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.
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.
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.
Other guidance documents
Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative: Revised, updated and expanded for integrated care
Acceptable medical reasons for use of breast-milk substitutes
Global strategy for infant and young child feeding
The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: report of an expert consultation
Related Cochrane reviews
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