by Melissa Clark Vickers
September 23, 2010
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses the term “Report Card,” but its annual assessment of breastfeeding rates is far more important than the scholastic definition of the term. More than a child’s reading or mathematics comprehension, the CDC tracks the health of mothers and children across the country—both state-by-state and nationwide—recognizing that “protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding, with its many known benefits for infants, children, and mothers, is a key strategy toward…improving the health of mothers and their children.”
The Breastfeeding Report Card 2010 outlines how America fared in reaching the Healthy People 2010 breastfeeding targets:
Increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed their babies…
The good news is that the U.S. has achieved the first goal—75 percent of mothers in the U.S. initiate breastfeeding. State averages range from a low of 52.5 percent (Mississippi) to a high of 89.8 percent (Utah). Unfortunately, we have fallen short of the other four targets:
In addition to target goals on initiation and exclusivity of breastfeeding, the CDC Report Card provides national and state scores for nine other initiatives:
Putting it all in perspective
As evidenced from the CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2010, there are significant regional differences in the progress toward the national goals. In general, breastfeeding rates are lowest in the south, and highest in the northwest. And just as a “C” in arithmetic on a child’s report card only tells parents the overall picture, but not exactly where problems lie or what might be done to improve the grade, these overall scores don’t adequately describe the underlying issues involved in the achievement of these breastfeeding targets. As data show, less than 4 percent of babies are born in one of the (only!) 99 hospitals and birthing facilities in the U.S. designated as Baby Friendly—a clear indication that too many babies are being born in facilities without adequate breastfeeding support.
The Healthy People 2010 targets were set at levels that were reasonable to achieve over a 10-year period. Most professional health care organizations would like to see much higher numbers of infants and children breastfeeding for a year or more. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for at least one year. And, given the many benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk for both mother and baby, WHO recommends children breastfeed for at least two years.
As previously reported by baby gooroo, there is a high cost associated with not breastfeeding. If 90 percent of new mothers exclusively breastfed their babies for the first six months of life, the savings in lives and dollars would be 911 babies and $13 billion each year; if 80 percent of mothers exclusively breastfed for the first six months, 741 deaths would be prevented and $10.5 billion saved; and if the Healthy People 2010 goals were met (which calls for 50 percent of mothers to continue breastfeeding for six months), 142 deaths would be prevented annually and $2.2 billion would be saved.
We’re not even close. Not yet.
The Healthy People 2020 objectives are being finalized, and will include these same indicators (though it isn’t clear whether the goals will change). One objective has been added in recognition of the importance of workplace support for breastfeeding employees. Passed earlier this year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act offers workplace protection for breastfeeding mothers; as part of the Healthy People 2020 objectives, progress will be charted, state by state.
So here we are. We’ll celebrate the progress we have made (after all, 75 percent of mothers are initiating breastfeeding, up from 64 percent in 1998), but there’s still much work to be done.
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