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15 Stats On Breastfeeding In America Versus The Rest Of The World

15 Stats On Breastfeeding In America Versus The Rest Of The World

When it comes to breastfeeding, every mom’s opinion varies, and personal experiences often matter more than what the statistics say. Still, plenty of moms look to studies and research that shows breastfeeding is beneficial for babies and even for mom. There’s a reason why breastfeeding is so often discussed, promoted, and argued over!

If you’ve ever wondered about the breastfeeding habits of other moms in the US or moms worldwide, there’s plenty of information out there to give you a glimpse into other moms’ worlds. While no one is saying breastfeeding is easy, it definitely creates a sense of community among moms who have done it, whether for a month or a year, or longer. In the same way that moms bond over their babies’ birth months or their choice of baby carrier, breastfeeding encourages community.

While we can all agree that breastmilk is healthy for babies, everything else about it is up in the air, from how long babies and toddlers should nurse to how much milk is normal to how it tastes! Nursing moms across the globe offer insights on their personal breastfeeding experiences and let us see the bigger picture about breastfeeding in the US and beyond.

15 Not Many Babies Are Nursing After 6 Months

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According to the CDC, only 49% of infants who started out nursing at birth were still breastfed at 6 months old. The CDC’s goal for improvement is to reach a rate of at least 60% of babies nursing at six months old. But between lack of support in many hospitals across a number of states, even moms with the drive to succeed at nursing may not have the right knowledge to make it happen.

However, the global stats for 6 month old infants are even lower than the US- hovering around 36%. According to WHO, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, babies should be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of their lives for the best start at a healthy life. Since this is a worldwide recommendation, the professionals have their work cut out for them- and so do new moms.

14 Plenty Of Toddlers Keep On Nursing

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Although the US falls behind other nations when it comes to extended breastfeeding- or breastfeeding past infancy- a study referenced by Kelly Mom notes that the average weaning age for US moms who practice attachment parenting is about 2.5 years. Globally, La Leche League International notes, the average age of weaning hovers near 4 or 5 years.

However, research by an anthropologist at Texas A&M University argues that the natural weaning age for humans is somewhere between 2.5 and 6 years old. Based on that data, the US is achieving an average that’s bare minimum when compared to the rest of the globe. It’s difficult to know, however, whether the children who weaned before age 3 were weaned by their moms or chose to wean on their own. Regardless, there’s nothing weird about nursing a toddler- in fact, worldwide, it’s weird not to!

13 Not Many Moms Start Out Breastfeeding

In Sweden and Norway, a staggering 98% of moms start out breastfeeding their newborns from day one. In Canada, figures are around 80%- and impressive number considering where the US ranks. Kelly Mom compiled data from numerous breastfeeding studies and reported that only 57% of US moms start out intending to nurse their babies. Britain didn’t rank much higher, at 63%, and the Netherlands ranked 68%.

In general, the US seems to have a backward view on breastfeeding, and many moms who are either inexperienced or unwilling to attempt to nurse don’t see it as a viable first choice for feeding their babies. While formula is a fantastic alternative for babies who need to eat but can’t have breastmilk, there’s a reason that global initiatives are moving toward more mama milk for more babies.

12 Only 23 Countries Meet WHO BF Guidelines

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The US isn’t alone in its abysmal breastfeeding statistics overall. USA Today reported that only 23 countries report exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months above 60%. That list includes countries like Bolivia, Cambodia, Micronesia, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. While many of the countries on the full list are not considered technologically advanced by any means, there is a biological inclination toward nursing- and plenty of public support.

While nursing is the primary method of feeding babies in many countries where formula is considered a luxury, the health benefits of breastfeeding are very real. The WHO reports that breastfeeding can protect against gastrointestinal infections, which is beneficial in underdeveloped countries. Mortality risk rises when babies are partially breastfed or not breastfed at all. Plus, breastmilk gives even toddlers a third of their caloric needs every day- and it’s an easy snack for mom to dole out!

11 Breastfeeding Rates Are Rising

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Between the CDC’s 2014 and 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card reports, rates increased when it comes to moms attempting to nurse, sticking with it for six months, and nursing to or beyond a year. With all the benefits of breastmilk, it’s heartening to know that 80% of moms reported their desire to nurse their babies from birth. More than half of moms were still nursing their babies at 6 months old, and one third of moms were still nursing at the one year mark.

These rates are still low compared to global figures, but an overall rise in breastfeeding in the US is a positive thing, so we’ll take whatever we can get. The CDC’s measures for improving rates even further include more lactation consultants and breastfeeding education programs, plus better equipped hospitals where moms can feel supported and empowered.

10 It Takes Six Months To Start Table Food

Most moms in the US, whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, receive the advice from their pediatricians to introduce solid food at around 6 months of age. Although there’s been quite a heated debate on the drawbacks of introducing table food so early, worldwide the recommendations are similar. According to Let the Journey Begin’s research, most moms across the world are told to give their babies food between 4 and 6 months old, in addition to their breast or formula milk.

Advice varies on what type of foods to introduce- whether fruits or veggies or grains- but most medical professionals seem to push solid foods over breastfeeding at that point. It makes us wonder whether breastfeeding rates are impacted by the solid food guidelines, and whether moms are thinking their milk isn’t enough for babies beyond six months old.

9 Birth Is Ugly, Breastfeeding Is Beautiful?

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In Brazil, European Mama reports, C-section rates are higher than anywhere else in the world. The prevailing mindset is that birth is ugly, plus the convenience of a scheduled birth helps moms who are far from hospitals and moms who want to pick their babies’ birth dates. Interestingly, breastfeeding is strongly pushed in all hospitals, and there are even rules about advertising formula that keep it from being pushed on moms.

Milk banks are prevalent, and formula isn’t a first-choice for moms who can’t nurse their babies directly. It’s so strange to see the contradiction between what’s best for mom and baby when it comes to birth, and what’s best for baby when it comes to food. Luckily, nursing moms are supported in Brazil and there’s not a whole lot of stigma about nursing in public or nursing an older baby or toddler.

8 Moms Defend Nursing In Public

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In 2015, Lansinoh administered a Global Breastfeeding Survey to thousands of women and catalogued their responses. Over 13,000 women in 10 countries participated in the survey, and Lansinoh summarized both global and US-detailed information. One of the prompts featured in the survey was “Breastfeeding in public is…” Responses ranged from “perfectly natural” to “unavoidable” to “wrong.” While moms’ perception of breastfeeding in public has grown in a positive way since the 2014 survey, the majority of moms in both surveys reported that the act is perfectly natural.

This is impressive considering not just the mainstream US’s reaction to nursing in public, but also because moms in other countries feel more embarrassed overall than US women do. In fact, moms in France and China reported the highest feelings of embarrassment than any other country in the survey.

7 Is Breast Best?

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An overwhelming 93% of US moms in Lansinoh’s 2015 breastfeeding survey agreed that breastfeeding is best for babies. This is an impressive statistic considering the push for formula and the “fed is best” initiatives that seem to only share stories of babies near-death due to incompetent medical care and ignorant parents.

However, in the global survey, which polled moms from the US, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Mexico, Turkey, and the UK, a resounding 96% of participants stated that breastfeeding was best for babies. 2/3 of those moms said they’d feel guilty if they didn’t breastfeed their babies. While the guilt could stem from a few sources, those moms also noted that the main reason they chose to breastfeed was for the health of their babies. Suffice it to say, these moms would experience guilt for not feeding their babies what they know is the best food source for infants.

6 US Moms Receive The Least Criticism For Nursing

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Lansinoh’s 2015 breastfeeding survey asked moms whether they’d experienced open criticism or prejudice while breastfeeding their babies. An overwhelming 47.5% of Brazilian moms responded that they had received criticism, while US moms were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Only one fourth of US moms reported being critiqued for nursing their kiddos, which is surprising considering how many stories we see on social media on the topic.

Thankfully, only 18% of women have experienced harassment or prejudice for nursing their babies, worldwide. While we don’t think anyone should be criticized for breastfeeding their babies, this is a figure that is way lower than expected given the vitriol spewed at moms online for their nursing pics. Only China had a single-digit percentage of moms who had experienced prejudice, by far the best result out of the entire survey.

5 Breastfeeding Pain Scares Moms Worldwide

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In the US-specific Lansinoh nursing survey, moms reported that their biggest concern about breastfeeding was that they wouldn’t be able to nurse as long as experts recommend. The next concern was that their baby wouldn’t be able to latch. Last was the concern about experiencing pain while nursing, which 17% of moms said they worried about.

On a global scale, moms reported that the biggest challenge that was associated with breastfeeding was pain. 21% of moms said this was a top challenge, followed by waking up at all hours to nurse a hungry baby. Other challenges included how often the baby would need to be fed, and concerns over learning to breastfeed. It’s interesting yet unsurprising that moms’ biggest concerns are pain, because so many moms are told that nursing can hurt at first.

4 Everyone Has Opinions On Nursing Toddlers

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Women in Turkey breastfeed for the longest period of time, according to Lansinoh’s 2015 Global Breastfeeding Survey. Women in France breastfeed for the shortest amount of time, while the US falls comfortably in the middle. 20 percent of US moms nurse their babies for zero to three months, about 25% nurse for three to six months, and nearly thirty percent nurse for six to twelve months. After twelve months, the figures start to decline back to ¼ of moms nursing past that time.

Compared to moms worldwide, US moms are about average with nursing babies beyond a year old, but nearly 36 percent of US moms agreed that nursing a two-year-old is outside their comfort zone. Globally, moms are surprisingly judgmental on the subject of nursing a two-year-old- 71% of the women surveyed said a child that age is too old to nurse.

3 Mature Moms Nurse Longer

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A study on women’s experiences with breastfeeding longer than twelve months found that US moms who were older, more educated, and exclusively breastfed for the longest time were more likely to sustain breastfeeding for a longer duration. While us younger moms or those of us without a degree might feel a little huffy over this statistic, it is an interesting commentary on the habits of nursing moms.

Also, the same study noted that 68% of moms who nursed beyond one year went back to work before their babies’ first birthdays. It’s hard enough working full time with a baby, but pumping and storing milk, plus finding the time to do it, makes nursing longer a challenge. Plus, other countries give moms better leave options, which helps support extended breastfeeding rather than discourage it.

2 American Moms Embrace Formula

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If you look around at all the campaigning that organizations are doing against breastfeeding, since apparently saying that breast milk is best for babies, it’s hard to understand what the motivation is. Yes, we want our babies fed, but we also want what’s nutritionally optimal for them, which is breastmilk- there’s no arguing that point. Yet formula is shoved on most moms, even those who are adamant to breastfeed, and we readily accept it- especially moms who feel “bressure”- the pressure to breastfeed.

An article from UNICEF explains that in other cultures outside the US, formula is not even an option. It’s not a commercially promoted and readily available product- and in fact, many countries don’t allow formula in hospitals or anywhere nursing moms turn for help. It’s odd that American moms don’t realize that they’re funding the formula industry in their efforts to ditch breastfeeding advocates.

1 US Women Aren’t Influenced By Celebrities

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Lansinoh’s breastfeeding mom poll revealed that while ¾ of women in Brazil and China said they would be influenced by celebrities breastfeeding, moms in the US and in France were least likely to be influenced. What’s interesting about this statistic is that plenty of moms express admiration for celebrities who breastfeed, particularly those who do so in public or in professional photo shoots. Also, Shakira and Kate Middleton were deemed the most popular role models for moms all over the world.

While seeing celebrities nursing doesn’t have to be a source of inspiration for regular moms, it should still be part of our culture and a regular part at that. Breastfeeding is so widespread that it would actually be weird to not see celebrities nursing their little ones! After all, they’re just moms taking care of their babies, too.

Sources: CDC, USA Today, WHO, Kelly Mom, LLLI, Let the Journey Begin, European Mama, Lansinoh, Breastfeeding Duration Study, UNICEF

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