e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)

Implementation of the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative

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.

To reduce infant mortality and ill health, WHO recommends that mothers begin breastfeeding their infants within one hour of birth – referred to as “early initiation of breastfeeding”. This ensures that the infant receives the colostrum (“first milk”), which is rich in protective and regulatory factors. Infants should also be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health, with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

The Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative is a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding. It aims to ensure that all maternity facilities become centres of breastfeeding support.

Since its launch by WHO and UNICEF in 1991, more than 150 countries have implemented the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative. The Initiative has had a measurable and proven impact, increasing both early initiation of breastfeeding and the likelihood of infants being exclusively breastfed from birth until six months of age.

WHO recommendations

One of the nine operational targets of the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding is to ensure that every maternity facility practices the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding as described in the guidance document, under 'WHO documents' below, and summarized in the guidance summary.

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:

6 January 2017 12:15 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

Biological, behavioural and contextual rationale

Essential Nutrition Actions

This is an Essential Nutrition Action 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

Target 5: Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in first 6 months up to at least 50%

Global NCD targets

Target 7: Halt the rise in diabetes and obesity