Breastfeeding Trends

Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, only 64 percent of mothers in the United States initiate breastfeeding, with 29 percent still breastfeeding six months after birth. The U.S. goals for 2000 were to increase to 75 percent the proportion of women who initiate breastfeeding, and to increase to 50 percent the proportion of women who breastfeed for five to six months. In the United States, ethnic minorities are less likely to breastfeed than their white counterparts.

Based on a 2001 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), 35 percent of infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed (no other food or drink, not even water) for the first four months of life. Rates are very low in a number of African countries, especially Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Niger. Some countries, such as Benin, Mali, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have had small increases, due mainly to breastfeeding campaigns, baby-friendly hospitals, and the commitment of trained breastfeeding counselors. In Southeast Asia, the exclusive breastfeeding rate, though low, has increased. Breastfeeding rates are also low in many European countries, especially France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Sweden, however, has a rate of 98 percent, the highest level in the world.

nutrient: dietary substance necessary for health protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet carbohydrate: food molecule made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, including sugars and starches galactosemia: inherited disorder preventing digestion of milk sugar, galactose phenylketonuria: inherited disease marked by the inability to process the amino acid phenylalanine, causing mental retardation metabolize: processing of a nutrient immunologic: related to the immune system, which protects the body from infection bacteria: single-celled organisms without nuclei, some of which are infectious virus: noncellular infectious agent that requires a host cell to reproduce parasite: organism that feeds off of other organisms hormone: molecules produced by one set of cells that influence the function of another set of cells calorie: unit of food energy

Recommended Dietary Allowances:

nutrient intake recommended to promote health nutritional requirements: the set of substances needed in the diet to maintain health folate: one of the B vitamins, also called folic acid iron: nutrient needed for red blood cell formation niacin: one of the B vitamins, required for energy production in the cell zinc: mineral necessary for many enzyme processes diet: the total daily food intake, or the types of foods eaten drugs: substances whose administration causes a significant change in the body's function wean: cease breast-feeding malnourished: lack of adequate nutrients in the diet

An increase in breastfeeding could save the lives of millions of children a year worldwide. However, the aggressive marketing campaigns by infant formula companies and the promotion of infant formula by health professionals combine to discourage breastfeeding. Other factors that determine whether a woman will breastfeed include:

  • The father's preference for a specific feeding method
  • Whether the mother was breastfed as an infant
  • Social support
  • Whether relatives and/or friends breastfeed
  • Whether the mother gets help with household chores
  • The mother's need to work
  • Hospital policies
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