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The number of American babies who are breast-fed continues to rise, according to a new U.S. government report.
Between 2000 and 2010, the number of babies who were breast-feeding at six months rose from 35 percent to 49 percent and the number of babies still breast-feeding at the age of one year rose from 16 percent to 27 percent.
Overall, the number of babies who started out life being breast-fed rose from 71 percent to 77 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The period right after a baby is born is a critical time for establishing breast-feeding," Janet Collins, director of CDC's division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity, said in an agency news release.
The findings are "great news for the health of our nation because babies who are breast-fed have lower risks of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes and obesity, and mothers who breast-feed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers," added CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.
Keeping mothers and newborns together during their hospital stay is an important factor in breast-feeding, the agency noted. The report found that the number of hospitals where babies were able to stay with their mothers at least 23 hours a day increased from 30 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2011.
During that time period, the number of hospitals where most newborns were skin-to-skin with their mothers after birth rose from 41 percent to more than 54 percent.
"Rooming in and skin-to-skin contact help ensure that mothers and babies stay together and are able to start and continue breast-feeding. These are meaningful steps hospitals can take to support mothers and families, and help improve breast-feeding rates," Collins explained.
Also, Frieden pointed out, "breast-feeding lowers health care costs. Researchers have calculated that $2.2 billion in yearly medical costs could be saved if breast-feeding recommendations were met. It is critical that we continue working to improve hospital, community and workplace support for breast-feeding mothers and babies, and realize these cost savings."
One expert agreed that "rooming" policies are a big factor behind the upswing in breast-fed babies.
"Hospitals' efforts to keep the babies in the room with new mothers has been playing a dramatic role in this upswing, [and] the results lead to positive things for mother and baby," said Marlo Mittler, who works in pediatric and adolescent medicine at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
"Allowing mother and child to have skin-to-skin contact and early exposure to breast-feeding leads to a greater number of success with longer term breast-feeding," Mittler added. "Overall, the decision to breast-feed leads to a positive outcome for all involved."
The U.S. Office on Women's Health has more about breast-feeding.