally, mothers who nurse their infants regularly have been shown to have reduced incidences of various types of cancers [14][15][16]. These mothers are said to have low cases of breast, ovarian, endometrial, and uterine cancers. Mothers who are diabetic and frequently nurse their children have been shown to have decreased insulin requirements. Breast feeding helps the mother to develop an emotional bond with her child. Moreover, studies indicate that breast feeding mothers have decreased instances of anxiety and depression [17][18].

Therefore, breast feeding promotes emotional health in many nursing mothers. Women who fail to breast feed their children are said to have high incidences of osteoporosis due to ionic imbalances in the body. In addition, breast feeding encourages weight loss in women who have given birth particularly the weight associated with the hip circumference. It has also been shown that suckling during breastfeeding enhances shrinkage of the mother’s uterine to the normal position [18].

Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States

Most mothers in the United States have been shown to breast feed their children although there are some barriers which deter some of them from breastfeeding. Some of these barriers include cases whereby a mother fails to meet the AAP infant breast feeding recommendations or instances where the prevailing social factors prevent the new nursing mother from breast feeding her child.

In the United States, the current barriers to breast feeding include: the health-care professional’s attitude and availability of prenatal information on breast feeding and the existence of bottle-feeding grandmothers in the society who would then influence the new mothers negatively [19][20]. These barriers may also include: the employers’ requirements whereby the mother has to return to the work-place earlier, lack of insurance compensation for breast feeding mothers, and other lifestyle practices which force the mother to have a schedule for nursing her child.

In addition to these societal issues that affect breast feeding, there are other important barriers which may require that the mother is advised to abstain from breastfeeding. These include cases whereby: the mother is HIV positive or suffering from Hepatitis B virus infections [19].

Additionally, when the mother is on illicit drugs or other medications that can affect the infant child, she is advised to abstain from breastfeeding. Women suffering from infectious forms of Tuberculosis are also advised to stay away from their children. On the other hand, breastfeeding may be denied to a child suffering from galactosemia, and those infants with cleft palates who may have difficulties with suckling [20].


This essay has given an in-depth account into the maternal exercise of breastfeeding which is the process of feeding infants with milk directly from the mammary glands. The essay is centered on the incidence rates of breast feeding in the United States considering the most current literature. Additionally, the essay considers the factors that influence the recorded data of the incidence rates. Further discussions give the benefits of breast feeding to both the mother and the child. Finally, the essay gives an account of the barriers that are in existence which are bound to deter some new mothers from breast feeding their infants.

From these discussions, it is evident that breast feeding is beneficial to the mother and the child. It contributes to normal growth and development of the neonate in addition to protecting it from dangerous infections and illnesses. On the other hand, breast feeding protects mothers from various types of complications such as ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers among others. Additionally, it helps the nursing mother to develop a strong emotional bond with the infant which in turn contributes to positive emotional health in the both the mother and the child.

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Labbok M.H. Does Breast Feeding Protect against Malocclusion? An Analysis of the 1981 Child Health Supplement to the National Health Interview Survey. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1987; 5(2): 303-314.

Blaauw R. et al. Risk factors for development of osteoporosis in a South African population. SAMJ, 1994; 84:328-32.

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