"There is some suggestion that blacks are more comfortable with formula feeding and prefer to formula feed. There is also some suggestion that blacks return to work earlier than whites after giving birth and maybe the work environment is not supporting them enough to continue to breast-feed," she said.
Among Hispanics, breast-feeding is the cultural norm, Perrine noted. "In their countries of origin, breast-feeding is just the natural way of life."
However, after coming to the United States there is some loss of that tradition, with more Hispanic women favoring formula feeding, she said.
"We probably need more public health messages about the importance of breast-feeding and more support for breast-feeding in general -- in the hospital, in returning to work," she said.
Dr. Lourdes Q. Forster, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that the findings are "encouraging to some degree since we know that national estimates have improved since the 1990s."
Overall, the number of women breast-feeding is approaching the Healthy People 2010 goal of 75 percent of new mothers starting breast-feeding and 50 percent continuing for at least six months, she pointed out.
"But the most striking thing is, unfortunately, the rate in blacks hasn't really changed much," Forster said.
"The reason that's important is that breast-feeding has been shown to improve infant health as well as maternal health. It significantly reduces rates of infection for certain illnesses in infants. It reduces the amount of emergency room visits they may have. Overall, it's the perfect nutrition for the first six months of life," she said.
Efforts to get women to breast-feed should start right at the beginning of a pregnancy, Forster said. Women need to make the decision early and prepare for it and also be taught how to breast-feed, she s
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