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Nursing Facts by the Numbers

Lee Clower
One sunny Saturday afternoon last winter, a man, a woman and their newborn were at a New York City café for brunch. During the meal, the mom brought the baby to her breast, arranged a scarf around her and began to nurse. No biggie, right? Not necessarily; the new mom was Beyoncé, who's not only one of the most recognizable women in the world, but also African-American, the demographic least likely to breastfeed, publicly or otherwise. The blogosphere erupted, and within hours, the pop star was likened to a dairy cow on one website and a trailblazer for black women on others.
What might seem like a tempest in a C-cup is actually a pretty good reflection of how divided moms are when it comes to the seemingly simple act of nourishing a baby. On one hand, breastfeeding is more in the spotlight than ever. Beyoncé, Angelina and Gwen Stefani have done it — and openly. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge all mothers to do it. Heck, the IRS is even paying people to do it, announcing tax breaks for breast pumps last year. But there are still plenty of moms — one of every four — who start their babies on formula and never look back. 

“We can celebrate the fact that breastfeeding rates have been rising since 1990, but our work isn't done,” says Cria Perrine Ph.D., a CDC epidemiologist. “Seventy-five percent of women start breastfeeding in the hospital, but only 44 percent are still doing it six months later. And there are racial disparities — 74 percent of Caucasian and more than 80 percent of Hispanic and Asian moms breastfeed for at least some period of time, but just over half of black mothers do. We're obviously not giving all women the support they need.  

Most Likely to Breastfeed:
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • California 
Least Likely to Breastfeed:
  • West Virginia
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana