Early initiation of breastfeeding to promote exclusive breastfeeding
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, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.
Provision of mother’s breast milk to infants within one hour of birth is referred to as “early initiation of breastfeeding” and ensures that the infant receives the colostrum, or “first milk”, which is rich in protective factors.
Current evidence indicates that skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant shortly after birth helps to initiate early breastfeeding and increases the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding for one to four months of life as well as the overall duration of breastfeeding. Infants placed in early skin-to-skin contact with their mother also appear to interact more with their mothers and cry less.
Early and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between mothers and infants should be facilitated and encouraged as soon as possible after birth.
All mothers should be supported to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, within the first hour after delivery.
Mothers should receive practical support to enable them to initiate and establish breastfeeding and manage common breastfeeding difficulties.
This is one of several WHO recommendations on protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services. Additional information for the full set of recommendations can be found in 'Full set of recommendations' and in the guideline, under ‘WHO documents’ below.
Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding in facilities providing maternity and newborn services
Other guidance documents
Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative: Revised, updated and expanded for integrated care
Global strategy for infant and young child feeding
Related Cochrane reviews
Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants
Rooming-in for new mother and infant versus separate care for increasing the duration of breastfeeding
Other related systematic reviews
Timing of breastfeeding initiation and exclusivity of breastfeeding during the first month of life: effects on neonatal mortality and morbidity--a systematic review and meta-analysis
Time to initiation of breastfeeding and neonatal mortality and morbidity: a systematic review