e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Continued breastfeeding for healthy growth and development of children

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 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.

WHO recommendations

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.

WHO documents

WHO documents

GRC-approved guidelines

Status: not currently available

Other guidance documents


Related Cochrane reviews
Other related systematic reviews
Clinical trials

Last update:

1 March 2018 11:03 CET

Category 2 intervention

Systematic review(s) have been conducted but no recent guidelines yet available that have been approved by the WHO Guidelines Review Committee

Essential Nutrition Actions

This intervention is supported by Essential Nutrition Actions targeting the first 1000 days of life.

Global targets

Implementation of this intervention may contribute to the achievement of the following targets:

Global nutrition targets

Target 1: 40% reduction in the number of children under-5 who are stunted

Target 4: No increase in childhood overweight

Global NCD targets

Target 7: Halt the rise in diabetes and obesity