As reported in an article by Gardiner Harris in the New York Times (May 1, 2008), “about 77 percent of new mothers breast-feed their infants at least briefly, the highest rate seen in the United States in more than a decade, according to a government survey released on Wednesday.”

Rates have gradually been rising since 1993, when only 60% of new mothers breast-fed their babies; today’s rate is an all-time high, says Karen Hunter of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  However, rates at six months remain as low as ever, significantly lower than those set by government agencies.

According to the New York Times article, “The increase in initial breast-feeding has been driven at least in part by a concerted campaign by medical groups and government agencies that have sought to educate mothers about the benefits of breast-feeding and, increasingly, the risks associated with infant formula.”

Professional medical societies and the World Health Organization all recommend that mothers breast-feed exclusively for six month, then continue breast-feeding while adding other foods as a supplement until the first birthday (or the second birthday, as the WHO recommends).

Studies show that formula-fed babies are at increased risk of ear and respiratory infections, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer.

In another New York Times article (May 13, 2008), Nicholas Bakalar reports that babies who are still breastfed at six months of age “scored significantly higher on tests of vocabulary, word matching and verbal I.Q. at 6 ½ years,  although the differences in several other tests of intelligence were not significant. Teacher ratings of the children were consistently higher for those who were breast-fed.”