ATLANTA — Nearly threequarters of new mothers in the United States breast-feed their babies, a new high, but they quit too soon and resort to infant formula too often, federal health officials said Thursday.
A government survey found that about 30% of new moms are feeding their babies only breast milk three months after birth.
At six months, 11% are breast-feeding exclusively.
Formula isn't as good at protecting babies against diseases, eczema and childhood obesity. Ideally, nearly all mothers should breast-feed their babies for six months or more, said Dr. David Paige of Johns Hopkins University.
What's wrong with giving a baby a bottle every once in a while?
Not much, except it can begin a pattern as a child sucks at the breast less, causing less stimulation to produce milk, Paige said.
"It creates a downward spiral," he said, adding that often, a woman then moves away from breast-feeding altogether.
The annual survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the percentage of women who started breast-feeding rose slightly, to 74% in 2004; the proportion was 71% in 2000. That's a new high, CDC officials said.
The new results, based on nearly 17,000 responses, are being called the best national data to date on "exclusive breast-feeding," in which mothers give their infants nothing but breast milk and perhaps vitamin drops.
The CDC study, like earlier studies, found that rates of exclusive breast-feeding were lowest among black women and among women who were unmarried, poor, rural, younger than 20, or had only a high school education or less.