Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life. It protects against common childhood diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, and may also have longer-term benefits such as lowering mean blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the prevalence of obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant receives only breast milk. No other liquids or solids are given – not even water – with the exception of oral rehydration solution, or drops/syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines.
WHO recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or more.
Other guidance documents
The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: report of an expert consultation
Acceptable medical reasons for use of breast-milk substitutes [pdf 208kb]
Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative: Revised, updated and expanded for integrated care