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Breastfeeding By the Numbers

Posted Dec 23 2008 9:15pm
Another round in the breastfeeding versus formula smack-down.

Over seventy percent of mothers try breastfeeding. About a third continue for 6 months, less than half of those for a year, according to a CDC study in the August issue of The Journal of Human Lactation. You'll remember The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for one year, exclusively for 6 months.

American mothers fall short of the official guidelines. In fact, I suspect they breastfed even less than the reported rates. From my days in The Social Perception Lab, I know people overestimate their good behavior and traits. Women mostly likely fudge a bit on the breastfeeding questions. Especially with it being next to godliness. Also, women recalled their breastfeeding behavior retrospectively by as many as 3 years in the past - another cause for concern, namely the possibility of the fudging factor. Throw in another kid or two, potty training, a few playdates from hell, and no wonder some women might add another week or four in their answers.

Maybe the AAP goal is too lofty. Breastfeeding for one year? Exclusively for 6 months?

That's a high bar. I'm not an M.D., nor an employee or advocate of the formula industry, but I have to say it. Do women really need to be told over and over they should breastfeed longer? I'm not convinced the benefits justify the full-fledged breastfeeding offensive. What offensive? How about recent government-sponsored public service ads likening not breastfeeding to a pregnant woman smoking or riding a mechanical bull?

And another thing, maybe it's not a lack of support that prevent longer breastfeeding - maybe women don't want to! Maybe mothers, and okay, fathers, suspect what I've been saying all along, the benefits are not large enough or meaningful enough to justify the difficulty of continuing for six months, let alone one year. Why not set a more realistic goal? One more women can achieve- without the guilt.

BTW, I breastfed all three of my children - all for at least 3 months but short of the 6-month mark. Yes, I often wished there were more comfortable public places to sit and breastfeed - as opposed to the restroom or deserted parking garage - but even if there were I doubt I would have breastfed longer.

The study has generated lots of comments on Tara Parker-Pope's Well blog at The New York Times. You can read it for free right now on the journal's website. Get it while you can.

Forste, Renata & Hoffmann, John P. (2008). Are US Mothers Meeting the Healthy People 201Breastfeeding Targets for Initiation, Duration, and Exclusivity? The 2003 and 2004 NationalImmunization Surveys. The Journal of Human Lactation, 24(3). DOI: 10.1177/0890334408317617
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