CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- With a vast array of known benefits from the age-old practice, recent data suggest the number of mothers who first turn to breastfeeding in this country is on the rise.
The increase in breastfeeding isn't an anomaly, but a return to the norm, according to board-certified lactation consultant Katherine Wilson-Thompson, although, she noted, too many mothers are still giving up too quickly.
"We've gotten the message out that breastfeeding is absolutely important, but duration seems to be the issue, as well as exclusivity," she said. "Most moms are initiating breastfeeding, but very frequently they start supplementing with artificial baby milk and tend to wean prematurely."
The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 77 percent of new mothers tried breastfeeding in 2010, but only 27 percent were still doing so a year later.
In Tennessee, 60 percent of mothers started but only 17 percent were still breastfeeding after a year.
Wilson-Thompson said the large drop-off in numbers shows the need for breastfeeding mothers to reach out to friends and family for help and connect with a growing number of local and national support groups.
"And I'd recommend moms start while they're pregnant, not wait until after they have their baby, because women who are pregnant can benefit from seeing how newborns nurse, as well as breastfeeding for a normal length of time," she said.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the baby include a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, protection from illnesses, and improved cognitive development.
For moms, the benefits include a lower risk of some types of cancer and a lower likelihood of postpartum depression.
The is World Breastfeeding Week.