U.S. Moms Don't Breast-Feed Long Enough

ByABC News
May 29, 2001, 4:20 PM

June 7 -- More than 70 percent of American women don't follow new recommendations that they exclusively breast-feed their babies for the first six months.

Should they?

Lactation experts say marketing pressure by infant formula companies, lack of social support and workplaces that don't encourage the behavior make it difficult for American mothers to meet the recommendations by the World Health Organization.

But formula companies, which have a $1 billion revenue market in the United States, disagree, saying they do recommend breast-feeding.

WHO last month called on countries to "protect, promote and support exclusive breast-feeding for six months" and to continue breast-feeding for children with supplemental foods "up to 2 years of age or beyond."

Breast Milk Is a Complete Food

Research WHO commissioned showed exclusive breast-feeding for six months, without supplemental formula, decreases diarrhea and respiratory and ear infections, and improves brain growth.

Yet only 29 percent of American women either breast-feed or give formula to their babies by the age of 6 months. The number of exclusive breast-feeders is even smaller since data in the United States is only kept on both activities, not each one separately.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with the WHO guidelines, the U.S. surgeon general says four months might be good enough.

Healthy People 2010 goals, an initiative of the U.S. Public Health Service, say the proportion of women who breast-feed for six months should increase to 50 percent by 2010, but the guidelines don't specifically define breast-feeding as exclusive or not.

Formula Pressures

La Leche League International, a mothers' advocacy group, says moms should do what they want to.

"We tell mothers that six months is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for those mothers who can breast-feed, but they should do what feels right for them," says Kim Cavaliero, spokeswoman for La Leche International.