Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. However, nearly 2 out of 3 infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended 6 months—a rate that has not improved in 2 decades.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.
Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.
WHO and UNICEF Recommendations on Breastfeeding
WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.
Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night. No bottles, teats or pacifiers should be used.
From the age of 6 months, children should begin eating safe and adequate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond.
WHO actively promotes breastfeeding as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children, and is working to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months up to at least 50% by 2025.
WHO and UNICEF created the Global Breastfeeding Collective to rally political, legal, financial, and public support for breastfeeding. The Collective brings together implementers and donors from governments, philanthropies, international organizations, and civil society.
WHO’s Network for Global Monitoring and Support for Implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, also known as NetCode, works to ensure that breast-milk substitutes are not marketed inappropriately.
Additionally, WHO provides training courses for health workers to provide skilled support to breastfeeding mothers, help them overcome problems, and monitor the growth of children.