Less than one-quarter of babies in the U.S. are still being breast-fed 12 months after birth, according to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's nutrition branch. In sharp contrast, a survey of 79 countries by The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) found that more than half of the children were still breast-feeding at 2 years.
Multiple studies show that breast-feeding is beneficial for both mother and infant. Breast milk reduces allergies, colds, infections and other health problems. It also boosts the baby’s immune system, protecting them from illnesses.
Breast-fed babies have lower rates of ear infections, eczema, diarrhea, lower respiratory tract infections, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, leukemia and childhood diabetes.
Mothers who breast-feed have lower rates of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of a baby's life, followed by breast-feeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continued breast-feeding as long as mother and baby chose to do so. However, most mothers in the U.S. do not breast-feed the recommended six months, which researchers theorize may contribute to more health issues in the future.