More U.S. mothers are breastfeeding their infants, but very few continue to do so for the recommended 12 months, a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of new mothers who said they breastfed their infants for any amount of time increased from 70.3 percent to 74.6 percent; the percentage who said they breastfed for six months rose from 34.5 percent to 44.4 percent; and the percentage who said they breastfed for one year climbed from 16 percent to 23.4 percent.

"Despite increases in the prevalence of breastfeeding, fewer than half of the infants in the survey were still breastfeeding at 6 months, indicating that women who choose to breast-feed their infants need support to continue breastfeeding," the report said.

"Many mothers who want to breastfeed are still not getting the support they need from hospitals, doctors, or employers," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement. "We must redouble our efforts to support mothers who want to breastfeed," Frieden said.

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Such support may be especially necessary for black women, who reported lower levels of breastfeeding than women of other ethnicities. In 2008, the percentage of black women who said they had ever breast-fed their infant was about 59 percent, compared to 75 percent for white women and 80 percent for Hispanic women, the report said.

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Black women may be more likely to encounter unsupportive work environments, or other factors that interfere with breastfeeding, the researchers said. Strategies that may encourage continued breastfeeding among black women include increasing support for organizations that promote breastfeeding in minority women, and increasing the number of lactation consultants in minority communities, the researchers said.

Hospitals may also help to increase breastfeeding by following up with mothers regarding their breastfeeding efforts after they've gone home, the CDC said in an earlier report published in August 2011.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for six months in addition to giving the baby doctor-recommended supplements to ensure that the child gets vital vitamins and minerals not found in high quantities in breast milk. After that, women should continue to breastfeed their baby until the first birthday in addition to feeding him or her other foods. Breastfeeding has been linked to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of childhood obesity and certain childhood infections.

The new report is published this week in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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