Breastfeeding after 6 months - Worldwide Statistics

In the US, breastfeeding rates for babies over 6 months are lower than the worldwide averages and lower than many other developed nations.

At Ewan's 9 month check up at the pediatrician's office, the nurse seemed surprised to find me breastfeeding my son when she came in to measure him.  I told her that he doesn't get any formula and she wrote that down.  Her body language told me that she doesn't see mothers nursing their 9 month olds often.

I find myself also a little more reluctant to breastfeed him in public--mostly because he's so big.  He is 22 pounds and wear 12-18 month clothes.  It looks like I'm breastfeeding a toddler, an in the US, there's a stigma associated with that.

I know that it shouldn't matter.  I shouldn't feel ashamed of making the healthy choice for my son, but it is hard to be in the minority.

The thing is, I'm not really in the minority if one looks at the worldwide breastfeeding rates.

Worldwide statistics released in 2007 by UNICEF:

38% of babies worldwide are exclusively breastfed for 6 months (many cultures start complementary foods before 6 months, hence the low rate)
56% of 6 to 9 month olds are breastfed and fed complementary foods
39% continue to be breastfed up to about 20 to 22 months

(Source: Judith Lauwers and Anna Swisher, Counseling the Nursing Mother 5th ed)

These statistics don't say at what age most children stop breastfeeding, but I would guess that somewhere between 9 months and 1 year the breastfeeding rates drop below 50%.  These numbers are probably brought down by countries such as the US where formula usage is prevalent.

United States statistics released in 2003 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

In the hospital
62.5% of babies are exclusively breastfed
70.9% partially breastfed in the hospital

6 months
14.2% exclusively breastfed
36.2% breastfed with other complementary foods

12 months
17.2% breastfed with other complementary foods

18 months
5.7% breastfed with other complementary foods


These statistics show that the US is far behind other developed countries in the world for breastfeeding initiation rates:

Breastfeeding Rates Around the World

First number is % of mothers who start breastfeeding.
Second number is % who continue 6 months or more

Sweden   98   53
Norway  98  50
Poland  93  10
Canada  80  24
Netherlands  68  25
Britain  63  20
United States 57  20

Sources: Baby Milk Action, Cambridge, England; Center for Breastfeeding Information, Schaumburg, IL

It seems to me that the major issue in the US isn't convincing mothers of the importance of breastfeeding, but of providing support and help so that all women can meet their own breastfeeding goals.  Almost every mother I talk to has regrets that she "couldn't" breastfeed longer.

From my own very unscientific anecdotal data, I think that so many women in the US wanted to breastfeed longer than they did, but some problem got in the way.  Lack of support and knowledge around her made the problem seem unsolvable, so she stopped breastfeeding.

It is important for us to reach out to each other and talk about breastfeeding so we can share our knowledge and support each other.  We will all breastfeed longer if we do it together.