Early initiation of 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 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.
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 paced in early skin-to-skin contact with their mother also appear to interact more with their mothers and cry less.
WHO recommends that mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
Babies should be placed in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately following birth for at least an hour and mothers should be encouraged to recognize when their babies are ready to breastfeed, offering help if needed.
Status: not currently available
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
Separate care for new mother and infant versus rooming-in for increasing the duration of breastfeeding