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Increase in number of breast-fed babies

The number of American babies who are breast-fed continues to rise, according to a new U.S. government report.

Between 2000 and 2010, babies breast-feeding at six months rose from 35 percent to 49 percent and those still breast-feeding at 1 year old 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, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

The period right after birth is "a critical time for establishing breast-feeding," Janet Collins, director of CDC's division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity, said.

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 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.

Frieden said breast-feeding lowers health care costs.

One expert said "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 in New Hyde Park. -- HealthDay