Almost 50 percent of babies are still being breastfed at least sometime at 6 months of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's up from 35 percent in 2000.
The number of babies breastfeeding at 12 months also rose, from 16 percent in 2000 to 27 percent in 2010.
Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections and diarrhea as infants, and less likely to be obese and have diabetes as adults. But public health officials haven't always been successful at getting that message out. For instance, many parents don't realize that breast milk remains better for babies than formula, according to a 2011 surgeon general's report.
And perhaps because breastfeeding is considered natural, many women don't get help learning proper technique and dealing with common breastfeeding issues.
Multiple studies have found hospitals and birth centers often sabotage women's efforts. For instance, one quarter of hospitals and birth centers give at least half of healthy breastfeeding newborns formula, according to the surgeon general's report, and almost three-quarters give breastfeeding mothers "welcome packs" that include formula.
The CDC's Breastfeeding Report Card released today says that hospitals should do two key things to help new mothers breastfeed: Let babies "room in" with mothers and make sure mothers have skin-to-skin contact with newborns.
Babies who are held against their mother's skin stay warmer and are better able to latch on and nurse. The number of hospitals where newborns were skin-to-skin with the mother rose from 41 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2011.
The number of hospitals reporting that babies "room in" at least 23 hours a day rose from 30 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2011, the report says. But that still means that two-thirds of babies are kept in a nursery or otherwise far from Mom.
Shots Blog at npr.org