Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant. Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life. Breastfeeding protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence. Breastfeeding has also been associated with higher intelligence quotient (IQ) in children.
Breastfeeding continues to make an important nutritional contribution well beyond the first year of life as a significant energy source and by providing key nutrients to the growing infant. Studies in developing countries demonstrate that continued, frequent breastfeeding is associated with greater linear growth and further protects child health by delaying maternal fertility postpartum and reducing the child’s risk of morbidity and mortality. Continued breastfeeding may also prevent dehydration in those recovering from infections.
Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond.
Status: not currently available
Other guidance documents
Global strategy for infant and young child feeding
Guiding principles for the complementary feeding of the breastfed child
Other related systematic reviews
Optimal breastfeeding practices and infant and child mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Breastfeeding and maternal health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Breastfeeding and intelligence: a systematic review and meta-analysis
The association between breastfeeding and childhood obesity: a meta-analysis
Systematic review and meta-analyses of risk factors for childhood overweight identifiable during infancy