Beyonce with her daughter, Blue Ivy. Breastfeeding Advocates Praise Beyonce for Nursing Daughter in Public (Carter Family/Ed Burke for Beyonce.com/AP Photo/File )

Beyonce with her daughter, Blue Ivy. Breastfeeding Advocates Praise Beyonce for Nursing Daughter in Public (Carter Family/Ed Burke for Beyonce.com/AP Photo/File )

The decision about how to feed your infant is a personal one. Families hear a lot of opinions about how they should feed their babies. Women often hear the phrase “breast is better” in reference to breastfeeding. If you choose to breastfeed, it is important to know its health benefits.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that breastfeeding has many health benefits for the baby and the mother. Even in the first days after birth, breast milk provides all the nutrients that babies need to grow and be healthy. Research shows that babies who are breastfed have lower rates of respiratory infections, asthma, skin rashes, type I and II diabetes, obesity and necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in infants born before 37 weeks). Breastfed babies have lower rates of ear infections and diarrhea. Mothers who do not breastfeed have higher rates of heart disease and breast and ovarian cancers. Studies show that breast milk helps babies fight disease and illness.

With all its health benefits, are all women breastfeeding? The answer is no. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent Breastfeeding Report Card states that, in 2011, 79 percent of infants started breastfeeding in the United States. At six months, 49 percent were still breastfeeding and 27 percent were at 12 months. But the difference in breastfeeding rates among African American women is large. In 2011, 58 percent of African American women breastfed, with rates also decreasing at six and 12 months. The same report shows that 72.9 percent of women in Pennsylvania have ever breastfed, with 45.7 percent still breastfeeding at six months and 26.1 percent at 12 months.

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