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U.S. Breastfeeding Rates Are Up! More Work Is Needed

Breastfeeding is recognized as the best source of nutrition for most infants. In observance of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, learn about our nation’s progress in promoting and supporting breastfeeding and the work that is still needed.

The percentage of babies who start out breastfeeding increased from 73% among babies born in 2004 to 83% among babies born in 2014. Babies are also breastfeeding for longer; 55% of U.S. babies born in 2014 were being breastfed at 6 months, up from 42% in 2004. Despite these overall increases, racial disparities between black and white infants persist.

A recent CDC study, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describes how breastfeeding rates continue to differ between non-Hispanic (NH) black and white infants within states.

  • Among infants born during 2010–2013, 64.3% of NH black infants started breastfeeding, compared to 81.5% of NH white infants, a gap of 17.2 percentage points.
  • Most of the 34 states included in the study reported lower rates of breastfeeding initiation rates among NH black infants than among NH white infants.
  • In 14 states (primarily in the South and Midwest) the percentage of NH black infants who ever breastfed was at least 15 percentage points lower than among NH white infants.
  • NH black infants also had significantly lower rates than NH white infants of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months and breastfeeding for 12 months.

Many factors influence a woman’s decision to start and continue breastfeeding. Some barriers disproportionately affect black women, such as:

  • Returning earlier to work.
  • Not receiving enough information about breastfeeding from providers.
  • Lack of access to professional breastfeeding support.

To learn more about the importance of supporting breastfeeding among black mothers, see “Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Risk Reduction: Implications for Black Mothers”

The newest data from the MMWR indicate that challenges still exist. However, we are making progress. Since the release of the 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, the federal government and its partners have made important progress in improving breastfeeding support for more mothers and infants across the nation.

More than 442 hospitals across the United States are designated as “;Baby-Friendly” and use evidenced-based maternity care. These hospital cover approximately 860,000 births a year. Additionally, CDC has worked with 69 local health departments and community-based organizations in their efforts to provide peer and professional lactation support, specifically to African-American and underserved mothers and infants.

There is more work to be done. Although more women are breastfeeding and breastfeeding for longer, disparities remain. Addressing such challenges will require coordination and collaboration at all levels – from families, to health care providers, to communities– so that every baby gets the best start in life.

Visit CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) to learn how you can support breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding mother

To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, listen to our recent podcast.


What is already known about this topic?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods until age ≥12 months. Over the past decade, national estimates of breastfeeding initiation and duration have consistently improved among both non-Hispanic black (black) and non-Hispanic white (white) infants; however, differences in breastfeeding rates by race have persisted.

What is added by this report?

Differences in breastfeeding rates between black and white infants vary by state, and rates are lower among blacks in most states. Breastfeeding initiation rates were significantly lower among black infants in 22 states; in 14 of these states, the difference was at least 15 percentage points. A significant difference of at least 10 percentage points in exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months was found between black and white infants in 12 states, and at 12 months of breastfeeding in 22 states.

What are the implications for public health practice?

To increase the rate of breastfeeding among black infants, interventions are needed to address barriers experienced disproportionately by black mothers, including earlier return to work, inadequate receipt of breastfeeding information from providers, and lack of access to professional breastfeeding support. Enhanced understanding of these barriers could improve the effectiveness of interventions.