Objective. To update reported rates of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding through 2001 and to compare rates in 2001 to those from 1996.

Methods. The Ross Laboratories Mothers Survey (RLMS) is a large, national survey designed to determine patterns of milk feeding during infancy. Questionnaires were mailed each month to a representative sample of mothers when their infant was 1 month of age, 2 months of age, 3 months or age, and so forth. In 1996, approximately 744 000 questionnaires were mailed, and in 2001, 1.4 million questionnaires were mailed. Mothers were asked to recall the type of milk fed to their infant in the hospital, and during each month of age. Two categories of breastfeeding were considered: breastfeeding (human milk or a combination of human milk and formula or cow’s milk) and exclusive breastfeeding (only human milk). Rates of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital and at 6 months of age were evaluated.

Results. In 2001, the prevalence of the initiation of breastfeeding and breastfeeding to 6 months of age in the United States reached their highest levels recorded to date, 69.5% and 32.5%, respectively. Comparing rates in 2001 and 1996, increases in the initiation of breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding to 6 months of age were observed across all sociodemographic groups but were greater among groups that have been historically less likely to breastfeed: women who were black, younger (<20 years of age), no more than high school-educated, primiparous, employed at the time they received the survey, and who participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Breastfeeding in the hospital and at 6 months of age was most common in the Mountain and Pacific states and among women who were white or Hispanic, older, college-educated, and were not enrolled in WIC. Mothers most likely to practice exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital (46.2%) and at 6 months of age (17.2%) had a similar sociodemographic profile as mothers who breastfed their infants.

Conclusions. If increases in breastfeeding continue at the current rate (approximately 2% per year), in-hospital breastfeeding in the United States should meet or exceed the Healthy People 2010 goal of 75% for the early postpartum period. However, the Healthy People 2010 goal for continued breastfeeding to 5 to 6 months of age (50%) may not be reached in every subgroup. To ensure that these goals are achieved, educational and promotional strategies for breastfeeding must be continued to support mothers who are young, less educated, and participating in WIC.

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