More moms in the U.S. are breastfeeding their babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest breastfeeding report card.
About 47 percent of mothers breastfed their babies for six months in 2009, the latest year for data -- an increase from 44 percent the year before. The rate at which moms decided to try breastfeeding also increased, from 75 percent in 2008 to nearly 77 percent in 2009 -- the biggest jump in the past decade.
"The big picture is that we've seen a really positive shift in policy and breastfeeding promotion, to where we're really talking about the system," said Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB-GYN and assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina.
"The headlines 10 years back were, 'Mothers don't breastfeed enough; Is something wrong with mothers?'" she said. "We've recognized that this is crazy. Let's fix the system rather than going after moms.'"
The 2012 report card tracks some of those efforts, measuring changes in hospital practices aimed at promoting breastfeeding.
In 2008, less than 2 percent of births in the U.S. occurred in so-called "Baby-Friendly" hospitals -- institutions that adopt 10 steps to promote breastfeeding. Those include ensuring that mothers attempt to breastfeed their babies within one hour of birth, and giving newborns only breast milk unless otherwise medically necessary.
But in the last four years, the number of births in Baby-Friendly hospitals tripled, jumping to 6 percent. "It's a steep rise, but that's still a small number," Stuebe said.
The CDC's new report card also found general improvements in how well hospitals and birth centers support breastfeeding based on responses to an agency survey and sent to various institutions. In more than half of states in the U.S., scores increased by 5 or more points.
However, there is still a ways to go before the U.S. hits government goals for breastfeeding.
The Healthy People 2020 agenda calls for 60 percent of babies to be breastfed at six months and 34.1 percent being breastfed at one year. According to new report, only a quarter of moms breastfed at 12 months.
The report card also shows disparities in breastfeeding rates from state-to-state. Less than half the women in Mississippi ever breastfed, versus nearly 90 percent of women in Washington state.
But experts like Stuebe said they are heartened by the increase, even if there are improvements to be made. "No mother sets out to not do the best thing for her child," she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for about six months, and for one year or longer with complementary foods.
The World Health Organization also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding supplemented with other foods for up to two years and beyond. "Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival," it says.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misdescribed an increase in breastfeeding rates. In fact, about 44 percent of American mothers breastfed their newborns for six months in 2008; about 47 percent did so in 2009.