More US babies are being breast fed and for longer periods of times, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said Wednesday, as mothers seek out the benefits tied with nursing for their children.

Overall, the number of babies who were breast-fed from birth rose from 71 percent to 77 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, almost 50 percent of babies are still being breast-fed at least sometime at 6 months of age, up from 35 percent in 2000.

The report noted that the number of babies still breast-feeding at the age of one year rose from 16 percent to 27 percent. Recent studies have shown that breast fed babies performed better in IQ tests compared to formula-fed babies. 

"The period right after a baby is born is a critical time for establishing breast-feeding," Janet Collins, director of CDC's division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity, said in an agency news release.

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.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast-feed for 12 months, and the World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding for up to two years.

"Also, breastfeeding lowers health care costs. Researchers have calculated that $2.2 billion in yearly medical costs could be saved if breastfeeding recommendations were met. It is critical that we continue working to improve hospital, community and workplace support for breastfeeding mothers and babies and realize these cost savings," Frieden noted.

One expert agreed that "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 of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"Allowing mother and child to have skin-to-skin contact and early exposure to breast-feeding leads to a greater number of success with longer term breast-feeding," Mittler added. "Overall, the decision to breast-feed leads to a positive outcome for all involved."

The CDC offers much more information on a website devoted to breastfeeding.